Even if we don’t make our living off words, we all write every day.
Think about it. Whether it goes out in the form of emails, tweets and texts, work-related memos, blog posts and comments, birthday cards or Facebook updates, communication is continually flowing from our fingertips.
And in an electronic culture that is often characterized by both outrage and comparison, it can be equally as tempting to over think every word as it is to dash something off and post it without a second thought.
There’s got to be a happy medium in there somewhere. For me, that sweet spot is closely intertwined with what I like to call “keeping it real.” When my writing stays true to who I am and what I believe, comparison and outrage fall by the wayside because my words cease to depend on someone else’s reaction or response.
There’s a tremendous amount of freedom in that, don’t you think?
What real writing looks like in real life obviously depends on the situation and personality of the communicator. But if you want to join me in making your writing—whatever form it takes—honest and meaningful, here are a few thoughts that you might find helpful.
• Don’t try to copy another person’s style. Sound like who you are.
• Don’t set out to write “lyrical or poetic prose.” That kind of writing flows naturally. If it’s forced, it shows.
• Don’t try to write in any particular way, actually. Write what you want to say. If it ends up being lyrical or poetic, fine. If not, that’s fine too. You’re communicating a message, not a style.
• Write how you speak—clearly and conversationally.
• Read what you’ve written out loud. If you find yourself gasping for breath before the end of a sentence or stumbling over your words, rewrite.
• If what you’ve written makes you laugh, that’s great. But don’t try to be funny on purpose. That rarely works.
• If you find yourself in tears as your words hit the screen or as you read your work aloud, you’ve likely hit upon something that will touch someone else too. At this point, don’t shy away; dig deeper.
• If it’s not your story to tell, don’t tell it.
• If what you’ve written flowed from a deep emotional well, save it and come back to it in a few days or weeks. Time has a way of revealing whether or not you should hit send or publish.
• Write to encourage, educate, comfort or (possibly) challenge. Never write to impress.
• Don’t take yourself too seriously. That kind of attitude doesn’t translate well on the page (or screen).
• Ask someone who knows you and loves you well to read your writing. Give that person permission to let you know when what you’ve written doesn’t “sound like you.” (Trust me on this one—it’s important!)
• Write what you need to hear, not what you think a particular person in your life needs to hear. If you feel compelled to share a certain message with someone, try to do it in person.
• Ask yourself: Is it right? Is it necessary? Is it kind? If not, don’t write it.
• As a general rule, don’t react. Originate.
• Watch the snark. If it sounds like something a 13-year-old girl would say, consider revising.
• If what you are writing makes you squeamish because you think no one will be able to relate, keep writing. You are not alone, and others in the same boat need to know that they are not alone either.
• If you’re afraid to write something, ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I post this?”
• There are times when real is better in retrospect. Very often, feelings and thoughts need to simmer a good, long time before they can or should be expressed in writing—at least writing that is intended for public consumption.
• Last paragraphs are hard to write. Sometimes abrupt endings are better than tidy bows.
• If you write about faith-related topics, you don’t have to include a verse or mention God in every paragraph, or even in every post. Your worldview (and your view of grace) will come across in how you write—in your tone, in your word choices and in the way you respond to criticism or compliments.
• Humility trumps the need to make sure everyone knows that you are right.
• Pray while you write and before you hit send or publish. Ask God to direct your words to the people who need to read them.
• Let go of your expectations about how any one thing you communicate is going to be received. Write from your heart and leave the results up to God.
Now it’s your turn. Is “real” writing a challenge for you? What would you add or take away from this list?
Also: If you’ve missed previous posts in the “Faith, Fear & the Life of a Writer” series, you can catch up here:
- New Series: Faith, Fear & the Life of a Writer
- Fear Doesn’t Cancel God’s Direction in Our Lives
- When the Work Doesn’t Get Easier
- The Writing Feedback that Changed My Life
Finally: I’m linking up this week with Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith, Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory, Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart, Lyli Dunbar at ThoughtProvokingThursday, Crystal Storms at #HeartEncouragementThursday and Dawn Klinge at Grace & Truth.