Public speaking doesn’t scare me (much). I teach college classes, so I get plenty of practice being ignored while speaking to a group. When a friend asked me to be on her writing panel at WordCamp, I didn’t quail. Sure! I’ll only be one of five people, so I won’t even have to carry the entire thing myself, like I do when lecturing.
Then I walked into the small auditorium for our panel, and a sudden thought shot through my head. Oh shit.
But I’m a professional, right? I can handle this. It was definitely the biggest group I’ve ever confronted, but the minute we started, I didn’t feel nervous at all. It really helped that I was on stage with several awesomely talented people. I figured if I panicked at any point, I could flee and my cohorts would cover for me (I don’t have that option in class, unfortunately).
The whole discussion went well (so I thought, anyway). But I was struck by the anxiety, even outright fear, that all of us–audience and speakers alike–have about our writing. When you’re new at something, you might look up to an expert and think they don’t seem nervous about their work. Not true. That anxiety never leaves you. After 20+ years of graphics, I get nervous every time I start a new job. The difference is that now I have the experience to know how to get through the problem points. And I’ve learned the same with writing. Much of our talk was about getting through those parts.
- Great writing doesn’t happen in the first draft, it comes with editing (and editing, rewriting, then editing some more).
- Don’t give in to writer’s block. Write something, anything, to get past it.
- Find someone who’s feedback you can trust to tell you if your content is working (but remember it’s still your writing).
- Get a colleague to trade proofreading with you (proofing is a learned skill, you will miss your own typos).
- Reading out loud makes it clear if the text is flowing well or not.
- Take time between editing rounds; when you see it with fresh eyes, the needed changes are more obvious.
- Edit again. Every single word counts.
- No, really, edit. Years of copy editing have taught me you don’t need near as many words as you think.
The best thing that I got out of it was deeper realization that I’m not alone. I’ve got a few more like-minded connections added to my network. And for me, that’s huge.
Now I should take my own advice and start actually writing the notes for my next book. It’s just been scary getting started, ya know?