How To Write About Things That Matter

Published: July 2014


My ears get hot and I feel the uncontrollable urge to swallow for no reason. That’s how it feels when I talk about ideas that mean a lot to me.

I know you have felt it too whenever you open your mouth to express something coming from deep inside you.

It’s hard to talk about the stuff that really matters. So hard, that many of us never do it. Many of us have profound ideas that can change the world but they never get expressed.

These thoughts need to be exposed. Ideas that are not shared are worthless. How can we ever find the truth without giving what we have to others? These things that matter are what make us human.

Each of us has the potential to be awesome. We all have thoughts that matter. We all have a voice and we all have something that needs to be said.

What’s Stopping Us?

Our biggest obstacle is fear.

We are afraid that people will criticize our ability to express our thoughts or we are afraid that people will criticize our thoughts themselves.

That’s all. Remove these two obstacles and a whole new world will open to you (if you weren’t already singing Disney’s Aladdin you are now).

But how do you get past them?

Train Yourself

In college I took a song writing class. The professor gave us one piece of advice that has always stuck with me. He said, “Train yourself to a national or world class level and then turn your heart to the things that matter to you.”

No matter how good your lyrics are if your music sucks no one will listen. No matter how profound your thoughts, if you can’t write a decent poem no one will ever understand them. Train yourself because then you are able to tell your story and share your idea.

There will always be naysayers. But when you are confident in your abilities it is much easier to brush them off.

If someone told me today that my writing sucked I would politely thank them for their opinion and then give them the finger as soon as their back was turned (I would never do this). I know I am a good writer. I have not always been and if someone had told me that I sucked a few years ago I might have been devastated.

But confidence in my abilities has allowed me to write about things that matter to me.

Start Somewhere Safe

Earlier tonight my younger brother came over. He is in his second year of college and is trying to figure out what to do with his life. Last week it seemed like he had found a direction that would make him happy. But tonight when I asked him about it he was reluctant to talk.

Turns out he told someone about his plans and she said that they were stupid. Stupid is the vilest word in the English language. If I knew who this “friend” (in quotes for a reason) was I would give her more than one piece of my mind.

Once again, there will always be naysayers. If you are unsure about your idea share it with someone you trust. Someone who you know won’t make you feel dumb.

I can always count on my parents and my wife to give me great feedback. They love me and even though they sometimes have to tell me that my ideas need a little work, they never make me feel like I am dumb.

Whatever your situation, find a circle of safety. Share your thoughts with these people. Take their advice and make your ideas better.

Take Small Steps

I started writing poetry in high school. Like most high school poets I sucked. Also like most high school poets I was blissfully unaware of how much I sucked. My mom loved my poems. My teachers thought they were pretty good too.

Then I got to college and quickly learned the truth. My mom didn’t know much about good poetry and she couldn’t give me the feedback I needed to get better.

Your circle of safety might be protecting your feelings and giving your confidence a boost but, in order to really become better and make a difference, you have to branch out.

My first creative writing class was terrifying. I was acutely aware of just how inadequate my writing was. But as I shared it more I realized that everyone else was just trying to get better too. As I took higher level writing courses I met even better writers who gave me even better feedback.

One of the last courses I took was a mix of undergrads and grad students. It was intimidating reading the work of truly talented writers. If I had jumped into this class my first semester, I probably would have seen how my work paled in comparison and given up. But the little steps I took during my other classes prepared me. As a result the class was a challenge that strengthened me rather than breaking me.

It was scary but, after a lot of hard work and a lot of anxious writer’s workshops, by my senior year I was able to turn out a decent poem. I even had one published in the university’s literary magazine.

I am not claiming to be a great poet. I am not the next Billy Collins or W.S. Merwyn. But I have improved a lot and I know I am at least semi-proficient.

Taking small steps outside my circle let me incrementally improve my writing without reaching the point of discouragement.

Your Turn

What are your big ideas? What are you afraid to share? Let me know in the comments. This is a safe place I promise.

Image credit: Flickr

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Rob Skidmore writes science fiction stories about being human.

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