You know when you sit down to write and your brain sort of feels kind of…constipated? (I’m all about that classy imagery.)
You finally manage to put a sentence on the screen, but then you backspace over the word “fucking”—because if you say “fucking,” no one will take you seriously—but then you retype the same word, wondering if you were to use such a word, whether it would come across as self-assured and bold, or lowball and crass? You decide to leave it for now—you like the way it energizes your message—but surely you'll edit it out before you publish.
NEXT UP: YOU'LL SHAME YOURSELF SILLY FOR YOUR OWN THOUGHTS.
You'll have written something like, “This is unacceptable,” or “The internet is the breeding ground of cowards,” but you'll trace your thoughts back over those sentences thinking you sound too brash; too undiplomatic. You'll soften your approach. You'll temper your language and say things like, “Am I the only one who finds this unacceptable?” or “The internet can be a dangerous place.”
In your efforts to be less controversial, you will become entirely commonplace. You will have forgotten that opinions, by their very nature, are controversial—and also what makes you human. In effect, you will forfeit your humanness when you write. You will forfeit everything that could have been brilliant. Your words will become stale little pieces of beef jerky, forced together onto a factory assembly line.
NEXT: YOU'LL TORTURE YOURSELF WONDERING WHAT THEY'LL THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU'VE WRITTEN.
You'll re-read your words from the perspective of your client, Joanne—will she think less of me for this?—and then you'll put yourself in the shoes of your best friend—will she think I'm a fake because I don't have this same sense of conviction in my romantic relationships?—and then you'll wonder what that one guy who emailed you those horrible things will think about this—surely he'll write in again reaffirming just how stupid you are—and then you'll begin the process of convincing yourself that the world will roll their eyes at whatever you have to say, that nothing you have said is really worth anyone's attention at all.
You'll move the post to trash, or let it collect dust in your drafts. You can come back to this another day. At another time when your brain isn't constipated and you can think clearly and determine if you are, in fact, a total fucking loser or if maybe there's something worth hanging onto in there. There must be. After all, you got straight A's in English class. It couldn't be all for nothing.
In the meantime, however, you will hop on Twitter. Look for inspiration in other places. Maybe clean your desk. Cook an early lunch. You will pretend to be thinking; try not to be too hard on yourself. But inside, you will know. You will feel the burden of stifled creativity—that's the constipated feeling, by the way—and you will feel this maddening guilt over the fact that you can't just be yourself on the page, and you can't just tell the world to piss off, and you can't just put the right words on the page that will finally make you feel like, yes, you DID say something worthwhile.
IF I MAY OFFER A SUGGESTION: STOP LETTING THE OUTSIDE DISEMBOWEL YOUR INSIDES.
You must politely push past the outside—the people and the emails and the opinions and the fears—and honor your insides. Your art. Your artistic expression. The truth of the matter is that someone will always be offended, because that’s what good ideas do: they change things.
And, change is always offensive to someone.
Therefore, I urge you to be steel-beam-strong. To find nerve in your words, rather than gutlessness. To use words to put a totem pole in the ground of your brand, and in the land of our ideas, and not be too much of a puss to have an opinion.
You've heard me rag on the sea of sameness for years now, and you hate it just as much as I do. Nobody wants to be cookie cutter, because if all the snowmen cookies look the same, how do you make any meaningful distinction? You can't, and that's precisely what happens with business. And yet, the solution is less difficult than we make it:
We must stop saying things worth ignoring.
We must stop saying what’s easy, and start saying what’s true.
The real reason we're scared of our own shadow when writing is because when you're writing on the internet, it's not just your own shadow anymore. If we were scared to enter a cocktail party without knowing anyone, as we so infamously are, imagine if every single person at the cocktail party is armed with a comment box, a reply button, and a 140 character tweet to tell you exactly what they think of you, right then and there. That's what writing on the internet is like. And that's precisely what makes it so intimidating. The knowledge that you will be judged automatically has the power to suffocate your creativity with saran wrap—and that's a proven fact.
Eric Weiner from his book, The Geography of Genius, noted this: “Teresa Amabile, psychologist at Harvard University, divided a team of volunteers into two groups and asked to make a collage. One group was told that their work would be evaluated by a panel of artists and that those who produced the most creative collages would receive a monetary award. The second group was told just to have fun. The results weren't even close, by a wide margin. Those who were neither evaluated nor observed produced the most creative collages.”
In other words, the expectation of an evaluation is enough to mess with your head. And guess what? When you're writing on the internet, you're absolutely worrying that you'll be evaluated. And you will be.
But that doesn't mean you must give the evaluation merit.
The world is full of people who think differently than you (which is literally the understatement of the decade). There are many, many people whose advice you wouldn’t take if they so much as told you how to shovel snow—but we are quick to take their criticisms as gospel. That’s why my rule is simple:
If you wouldn’t take their advice, don’t take their criticism.
Strangers have a unique power to strip us of our voice. But, let me remind, baby doll: you’re only as strong as your own belief in your ideas. Your conviction is what makes the difference in this cold, weird world. You are a mecca of hope to so many people who haven’t even met you yet—but, they need you to speak loudly enough for you to hear them. They can’t see you right now, behind the double-pants-suit layer of performance.
Instead of putting on an act with your writing, put on your humanity.
Have fun with your work.
Because truth be told, the world is passing judgment on you, anyway.
Better to be known as a mouse who had a hell of a backbone, than a lion with no spine.