Expertise vs. Humility – A Writer’s Battle Royale?

Expertise or humility?

Expertise or humility?

You’re an expert on something.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons you started writing.

Unfortunately, experts tend to be a bit self-promoting and arrogant, and arrogance is a sure way to lose your readers.

The opposite approach won’t work either. Timid, non-confrontational storytelling doesn’t do justice to the value you can contribute to your readers.

So, what’s a writer to do?

This is precisely the question I asked myself at the outset of my blogging journey.

Starting On The Wrong Foot

Whatever I’ve learned was a result of doing things wrong at first. When I began blogging, I imagined a Battle Royale between writing with humility and demonstrating expertise.

I believed that inserting too much “me” into a post would reveal my lack of age and experience, and that everyone would just get bored.

I veered toward broad generalizations, making concise assertions that I believed were true based on what little experience I had.

The resulting posts were preachy and flimsy. I sounded like an egotistical computer. HAL, maybe.

Finally, I did something smart and started to study the pros, bloggers like Leo Babauta who write with a perfectly unassuming authority.

Eventually, I noticed that humility and expertise are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they make for a powerful combination.

Humility & Expertise Go Hand In Hand

How can we achieve both humility and expertise in the same breath? Here are 7 lessons I’ve learned so far.

1. Remember that humility is endearing and demonstrates strength.

Humility creates a natural connection to your reader. Acknowledging failures makes you seem human to your readers. On top of that, your failure validates how you came into the knowledge that you’re presenting. Failures can even be a great source of humor.

Being authentic and vulnerable also shows confidence. You’re willing to lay it on the line, imperfections and all. This confidence – without arrogance – is exactly what will draw readers to you.

2. Stay present to your own learning journey.

In our excitement to share what we know, it’s easy to forget that whatever knowledge we now possess is the result of a learning process.

Recounting your experience allows your reader to relate to you. By identifying with your story, your readers can make inferences and convince themselves of the relevance of what you have to say.

By staying present to your own journey – where you started, how you transformed, where you are now – you give your knowledge necessary context.

3. Limit generalizations.

Generalizations have their time and place – they’re great for headers, topic sentences and summarizing points. I think of them as structure – the pathway, walls and doors that guide your reader to the place you want them to go.

Once you’ve used generalizations to create structure, you can dive right into the details, which bring your expertise to life.

4. Get your narrative voices straight (“I” vs. “you” vs. “we”).

“I” is the most powerful way to tell a story. Your stories are powerful credentials and hooks. They draw your reader in, letting them know who you are (a human, just like them!). Telling a story in the first person is also a kind of evidence-based approach to making an argument. Just as citing your sources lends you credibility, citing your experience does so as well.

“You” is the voice we use when speaking to a friend. This is the riskiest voice because it can easily become preachy, but it is also essential in order to connect with your reader. Every time you use this voice, try speaking the lines aloud as if to an imagined friend over a drink or dinner. If you don’t feel comfortable saying it to a friend, it won’t sound right to your reader either.

“We” is a great voice for making generalizations. Just because we know something and want to share it with our readers doesn’t mean we’re superior, right? “We” is a great way to humbly make assertions about the way things are because we show ourselves as equals to our readers.

5. Demonstrate humility and expertise in separate parts of the post.

A (brief) personal back-story gives necessary context, makes you seem more human, and validates your expertise. This is a good time to foreshadow your learning but you don’t need to make assertions yet.

Once you’ve established context and humility, you’re ready to share the lessons you’ve learned. Now you can switch to the second person or first person plural.

6. Stand for what you believe, while acknowledging it’s just your belief.

Just because you’re humble doesn’t mean you aren’t going to put a stake in the ground.

Equivocating – reporting information without adding your perspective – will bore your readers to death. After all, it’s your perspective that your readers are after.

We merely need to recognize that what we’re presenting is not a dogma handed down from on high. It is not a universal truth. It is a truth in our lives, at this moment.

Acknowledge the limits of your knowledge and you can largely preempt the challengers and naysayers.

7. Re-read and re-write your post aloud a few days later (or more).

Even using every trick in the book, we can’t always strike the proper tone. Putting our writing aside and revising it later may still be the best tool of all.

Hear yourself reacting to the tone and word choice, and re-write the post while you can still feel that reaction. Your instinct will easily recognize places where you’ve been too abstract or impersonal, too assertive or preachy, or just too verbose.

No need to be down on yourself for missing the mark on the first try – that’s what you and countless other great writers throughout history have had to do to get to the right end result.

Please share your own experience in the comments: How do you strike a balance between humility and expertise?

 

About The Author:

Taylor Jacobson is an adventurer, entrepreneur and blogger at 21 Switchbacks, a community of thoughtful people committed to creating remarkable lives. Join him and get instant access to 10 Resources To Change Your Mind & Life.

