You’re under a deadline to write a 750-word blog in a couple of hours. What do you do? If you’re anything like me when I’m under pressure, you start writing a sentence, then correct a word in that sentence, write a second sentence, correct a word in the second sentence, delete the first sentence, then delete the second sentence—and you’re back at ground zero with no sentences and just 90 minutes left on the clock to finish the blog.
“What in the world am I even talking about?” you think to yourself. “And who’s going to read this anyway?”
This is what I call writing from your head, not your heart. And it’s easy for me to get stuck writing from my own head because I think I must get my writing RIGHT. After all, I’ve got a Ph.D. in English, and I’m a well-published author, writing coach, and editor. I have to prove I can write—right? When I’m in my head like this, I’m thinking, “Pay attention to every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every mark of punctuation, every typo and misspelling.” After all, my writing and my thinking must be perfect! But perfecting every jot and tittle, especially in the beginning stages of writing a blog, an article, or chapter of a book will drive me (and you) crazy! It will also keep you (and me) from writing, finishing, and feeling confident about almost anything significant.
So here are three strategies I use to get out of my head and write from my heart.
1. Free write first. Edit later.
Like other human beings, I deal with a negative voice inside my head that’s constantly criticizing me: Why can’t I write faster? I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not good enough. I’m boring. What I’m writing is boring. This is too hard. I don’t have what it takes.
My inner critic will go on and on like this, especially when I first start writing something important to me. That’s why the first strategy for great writing begins with what writing experts call “invention” or “automatic” writing. You might call it “brainstorming,” “content dumping,” or “free writing.” But regardless of what you call it, this early writing is meant to generate ideas and enable you to discover what you have to say. If you don’t give yourself the time to write freely without starting and stopping to critique what you’re saying, you’ll never get out of your head and into your heart. And, by the way, you won’t save time by trying to write and edit at the same time. So set an alarm for at least 15 to 30 minutes and write with abandon.
Sometimes writing by hand in a notebook—rather than typing on a computer—promotes more freedom to create without censoring yourself. Typing makes it too easy to start correcting words and sentences too soon in the process. Handwriting can slow down your brain, signal that this is only a draft, and lead to what psychologists call more “emotion-focused” writing. So try curling up on a comfy couch and using pen and paper to write from your heart.
2. Write with a specific person in mind.
A second strategy for making writing from the heart easier is to think about a specific person you’re writing for. “If Chantel were sitting beside me, struggling to get out of her head, what would I tell her about how to write from her heart?” The minute I tap into who Chantel is and what I know she needs, I begin looking for answers from my own heart, not just my head, which is also the type of coaching I’d offer her if we were working together face-to-face. In other words, writing to a specific person encourages me to start caring about Chantel and stop protecting my own ego about my writing.
3. Tell a story that makes you feel something yourself.
Knowing I had to meet my deadline for writing this blog, I woke up early on the day of the deadline with low-grade anxiety. “You can do it in two hours,” I told myself. “Just stick to your morning routine. Breathe. Stay present. Stop worrying.” After taking my two dogs for a walk, I plucked a small orange off my tree, peeled it, cut the orange in pieces, and mixed them with banana slices—my favorite fruit salad. After eating breakfast, I walked into my office and turned on my computer. “What am I going to write about?” I thought. “I have no idea. Why did I ever say I’d do this?” (Can you hear me getting stuck in my head right away?)
Sifting through a list of blog topics my marketing company had suggested for me a year ago, one topic caught my attention: “How to Get Out of Your Head and Write from Your Heart.” Perfect. “Now,” I asked myself, “How do I write from my heart?” The answer came almost immediately: whenever I’m writing something that comes from my heart—and not just my head—at some moment during my writing process, I start crying, laughing, or getting excited about what I’ve written. In other words, I, myself, experience an emotion—a feeling from my heart—that moves, touches, and inspires me to share my ideas.
You, too, will know you’ve gotten out of your head and written from your heart when you feel inspired by your own writing, know it will move your readers like it has moved you, and feel confident that what you’ve written will empower others to take new actions.