By Peter Mosley, PhD
When you write, you’re bringing a piece of written expression into being that has never been created before. Whether what you’re writing is a class project or the most revolutionary article this decade will know, it holds the potential to have a profound effect on our world.
When you’re struggling to figure out what to write, it can be easy to forget the power your pen has. No professor, no journal, and almost no reader wants you to write just to check off that you’ve written according to their expectations. Sure, they have constraints that have to do with commas, citations, paragraph formats, margins, and the rest – but those aren’t ultimately meant to hold your voice back. They are meant to empower your individual voice.
It is fundamentally important to see yourself as an agent of change when you put your pen to paper, or your fingers to the keyboard.
If you are afraid to write because you’re not sure how, stop thinking of writing as mysterious. If you think that writing is mysterious, it’s probably because you haven’t broken it down. Study the details of how writing is put together and what contexts a piece of writing is powerful in to solve the supposed mystery of what makes one piece of writing more powerful and effective than another. Writing that seems mysteriously powerful is often as mysterious as a magic trick – it is mysterious until you break it down, examine the details, and find the techniques that enable it to be effective.
On the other hand, if writing seems too complicated to you it’s probably because you’re not doing enough of it. Writing can be a lot like riding a bike. If you merely study the process of writing a bike, you can get caught in the weeds as you study mathematical equations relating to how fast the bike is moving forward, how weight must be balanced to stay upright, how to balance your pedaling so that it is even on either side, how to avoid the millions of potential pitfalls of riding a bike…the list goes on. Indeed, you could study how to ride a bike for so long that the thought of riding the bike absolutely terrifies you.
A little study is good, but the best way to learn how to ride a bike is to ride it.
Same with writing. Sure, it’s a good idea to study writing. But ultimately, the best way to learn how to write is to actually write, allow your writing to be evaluated by professional writers, and simply adjust accordingly.
Stop being paralyzed. If you think writing is mysterious, break it down. If you think it’s too complicated, you probably just need to practice. If you’re still stuck, get help.
It’s more straightforward than you think. You can do this.
Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Relax.
You have a story that has earned the right to be told.
You have a mind that is deeply valuable to forwarding progress in arenas of action you deeply care about.
You have a language that enables you to communicate, complete with guidelines that will ensure what you write connects to the larger context of your field.
You are in a position to communicate because you have that power.
It’s not too complicated or mysterious. Break it down into manageable steps, and begin the process.
Share your story, contribute to your field, and change the world of what we know.
And if you ever still need help, we’re always here.
P.S. Do you want more tips on fighting writer’s block? Check out this blog post.