Image: Conflicted? courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com

5 Steps to Telling Engaging Stories on Your Blog

how to tell stories on your blog The best bloggers on the planet do three things very well. I call them the 3 E’s.

The first two, educate and engage, are the easiest to master. But the third E, entertain, is the one that will set a blogger apart from the masses.

The best way to entertain, to keep your reader glued to your page, is to tell a story.

What makes a good story?

The famed writer Flannery O’Connor said that a story is ‘a full action with a point.’ What better way to describe a blog post, too? In their most basic form, both a story and a blog post must have something happening and both must end with a point.

I’ve been reading Victoria Mixon’s groundbreaking book, The Art & Craft of Story. While she is talking to writers of fiction, what she says is just as true for bloggers. Her message is this: You are unique. Your history, your life experiences are unlike any other person’s in the world. And looking at your own life will teach you how to tell unique stories.

That’s powerful stuff. If you turn the camera on yourself, could you possibly have ways of looking at an issue or problem that that next blogger can’t duplicate? Could your life experiences relate to a post topic in story form, in a way that drives your point home in a unique and entertaining way?

How to tell an engaging story on your blog

1. Figure out your theme.

What is the one thing you are trying to say? What one thing will apply to all of your readers, regardless of their backgrounds and experiences? The theme is the point of your post. Write it on a sticky note, put it on your computer monitor and keep it front and center with each word you write.

2. Pull them in with an engaging hook.

Your headline and opening paragraph are your hook. Picture your reader browsing in Barnes and Noble. She opens to the first page and reads the first sentence. Will she read the next one (or buy the book)? Or will she put the book down, never to return?

You want your reader to think, “What’s going on here? I must find out!” There are many strategies for this, but making your reader curious or surprised with your headline and hook is one of the best.

Example of a Headline: Why I’m Dumping the Cat’s Eye Writer Blog

If you are a regular reader of the Cat’s Eye blog, this would make you sit up. Is she really quitting blogging? Why? This post prepared readers for my transition from Cat’s Eye Writer to my newly branded Judy Lee Dunn author blog.

Example of a Hook: The other day I unfollowed someone on Twitter. At first glance, we appeared to have lots in common. He’s a writer, I’m a writer. I thought I could learn some new things from him. But then election season hit.

What did election season have to do with anything? I wanted my reader to stay on the page to find out.

3. Paint a setting and introduce characters we will care about.

The character can make or break your post. Make it someone we can emotionally invest in, someone we will care about. Sometimes the character will be you. Other times, you will want to plunk the reader down in the story with you.

Example of a Character in a Setting: There are small towns. There are rural areas. And then there are islands. Islands that have no bridges, only ferries.

Ferries that blow their horns on foggy days. That break down at the worst possible  moment, usually when you have an important meeting with a new client. Ferries that will take you back home if you show up before the last one leaves the dock, at 7:30pm sharp.

When you arrive just 10 seconds late, the ferry workers in bright orange vests are pulling the thick ropes in and locking the gate. And you are stuck on the mainland, cursing that ‘careful’ driver who chugged along at 16 miles an hour all the way along the tree-lined road that leads to the ferry landing.

You would have made it if not for her.

This was a lead-in to a guest post I wrote for Becky McCray’s Small Town Survival blog. I was setting readers up for the challenges of operating a business in a remote location and figuring out how to make it work. I wanted the reader to be right there with me.

4. Set up your conflict (also known as your plot).

This is your problem. What are you helping the reader to solve? It should be a question your reader is itching to know the answer to. This is the part where something happens. Tell us a story about a problem you have had—one that you weren’t sure how to solve.

In this post, Google Said I Died: Will That Be Bad for Business?, the problem was how to control your online reputation when other people with the same name as yours are being talked about on the Web. As the story unfolds, I am at my computer. A Google Alert lands in my in-box, with a link to Judy Dunn’s obituary. So the conflict is this: What happens when a news story about another Judy Dunn hits the Web?:

Example of Conflict: Sometimes a Google Alert comes in that wakes you up. Like last Wednesday, when I found out I had died. It was kind of weird because I wasn’t really expecting it. I was just reading along and, bam, there it was: my death notice.

5. End with a climax and resolution that shows the choice your character made.

This is where you reach the point of your whole story—how it ends and what that means for the reader. The best characters go through a change and make a new choice. So by the time you end your post, you should leave your readers with how and why you changed your mind, your opinion, or your way of thinking or feeling about something.

