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, you start writing a sentence, then correct a word in that sentence, write a second sentence, delete the first sentence, then delete the second sentence — and you’re back at ground zero with just 90 minutes left on the clock to finish.
“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 mark of punctuation, every typo and misspelling.” After all, my writing must be perfect! But perfecting every jot and tittle 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.
Free write first. Edit later. Like other human beings, I deal with a critical voice inside my head: “Why can’t I write faster? I’m not good enough. 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. 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 you won’t save time by trying to write and edit at the same time. Set an alarm for at least 30 minutes and write with abandon.
Sometimes writing by hand in a notebook promotes more freedom to create without censoring yourself. Typing makes it too easy to correct 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” (elemental.medium.com/bring-back-handwriting-its-good-for-your-brain-fe22fe6c81d2) writing. So try curling up on a comfy couch and using pen and paper to write from your heart.
Write with a specific person in mind. A second strategy for writing from the heart 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, 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.
Tell a story that makes you feel something yourself. Knowing I had to meet my deadline for writing this article, 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 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. I experience an emotion that moves, touches and inspires me to share my ideas.
You will know you’ve gotten out of your head and written from your heart when you feel inspired by your own writing and feel confident that what you’ve written will empower others to take new actions.
Laura Bush, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of Peacock Proud Press. She works with corporate and community leaders, successful entrepreneurs and sought-after speakers who want to write a high-quality book that expands their visibility and differentiates them as an authority in their industry.