If you are one of the thousands – or perhaps tens of millions – who brave writing anxiety daily, let’s defeat that old dragon right now. Beginning with the next piece you write.
So what are the symptoms of writing anxiety? How do you know if you’ve got it? Well, probably the two most common symptoms are (1) taking what seems like forever to get started, and (2) that vaguely uneasy feeling that you are “not doing it right,” which usually translates into grammar and usage issues.
And what that means, is you are most likely starting in the wrong place!
Content. Content. Content! Start with the content. You can always revise, or dot the i’s and cross the t’s, after you have made your point quickly, and put your ideas forth clearly. Get the ideas; get that content written down first!
To begin with, ask yourself: What do I want to tell my reader?
For example, you might say, “I want to tell my reader that, ‘Starting November 1, you must use the XYZ program for your weekly report.’” Focus in on the piece as a whole, and make your answer tight, simple, and straightforward.
This degree of focus, all by itself, is a great confidence builder, and I guarantee that not only will your anxiety began to fade away, but your writing will go faster, more smoothly once you have this tight focus. Without focus, I guarantee that you will continue to be uncertain, and uncomfortable with your writing. Trust me on this.
After considering your reader or readers, the format, and the “job” this piece of writing has to do, you are ready to:
Make a quick list of the points you will use to achieve your purpose. Make each list item very short – only a few words. The items on your list may be in any order.
Remind yourself that at this point, you are the expert, you are the one imparting knowledge that few, if any, of your readers have. This realization is a great anxiety-chaser.
Remember that we are still focused on content at this point, so you are now ready to organize and draft your content. Because of your list, you don’t have to remember, or think up the points you want to make, on the fly, allowing you to concentrate on the best way to make your points.
Do you see where you are now? You are now totally focused on your reader, and on meeting his or her needs. You are no longer focused on whether or not you are “doing it right.” You are focused on the reader. Once you become totally focused on your reader, your anxiety disappears.
So what comes next?
If this is just a short piece – say, five lines are fewer – a single who-what-when-where-why-how paragraph will probably take care of it. Review your short list, and include each of the points. But do it in five lines or fewer.
For a longer piece, review your list, numbering the order in which you will present your points. If you have a fairly long list, it’s likely that two or three of your points may be on the same subject, and belong in the same paragraph. When this is the case, give each of those items the same number to keep them together.
As you did for the shorter piece, start with a who-what-when-where-why-how first paragraph, five lines or fewer.
What you have now is your first paragraph, and the order of, and content for each of the subsequent paragraphs. Write your draft. Let your computer help you check grammar and spelling, then put your own eye on it for a quick double-check. Often you know better than the computer.
Let me know how it goes!
Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email email@example.com to learn more.
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