Using the Google Said I Died example again, I end with the resolution of the problem. I show the steps I took to manage my online reputation so I could be sure that the good stuff I was doing online came up higher in search engine rankings than the other Judy Dunn’s:

Example of a Climax/Resolution: If you are a solopreneur or small biz owner and people relate to your name, rather than your business, it makes sense to keep an eye on the places you are appearing on the Web. You may not have died, like I did, but one of your name-alikes might have done something truly dreadful, like embezzling the company receipts or breaking into a family’s house and drinking all their Scotch. Here are some things you can do to separate yourself from them:…

What about you?

Do you ever tell stories on your blog?

Do you think that a good story draws the reader in and helps them remember your post?

What kinds of stories could you tell on your blog?

Let us know in the comments what your experience has been with telling stories in blog posts.

A guest post by Judy Lee Dunn, owner of Cat’s Eye Writer. Subscribe to her Judy Lee Dunn blog for writers and get a free report: 30 Design and Content Secrets to Skyrocket Your Blog.

Does Writing Make you Feel Like a Failure or a Fraud? (How that Can Boost Your Creativity)

How feeling like a failure can make you more creative If writing makes you feel like a fraud or a failure, you may have experienced T. S. Eliot’s version of hell, where “nothing connects with nothing.”

Good!

No, I’m not crazy.

And I’m not kidding.

It is good.

Turns out these negative feelings are an essential part of the creative process.

So go ahead and wallow in them—at least for a little while.

Here’s why.

Before the breakthrough there has to be a block, according to Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works.

You may need to give up so you can move on.

Our brains actually need this “stumped” phase to realize that it’s time to try something new.

Then, and only then, can your brain search out new ideas to help you blast past that block.

So learn to recognize when feelings of fear or frustration mean that it’s time to stop.

Then surrender to the unknown.

Give your brain the break it needs to look elsewhere for inspiration.  (Click here for my previous post on using the brain’s reticular activating system to spur creativity)

“Creativity is the residue of time wasted,” according to Albert Einstein.

Einstein was right.

It is precisely this wasted time that often gives rise to insight, which is commonly known as the “eureka” or “aha” moment, according to Lehrer.

Working harder, with focused attention, when searching for new insight is simply the wrong strategy,

Yet how many times do we find ourselves sitting in front of the computer staring intently at the screen, trying to will something—anything–to happen.

You can’t force an aha moment to happen.

So stop trying.

Get up and get away for a while or work on something else.

As you begin to practice this strategy of letting go, you’ll train your brain to know when it’s time to search out new paradigms and new associations.

Soon those new ideas will be flowing freely.

Just don’t forget to come back and get to work.

Here’s the rub:  The epiphany or breakthrough is just the beginning.

Then the hard work begins.

This involves the other half of the creative tool box—focused attention and stick-to-it-iveness.

Focused attention gives you the ability to structure your writing and to be a ruthless editor, removing all the superfluous material and choosing the best words to get your point across.

These skills separate the pros from the amateurs.

The pros possess the ability to deal with the pain, the knowledge to take a break and then have the determination to get back to work, slogging through the tough stuff.

Remember–Frustration, fear and failure will always be just around the corner.

And that’s a good thing…

It just means your skills and abilities are about to grow.

Please share in the comments section how you’ve overcome your fears and frustrations so we can all learn from your experience.

Cheryl Craigie is the new Contributing Editor for Write to Done. She’s a former broadcasting and foundation executive who left the fast track to build a life in the mountains of North Carolina. She’s kept a journal most of her life and has written numerous articles, blog posts, editorials, grants, newsletters, personal essays, scripts, short stories, and speeches.  She describes herself as a mountain-hiking, guitar-playing, bird-watching, cat and dog lover.

Her blog is called, The Manageable Life. The tagline says it all:  “Choose to live better”.

Now that’s Cheryl’s on board, we’ve got lots of exciting plans in the works. Here are just a few examples:

  • Amping up our content based on suggestions from our new DreamTeam. Click here for more information about the DreamTeam and to sign up if you haven’t already done so.
  • Developing Resource Pages. Soon you’ll find a carefully curated selection of our favorite writing books, journals, etc., available directly from our site. However, if you want to purchase Imagine:  How Creativity Works now, click here. (For Kindle edition, click here). We receive a small commission on sales from Amazon.
  • Creating online courses which will help you overcome your fear, jumpstart your creativity and polish your writing. We’re just in the beginning stage of content development, so please be patient. We don’t want to roll these out until we’re confident that they meet our exacting standards.

Stay tuned for more details.

Do you want to become a successful blogger? Join the A-List Blogger Club, the insanely useful training for all stages of blogging. Click below to find out more.

Amazing Advice for Aspiring Writers by Neil Gaiman

Every once in a while we get to hear great advice from someone who’s actually done what we hope to do–achieve extraordinary writing success.

So check out the video below.

In what has been described as “one of the best commencement speeches ever, ” author Neil Gaiman shares his thoughts about how build a creative life.

