Does this sound familiar?
You’re sitting in front of your laptop, staring at a blank screen.
The deadline for the article you need to write is approaching, and you’re struggling to get started when you should be in the final editing stages.
As you sit there trying to put your expertise in writing, a strange insecurity creeps up your spine. You see yourself changing before your own eyes, transforming from a confident expert into a self-conscious amateur.
It’s your own Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde transformation experience.
I’ve been there.
I used to hate writing
Well, actually, it was more like loathing than hating.
Anytime I needed to write anything I’d procrastinate, pretending that avoiding the project would make it go away. Needless to say, the procrastination led to a flurry of rushed writing at the last minute to meet my deadlines, resulting in less than my best work.
But my real problem wasn’t the act of writing. It was fear. Fear of making mistakes, fear that what I wrote would sound stupid, fear that my writing wouldn’t make sense to the reader, etc.
My insecurities were turning me into a monster
So there I was, a guy with more than 15 years of experience, who has won some awards and is even a judge for three international design competitions, worried about sounding stupid.
It sounds ridiculous, but my fear of screwing up made writing a miserable experience for me.
I even used to try to compensate for my fears. I’d use stiff, formal sentences and large, important-sounding words to try to “prove” I knew what I was talking about. Unfortunately, all that did was make me sound like a pretentious jerk.
It was like I was changing from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde anytime I had to write something.
Then one sentence from my college professor changed everything
I had a job that offered tuition reimbursement benefits, so I decided to take some college classes. One of my classes was a composition class, and the professor gave me the best writing advice I’d ever heard.
“Write the way you talk.”
It can’t be that easy! Seriously? What a liberating idea! That one piece of advice helped me break free of my fears and relaxed my writing style. No more procrastination. No more using large, unnecessary words to try and impress the reader. I could just relax, be myself, and write.
What it does is help break down the mental barriers of fear and procrastination that keep you from being a more engaging, and more productive writer.
Here’s how to use “write the way you talk” to squash your insecurities and avoid sounding like a pompous idiot:
1. Imagine yourself having a chat with a trusted friend
Good writing is like a conversation between the writer and the reader. So when you’re writing, think about how you would explain your topic to a close friend who was sitting next to you.
If you were having a conversation with that person, what words would you use? What would you talk about first? What examples would you give to help them understand your topic? What questions might they ask?
Approaching your writing this way will help you write copy that’s more informal and conversational in tone, that better engages your audience. As it happens, it’s also the best way to write sales copy.
2. Record yourself talking about your topic.
Not sure what you sound like in a conversation? Try recording yourself talking about your topic.
This is especially helpful for people who have clients they talk to on the phone regularly. The next time you’re explaining something to a client on the phone, record the call and listen to it later (Be sure to check the laws in your state first. Some states require you get the other party’s permission before you record). The easiest way to do this is with one of the many available plugins for Skype that do call recording.
3. Take a deep breath, relax, and just be yourself
By writing the way you talk, you can’t help injecting a little of your personality into what you write. After all, you’ll be writing in your own voice, using plain English everyone can understand, and a tone that makes you seem more human than textbook.
Combine that with a few relevant, well-placed personal stories and you have the makings of some irresistible content.
4. Use the same words that you do in your everyday life.
If you write the way you talk, you’ll be more inclined to use common, everyday words that you would normally use in conversation.
This prevents you from sounding like Captain Jack Sparrow using (in my best Johnny Depp impersonation) obtuse and generally confounding speech that makes your readers wish they were drinking rum.
So keep your writing simple and clear without artificially inflated language. A good rule of thumb is: if the average person would need a dictionary to know what your word means, then you need a different word.
5. Toss out the rule book and just start writing
If all the rules about grammar, writing styles, active versus passive voice, and punctuation are adding to your insecurities about writing, toss out the “rule book” for awhile and just write.
Focus on getting the main points of your idea down in your first draft, and don’t worry about anything else.
Once you’ve done that, you can go back and edit the heck out of what you wrote.
Do you notice any obvious errors? Is there anything that could be rearranged to bring more clarity to what you wrote? If so, now’s the time to fix it along with any grammatical, spelling, or other writing problems.
After you’ve made those corrections, leave the article to sit overnight and look at it again in the morning with fresh eyes. Is there anything you can do to make it even better?
6. Enlist the help of a close friend to keep you honest
Want to make sure that what you write actually sounds like you and not someone else?
Enlist the help of a close friend. Have them read what you write, and tell you if it sounds like someone else wrote it. This will help keep you true to yourself, and will force you to be authentic with your writing.
7. Read what you write out loud
One of the first editing tests I put my writing through is reading it out loud. Doing that makes awkward sentences and bad punctuation become obvious, because as you read, you’ll naturally “stumble” over the parts that need to be fixed.
So as you read your writing aloud, pay attention to those places that tend to trip you up — they may need some additional work.
The moral of the story
Get over the fears of messing up or sounding stupid. Just write the way you talk and you’ll be able to knock out your first draft in no time.
If you’re willing to do that, you’ll find that you’ll dread writing a lot less and be able to get more writing done because you’re working on it instead of fearing it.
I’ve been using these tips to guide my writing for several years now, and today I got the best evidence yet that they work.
I was talking with one of my clients on the phone about blogging, and as we were discussing the content for her blog she told me, “Whenever I read something you wrote, you always sound like such an expert. Like you really know what you’re talking about. ”
Need I say more?
So go ahead. Dive in. Who knows? You may even start to like writing.