In my English classes, I hear the same phrase over and over again. That phrase?
“I’m going to struggle with this course because I’m a terrible writer.”
The lack of confidence people have in their writing seems to be second only to the lack of confidence people have in their ability to do math.
Ironically, the lack of confidence in both math and writing comes from the same source – people are afraid of following the wrong steps and getting the wrong answers.
But in writing, just like in math, there is not just one way to approach a problem. To use math as an example, you can arrive at the answer 4 by a variety of avenues. The most traditional is 2 + 2, sure, but that doesn’t make it the only correct way to come up with 4 as an answer. You can also get 4 by adding 4 + 0, 1 + 3, 2.5 + 1.5, etc and so on. There are an infinite number of ways to arrive at 4 via addition. But then you could also get to an answer of 4 via multiplication, division, or subtraction. 4/1, 4 * 1, 2 * 2, 8/2, 6 – 2, 7 – 3… the list is infinite.
The same is true in writing. Teachers cannot possibly teach students the infinite number of approaches that a writer can take when coming to an essay – there are thousands of books out there dedicated to exploring the art of the essay – so teachers stick with the traditional method.
The traditional method works, but it doesn’t work for everyone. If you aren’t an outliner and try to outline, you will feel frustrated, confused, and feel like a failure. Conversely, if you don’t think you are an outliner but actually need the structure and stability an outline provides, then not creating an outline will lead to the same frustration, confusion, and emotional turmoil – you’ll feel like a failed writer.
But you aren’t. Everyone can write, and everyone can write well. Before you can write well, however, you have to find your voice as a writer. You have to find confidence in the words you put on paper – you have to believe that your words matter, that you write well. Without confidence, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy and end up believing that you are a horrible writer.
Nearly every person I’ve come across who has said, “I’m a horrible writer,” has not been a horrible writer. Their technical skills may not be as polished as a professional writer’s technical skills, but technical skills can be learned. A misplaced comma or semicolon is not the end of the world. But people who think they can’t write get caught up on the grammatical component of the written word.
Now, I’m going to do something crazy and tell you a little secret:
Writing is 10% technical skills and 90% passion. If you care about what you write, if you pour your emotions into the writing, no matter how bad your grammar is, you can get your message across. But you have to believe in your message. You have to believe that what you have to say matters.
Then, when you get that passion down on paper, you go back through it and fix the technical components.
Grammar comes last in writing, just as it comes last in speech. Your passion for what you are writing about matters a million times more than how great your grammar is. So, stop getting caught up in the technical aspects of the writing and focus on your message. When you bring passion to bear on the page, 100% of the time, you will create a piece of writing that you are proud to look at and say “I wrote that.”
Then you have to edit it and fix all the grammatical mistakes, but when you have a piece of writing that you are proud to have written, sitting down and editing the writing is a thousand times easier. Just remember that your message is what matters most – grammar is secondary to saying what you have to say.