Getting started can be tough. Finishing is even harder sometimes.
For those of us who write to influence others with our words, birthing an article can be fraught with anxiety, self-consciousness and delay. That’s dumb. There are no trophies and no one’s keeping score. Just publish it already. (He says, faking like it’s easy.)
A Lesson in Human Nature
Years ago, I was a dog trainer. I mentored under some of the best in the world and eventually became a master trainer who taught others how to become effective dog trainers themselves. I loved every part of it: hanging out with dogs all day, analyzing canine behavior, practicing training technique, problem solving, and even teaching business management. It was a highly gratifying role to help others begin new careers which in turn benefited so many families and their dogs.
The strongest memories for me aren’t about dogs, however, they’re about people. People are complicated, dogs are not. People are the ones who need trainers. People create all the problems.
One of my favorite lessons with the class focused on how clients make decisions. I used a large whiteboard and, starting on the left, I asked the class a simple question: “Why do clients hire us?”
Without fail, the class would recite the features and benefits of our style of training and other facts about the company in general, which I dutifully recorded on the board. Reading from the list, I’d put on my best client impersonation and say, “You know what I really need? I need a humane, proven method to change my dog’s behavior with in-home training that comes with a lifetime guarantee and an A-rating from the Better Business Bureau!”
Silence from the class.
While the client might appreciate those features, they don’t motivate him to action. The class agreed.
I drew a vertical line to start a new column, and asked the question again. “Why do clients hire us?”
A moment of perplexed stares quickly turned to knowing smiles as students shouted, “Barking! Biting! Pulling on the leash! Jumping on guests at the door! Peeing in the house!” Again, I listed every answer. Again we dissected them. Dogs bark every day in every neighborhood with nary a trainer called. Does barking actually trigger the call? Some owners are pulled down the street on every single walk for years. Or lock their dog in the back so it doesn’t jump on guests. Or keep pee pads in the corner because it never learned only to go outside. Millions of owners deal with these problems and never call a trainer. For them, training is not required. Hmmm.
I drew another line. “So why DO clients hire us?”
Again, the collective light bulb turned on and the class understood. “Because they’re mad, upset, frustrated, confused, worried, fearful, losing control! They are embarrassed!”
No one hires a dog trainer because the dog barks. They hire a trainer because their barking dog is embarrassing.
We’re Ego-Driven Creatures, and That Makes Failure Scary
While fear of failure or of feeling embarrassed might keep people like dog trainers in business, it keeps writers from producing to their potential. Writing is a special kind of work in which your ideas are permanently memorialized for all posterity across the global cloud of co-located computer servers.
What if what you write isn’t good enough? What if people hate it? What if someone writes it better?
I’m here to tell you that they will, so you can stop worrying about it. Wanting others to like and respect us is natural. Being social animals, it’s part of what helps us get along so well. But it also holds us back, because no one wants to stand out for the wrong reasons and end up feeling embarrassed. It’s likely that everything you fear about your writing is going to come true, of course. Whether that concerns you is a completely different matter.
Repeat after me:
Someone won’t like how my article is written… So what?
Someone won’t agree with my opinions… So what?
Someone will click on my article, get bored and leave… So what?
Someone will write on the same topic, only better… So what?
Worrying about how people will respond to your writing is like worrying about whether someone will cry on the next season of The Bachelor. It’s going to happen and it makes no difference. To anything. Anywhere. I read much better articles than mine every day. I might have a twinge of self-consciousness when they address the same topic more effectively, but usually, I just want to improve for next time.
The great thing about content is that there’s always something new coming to take it’s place. Despite your concern about how readers will or won’t react, they’ll be over it much faster than you will. And your next article gives them a chance to do that. It’s about them anyway, not about you.
Your Audience is Ego-Driven, Too, So Give Them What They Need
Let’s get back to the dog training for a minute. When new trainers would graduate from class, it was time for their real training to begin with actual clients and dogs. Naturally, they were concerned that they’d get “found out” for being so new and inexperienced. They didn’t want to embarrass themselves. What they soon learned, however, was that clients were far too concerned with their own issues to evaluate their trainers.
Like we learned in that classroom lesson at the whiteboard, clients were so motivated by their own feelings, their own needs, all they knew was that the trainer came and helped them feel better.
As a writer, whether you’re building your own blog or working the marketing angles for a brand, your writing isn’t about you (or your company or product). It’s about your audience. They care what they care about, and your job is to help them feel better with the information, insight, instructions, stories and entertaining prose at your disposal. They want to learn something that helps them, have a new epiphany or just have fun sharing great stuff and getting credit for finding it.
You know what they never do? Share the bad stuff. Online content exists in an evolutionary environment where better content gets more attention, is shared and remembered. Poor content gets forgotten. So what’s with all the concern about writing bad content? Forget about it. Everyone else will. Then get back to work finding an angle your audience really likes and do more of that.