Scared to Write What You Really Think? Why it Will Make You a Better Writer

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The memory still sends shivers down your spine.

Maybe it was a post you wrote on Facebook or on your own blog.

You hit Enter or Publish, congratulated yourself, and moved on to your next task.

An hour later, a reply! And the first three words were…

How dare you

Your heart started beating a mile a minute. Your mouth was dry. Your breathing, shallow. With shaking hands, you went online to read the rest of the comment—best to get it over with quickly and then assess the damage. 

Most of us have experienced this, haven’t we?

I sure have.

I care about what people think, and disapproval crushes me. I’ve always found myself apologizing for my unconventional choices, and backtracking on my opinions.

Then I started a blog.

That’s when I learned that if I let other people’s opinions inform and guide me, I didn’t stand a chance.

3 Reasons it’s Bad to Be Neutral

Writing based on what today’s influencers are doing and thinking is the easiest way to write yourself into oblivion. Because:

1. You’re not saying anything valuable.

You know what I’m talking about: safe subjects, vague quotations from bureaucrats with fancy titles, cookie-cutter buzzwords, and prose that both Hillary and The Donald would agree with.

If this sounds like you, people are just going to hit Delete.

2. It’s boring.

Staying neutral to avoid offending anyone will result in words without substance. You’ll have to go to great lengths to keep everything balanced and fair, and all that excess verbiage will put your readers to sleep.

Don’t believe me? Try writing something noncontroversial about abortion in one sentence.

3. It’s painfully obvious that you’re not being authentic.

If you ask three people to describe a sunset you’ll get three different descriptions—unless one of them describes it according to Walt Whitman’s “Song at Sunset.” That will sound pretentious and fake.

Not being neutral doesn’t mean you have to be controversial; it means having your own opinion and expressing it.

How to Combat the Fear Factor

There are two main reasons we hesitate to write what we really think: Fear and fear. Let me clarify.

When we write something that goes against conventional wisdom, we’re afraid no one will read it, we’ll offend others, or – worst of all – we won’t be published. I call this “internal fear.” It is the classic physical and emotional response to being outside our comfort zone.

“External fear,” on the other hand, is the emotional neck ache we get when we spend too much time looking over our shoulder, wondering what people will think if we stick so much as a toe over the line. If internal fear is the fear that no one will read our stuff, external fear is the fear that people will read our stuff – and won’t like it.

It all boils down to this: We are afraid of being rejected, both personally and professionally. We fear being alone in the literary universe.

5 Ways Taking a Stand Will Benefit Your Writing

Infusing your writing with a personal touch is one of the best ways to get people to sit up and take notice. Here are five reasons why:

  1. Your writing will be more convincing, inspiring and entertaining. People will sense the authenticity and sincerity of your words.
  2. People will want to read your stuff, whether or not they agree with it. Why read vanilla if you can read passion fruit sorbet with Swiss chocolate fudge and a sprinkling of walnuts?
  3. You will evoke those all-important emotions so essential to good writing and reader engagement. Whether you evoke laughter, sadness, agreement or anger, your prose will encourage others to continue the conversation.
  4. You will create your own unique voice. Honing your voice is not only about writing style. Write your truth, and you will transform yourself as well as your writing.
  5. It’s good for your personal growth. Being unafraid to state your opinion in writing will enable you to stand up for it in person. Being respectfully disagreed with will weaken your need to please everyone. You will develop the courage to continue in the face of nastiness, and compassion for those with petty complaints.

Tips to Help You Write What You Really Think

1. To write more assertively, first formulate your theory.

Know what you want to say.

Back it up with your why and give examples if you can. Citing others who are of the same opinion is a plus. Read this fantastic article on the whys, hows and whats of research.

2. Be more assertive in your style.

Use the active voice as far as possible. Use busy, creative, and descriptive nouns and verbs, and avoid adverbs.

Get rid of words that scream ambivalence, such as “seems,” “appears,” “perhaps,” “somewhat,” etc. This is subtle, and although your readers won’t necessarily be able to identify what you’re doing (or rather, not doing), they will know that the writing is first rate, and it will go straight to their hearts.

3. Acknowledge and honor those who disagree with you, but stick to your guns.

In a recent guest post I wrote, a woman commented that she was offended by my “trashing” the British for a grammar rule of theirs I disagreed with.

Rather than explain that I was trying to be funny, or apologizing profusely, I told her I understood where she was coming from, and that I honored her right to her opinion. Then I repeated my stance, and thanked her for contributing to the conversation.

4. If you are wrong, admit it and make it right.

I made a grammar mistake on one of my blog posts this year, and after I wiped the egg off my face, I sent out a new post in which I challenged my readers to find the mistake. All those who correctly identified the error were part of a giveaway for a book on writing.

In addition to one sleepless night and a few bucks, it cost me a bit of pride and a few unsubscribes, but I gained support and credibility from the rest of my tribe.

5. Don’t be controversial just for the sake of being controversial.

Not being neutral doesn’t necessarily mean making waves. I see this in the use of excessive curse words and shocker headlines.

If controversy and strong words are your brand, by all means go for it, but make sure you have a thick skin and are laser-focused on your target market. Otherwise, see to it that controversy works for you and not the other way around.

You Are Not Meant to Be Mediocre

I once asked the head of a school I attended if he was worried about a certain controversial stance he had taken. His answer had a profound effect on me: “You cannot be successful without making a few enemies.”

People-pleasers and those who are afraid to take a stand will remain mediocre.

Take action on these suggestions, and you will make your writing shine with crisp, clear language, and your own special voice. And no matter what you write about, you – and your prose – will always be a class act.

Are you ready to write with your assertive new voice? Think of a controversial subject about which you feel strongly. Write three to five paragraphs, and let me know in the Comments how it felt to write the piece. See if you can flesh it out and publish it on your blog, or submit it to another publication.

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About The Author

Deena Nataf

Deena Nataf is a freelance editor and author mentor with thirty years' experience. She runs Bulletproof Writing, a blog and website for writers which delivers writing techniques, “comedy grammar,” and tips for the writing life. Click here to get this month’s free ebook, “The Quick and Dirty Guide to Frequently Misspelled Words.

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