Gaiman started his unconventional career as a jounalist and then went on to create, among many other things, the  ground-breaking Sandman comics series and the children’s book Coraline, which became an Oscar-nominated film.

Gaiman encourages us to:

  1. Be wise
  2. Make amazing mistakes
  3. Break rules
  4. Leave the world a more interesting place, and
  5. Make good art

Do yourself a favor and  watch this 20 minutes video. You’ll have the rare opportunity to hear from one of the most creative voices in recent years.

(If you are receiving this post via email, click here to view)

What do you think about this video? Please share in the comments.

Join the A-List Blogger Club, the insanely useful training for all stages of blogging. Click below to find out more.

I Paid For This?! Surviving the Editorial Letter

A guest post by Lisa Kilian of What Not To Do as a Writer

There comes a time in every writer’s life when the plot is adequately twisted, the characters are adequately developed, and all the typos have been eliminated with a laser gun. You think.

Actually, you’re not sure if any of that is true because you’ve been staring at the same document on your computer for so long you’re kind of wondering if maybe you didn’t go blind last week. You think you’re reading words. You think those words are good. The dreams about your story have stopped and now all you dream about is book parties and signings and big wigs and wine.

You think you’re ready to submit. To publish. To throw caution to the wind and send that manuscript off for some close reading. Except you haven’t been able to read your own manuscript closely for months now and you’re honestly not sure what it says anymore. Your characters could be marrying dogs or lost somewhere else in the muddle, you have no idea.

That’s why you need an editor.

Someone who doesn’t know you or love you but knows writing and loves reading freshly pressed work. Someone who will look at your characters and say, “Hey, cool story, but did you notice Sally marries a dog on page 23?”

When I receive a manuscript to read, I welcome it with open arms. And the brave writers who have sent their words to me wait patiently in the background brimming with nervous energy. It’s a great relationship. We email back and forth about little things. We laugh. I read and make notes.

And then I send the editorial letter. And that’s when the fun stops.

Right there, in one convenient document, is an overview of all the concerns I have regarding their manuscript. Plot holes, flat characters, lagging prose, over-telling, over-explaining, back story — all of it. Their manuscript is suddenly less pristine and more of a mess and I know I’m not gonna be the one to clean it up.

Receiving an editorial letter after you’ve paid to have your novel edited sucks. It just — sucks. That’s pretty much the only thing I can say. But! That same editorial letter that sucks so much to read is also the heart and soul of what you paid for. You asked someone professional with an objective eye to read your manuscript and deconstruct it — and that’s exactly what they did. And they even went one step further and gave you suggestions on how to clean up your mess.

Still, I can hear it through the email; the writer’s happiness just deflates. I receive an answer just dripping with defeat. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Steel your skin and prepare your mind before you open that letter. And remember these things:

 

1. What is a Finished Piece to You is a Rough Draft to Me

 

You may believe your manuscript to be finished and polished — but if you’re sending it to an editor, it’s not. Why else would it end up on an editor’s desk? There are things going on in your manuscript that you are simply blind to because you no longer have the distance and objectivity to see it. Why would you? You’ve spent months with your nose to the screen trying to figure out how to finish this thing.

 

2. Just Because You Receive In-Depth Edits Doesn’t Mean You Suck

 

Everyone receives in-depth edits. Everyone receives suggestions for change. Everyone has to get edited. I, too, am a writer. And my critique group always makes suggestions for changes. They even tell me ::gasp:: that something is not working. And I get sad. I go home. I take a nap. And then I rewrite.

 

3. By All Means, Get Angry — Just Don’t Call Me

 

When you receive edits and they seem overwhelming, you’re going to get angry. And you’re probably going to be angry at me. That’s the nature of the beast. So get angry. But remember that it’s not me you’re angry with. Frankly, you’re upset with yourself because you sent something that you thought was ready to go and it turned out to not be so ready after all. And that’s okay, really. It’s human nature to get upset when things are hard and writing is just that. So read your letter, take a few deep breaths, hit a punching bag, and take a nap. Seriously. Naps fix everything. When your emotions are defused and you’re ready to get back to work, then you can email me.

 

4. I’m Not Here to Make You Feel Bad

 

My job is to make your writing better, and by default, make you a stronger person. My job is not to take your money and rip your work to shreds. It is not in my interest to be snarky and make you feel like shit. I don’t want to make you give up.

I want to make your writing better. I want to make your writing better. I want to make your writing better.

That’s the first and last concern on any editor’s mind when we read your work.

Lisa Kilian is the author of the blog, What Not To Do as a Writer. She has had essays published at Beyond the Margins, Best Damn Creative Writing Blog, and Write It Sideways to name a few. Follow her @LisaKilian or email her at lr.kilian@gmail.com She would love to read your work.