I often have conversations with folks who ask for writing hacks, tips, or the optimal schedule to produce content.
But as these conversations progress, we invariably stumble onto the same truth: what people really want is more confidence in their writing.
It is a trite truism that exposing your writing to the world is an exercise in vulnerability. But I think that a lot of people misidentify the source of that vulnerability. They think that they’ll be embarrassed by a lack of polish – typos, misplaced commas, unduly long dependent clauses.
That’s not it. The real vulnerability comes from sharing yourself and how you think. So it’s not about the surface issues but about exposing a sliver of your deeper core (although we should all be properly mortified by sending a work with typos into the world, too).
My path to writing confidence is circuitous. For one thing, English is not my first language. Or second. For another, I was a scientist, and until I went to law school, my writing consisted of lab notes and scientific articles, in which every other sentence is passive (“LacZ expression was increased in the fast-growing Mgat5-/- tumors that overcame growth suppression.”).
Then a legal career happened, and I had to write a lot and to deadline. Like any craft, I got better simply by doing. But I also noticed a pattern. I wrote better when I felt that I had something to say and was confident in my arguments. On the other hand, writing for partners who prefer a kitchen-sink approach to briefing (argue every point; concede nothing; hammer your righteousness even when neither facts nor law are on your side) sucked the life out of my writing ability and confidence.
This holds true for my non-legal writing, too, including fiction. My confidence is always at its highest when I know that I’m on solid ground with what I’m trying to communicate. Then, I’m also not worried about the words coming out right, because that’s just mechanics. If my idea, arguments, and logic are in order, the rest is just lots of hard but doable work.
There is nothing that will increase your writing confidence as being sure about what you want to say. The language in which you say it can always be massaged, stretched, chopped, and otherwise edited to flow better and to read clearer. And the more burning your desire is to get your ideas out, the more you’ll be willing to learn some grammar rules (or pay an editor to apply them for you).
So the one tip I can offer is this: spend more time on the substance of your written work. Because the substance is the foundational lava rut that will help guide the final form, the polish, and the bells and whistles, and allow you to have so much more confidence in your writing.