Shame and writing

Shame and writing

Do we need to talk about writing and shame?

Fear of failure in the written word is really common – even among leaders, professionals and academics.

If you’re in a senior or expert role, you’re expected to be able to write fluently. But many people’s experiences at school didn’t exactly boost their confidence. Or taught them to write in ways that are now considered a bit outdated.

Another problem is that what you write will probably be read. At its most extreme, fear of writing is linked to fear of public ridicule. So it’s not surprising it can lead to debilitating anxiety and blocks.

All this is compounded by the myth that if you’re good at other stuff – like, say, leading people or managing large budgets – you’ll be inevitably be good at writing. It’s seen as a mark of intelligence, acceptability or etiquette, like knowing which knife to use first in a smart restaurant.

But the truth is there’s no such thing as ‘being good at writing’. A surgeon might regularly have articles published in academic journal while writing letters that patients struggle to understand. A manager who is praised for their comprehensive quarterly reports may write LinkedIn posts that no one ever reads.

The secret of writing is to forget everything you were ever taught and instead, turn your attention to the person you’re talking to. What do you need them to know – and why should they care about it? What will make them sit up and listen, and what will make them roll their eyes, or shake their fists, at you? Crafting an effective argument that resonates with your audience is where the real work takes place.

OK, I’ll admit when I said forget *everything* you were ever taught, I didn’t mean forget it completely. Some of that stuff, such as structure and grammar, will have been helpful. But all that comes in later. You might even be able to delegate it to a friendly communications colleague.

Focus on the relational element and the rest will fall into place.

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