How to Write Without Fear
A coward’s guide to voicing bold opinions
On August 20 something very dangerous happened. I published a post with “Trump” in the title. More dangerously, I claimed Trump had done something “genius.”
Can I confess something to you? In public, with friends or family, I would never even dare to say the word “Trump.” And in fact, if anyone else did say it, I probably look the other way, go to the bathroom, or try to actively change the subject.
I’m an S on the disc chart, a two wing three on the enneagram, and an INTJ on the Myers Briggs. Conflict is not my thing.
Instead of screaming at people in the street, I write.
Unlike in conversation where I may mutter and waffle, writing helps me be clear. The process is simple: I see something worth writing about. I collect my thoughts. I study. I clean my drafts. I make my argument. Then, I hit publish.
This is the case whether I’m writing about Donald Trump, my dead grandmother, or the magic of red socks.
Writing grants me the time and space to say powerful things.
Maybe you feel the same way, but you’re afraid that whatever you write will come back to bite you somehow.
It’s a fair fear. Cancel culture is real. Internet trolls are real. Friends who didn’t want you to share that story are real. It can feel like a minefield out there. With the Trump post, I did get one email that said “Put your country ahead of your ambitions and pull that article down now.” And yes, it hurt.
But it’s part of the territory.
Writers must write, especially about the dangerous topics.
Is it possible to write without fear completely? Probably not. But, bravery is about saying what needs to be said despite your fear.
My guidance for writing and publishing as fear-free as possible mirrors best selling author Luvvie’s guide to telling the truth. Luvvie has a way of cutting through the noise. There are only three steps:
- Do I mean what I’m saying?
- Can I defend it?
- Am I saying it thoughtfully?
Let’s look at how those relate to writing.
Do I Mean What I’m Saying?
You would think this is easy, but it isn’t.
Today’s culture rewards hot takes and opinions. It’s very easy to say something you don’t believe just to get the attention, especially when your income is tied to the number of eyeballs that see your work.
Great writing comes from deep conviction. If you believe in something deeply, you should write about it.
The printing press is a miracle. Nobles hated it and tried to make it go away. Given that we eventually murdered them all, you can see why they resisted the chance for anyone to say anything. Please don’t insult the tremendous ability to share what you believe without the threat of execution.
Your beliefs don’t have to be shaking, but they do have to be true to you. Maybe you just believe ice cream should be better in 2020. Tell us about that.
We are a richer species when a diversity of ideas is allowed the full extent of expression.
Can I Defend It?
If the printing revolution allowed us to voice our beliefs, the information revolution allows us to validate them.
In the 1950s it would have probably taken you decades of hard work and research to form any sort of meaningful opinion. That isn’t the case today. Today you have the ability to perform the same level of research as a New York Times reporter.
This seems ridiculous in today’s cut-and-paste culture. Who needs attribution? Who needs to give credit? Who needs facts?
Answer: we all do. We’ve just forgotten that.
You don’t have to be obsessed with politics to write about politics. You can write about whatever you want. If — and only if — you take the time and effort to show us why you believe what you believe.
Make us all smarter. Do your research.
“That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”— Christopher Hitchens
Am I Saying It Thoughtfully?
Writing gives you the best chance to perform a miracle — changing a person’s mind.
You don’t read books in the voice of the author. You read them in your own voice. You absorb them at your own pace. There is no excitable speaker to manipulate your emotions. There is no crowd to get you caught up in something you might not believe in the first place.
When someone reads your work, words do all the persuading.
Writers should be the most thoughtful people on the planet. Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case. Instead, we use big words that nobody understands and pat ourselves on the back for doing so.
“Good job Todd! You used hackneyed in a sentence!”
Then, we wonder why nobody read what we wrote.
Thoughtful writing is not necessarily filled with a myriad of impressive vocabulary words. Thoughtful writing is directed at the audience.
Thoughtful writing makes others think.
You may have noticed something.
Each of the steps take time, often a lot of it.
As a modern writer, you probably feel like it is impossible to take the time required to do all of these things. After all, some writers publish a book every two weeks(!), and others write 23 posts every seven days.
An important reminder — most of those books are garbage, and most of those posts are forgettable.
Don’t be seduced by the ocean of bland, pointless content, even if it does get more attention right now. Take the necessary time to write what you mean, defend what you write, and be thoughtful in your defense. Nobody is going anywhere.
Fearless writing rises above the noise and stays there.