How to Put Your Writing in Public
You’d think that after 8 years of public blogging and writing books, I’d be completely free of fear when it comes to putting my writing out in public.
You would, of course, be wrong.
I still get little shivers of nervousness when I hit the “Publish” button on any post, and bigger fears still when I publish a print book or ebook.
Writing in public is like speaking in public, if you’re doing it right. You’re baring your soul for all to judge, and there are few things as scary as that.
But I’m here to tell you that it’s not only doable, it’s worth the effort to overcome that fear.
I’ve had several people write to me recently asking me about their fears about writing their blog. One person said they deleted their blog because they thought what they’d written was too lame. She said, “I thought it would be great if you could share how to put yourself out there in public and not worry about it.”
Well, I wish I could share the secret to not worrying about putting your writing in public, but I don’t think it exists. It’s scary as hell.
And yet I manage to do it nearly daily. Here’s how.
- I write for one person. It’s impossible to write for thousands of people at once — that’s like trying to have a conversation with a stadium full of people. Who are you addressing? What tone do you use? What do they care about? So instead I follow Vonnegut’s advice to write for one reader (for him it was his sister). For me, it’s often different people I care about (my wife, one of my kids, a sister, a friend, a specific reader with a problem). I try to write like I’m talking directly to them, and though I change the style a bit to fit my blog’s style, that’s what I have in mind as I write. This has the added benefit of not being as scary — you’re just talking to one person.
- Start with a tiny audience. When I started Zen Habits, my only readers were my mom and my wife (thanks you guys!). It wasn’t too scary to write for them. Then I got a few more readers, but by then my comfort level grew and the fear wasn’t overwhelming. Then I had 50 readers, and it was like a big group of friends, because everyone was supportive. By the time I had hundreds and then thousands of readers, I felt like I knew what I was doing (nevermind that I still don’t). One of the great things about blogging, for writers, is that your comfort level grows as your audience does.
- Get over the idea of perfection. We freeze up when we think of the idea that we need to write the “perfect” blog post or book, so that everyone thinks highly of us. I’m telling you now: there’s no such thing as perfect. Not everyone will think you’re writing is the greatest. And that’s OK. If you accept that there will be some things you do that are good, and others that are less than good, and that’s part of being a human … you can embrace a wider range of possibilities. You don’t have to hit a home run with every swing (or score a goal with every touch, for you non-American readers).
- Be motivated by learning. Why should you even attempt to write when it’s so scary? Because if you don’t do the things that you’re afraid of, you never learn anything. The best learning comes when you try something you don’t know how to do, and make mistakes, and then learn how to fix those mistakes. And then repeat. If you want safe, you give up on learning.
- Be motivated by helping. I write because people have said it’s helpful. They like seeing how someone else solved a problem, or that it’s even possible to overcome, or at the very least they like knowing that there are other people out there going through the same thing. When people give me that kind of feedback, I feel great, and I can’t wait to do the scary thing again.
Writing is transformative. It changes you, and the reader. You get feedback from the reader and learn from them. You get accountability and you have to reflect on what you’re learning. You become greater from the attempt to overcome the fear.
There has been no greater achievement in my life, other than raising my kids, than overcoming the thunderhold of fear and writing for all of you.