Get Rid of Your Feeling of Inadequacy as a Writer Once and for All

by Jan Geronimo on March 5, 2009

Cover of "The Elements of Style"Cover of The Elements of Style

A reader left a comment on my post, Little Known Way to Overcome the Fear of Blogging, that got my attention. She says, “…thinking how good the bloggers here, I lose the zeal to write… you know, sometimes it’s insecurity, or just simply afraid to be incorrect.”

Do you feel the same? Do you sometimes have this suspicion at the back of your mind that you’re not good enough? Or whatever it is you need to say has already been said before and that there’s nothing new and useful that you can add?

Does it stop you?

Guess not. You’re still here updating your blog. You have kept the faith. You realize there maybe nothing new under the sun. But – and here’s the key -you also know it’s your personal stamp that will make the difference in whatever you write about.

You’re lucky. You know precisely how to deal with this. But for those whose self-doubt prevents them from realizing their true potentiality as a blogger this is not a small matter.

First off, let me tell you this. You’re already a unique individual. You don’t need fancy makeovers to be accepted by your peers. Your DNA is so configured that there’s not a living thing on the face of the earth that is your exact match. This makes you unique as a web writer. Dig deep inside you and you will find – if you haven’t already – what sets you apart.

You’re a thoughtful and caring individual in real life. That will show in your writing, believe it or not. So be reflective in your writing. The blogosphere is filled with people forever in a hurry to nowhere and largely living unexamined lives. Be that voice of equanimity. And you will find harassed souls gravitating to hear your unique perspective on life.

You’re impish, outgoing, and funny. These traits will color your posts and how you deal with your readers. Be yourself and astound your readers.

You’re snarky, unpredictable, and sometimes hopelessly morose. That’s still all right. Some blog authors’ rise to prominence have been largely due to this venomous disposition. If you find the right mix – keeping a tight rein on this impulse can set you apart from those who pour bile on their writing day in and day out.

You thought of yourself as bland, not unique enough. Stop right there. Perish that thought. In persuasive writing, the value of ideas takes precedence over less significant considerations. Personal quirks can even get in the way of clear communication. What you mistake for great writing – those unnecessary flourishes and mannerisms are not style – even pulls you back from writing posts that truly pop.

It’s not you who should hog the limelight. It’s your ideas that should take center stage.

Grammar and mastery of the language

These are fiddling matters – nothing that a disciplined study can remedy. In our writing class years ago, my teacher said a startling observation that I remember to this day, “See those teachers? Yeah, they know their noun-verb agreement. But can they write? You’d be surprised they cannot as well as you do.”

“They’re mere technicians of the language,” she said, “But you – you have ideas. Believe in yourself. Remember that.”

I still do.

Helpful Perspective

1. You’re just writing a post. A little story or anecdote that happened in your way to the market. You are not defending a thesis. We are not here to make hell for you just because you said complement instead of compliment. Or because you thought luxuriant and luxurious both meant the same thing. Your visitors drop by to hear your story, and if time permits, for a little chat.

2. Think about this – you’re on the web where readers peer inside your door, scan what you write, and move on. It’s been said they do this at 60 mph, and that’s the cruising speed, mind you.

But of course you want to improve your writing. You can feel it your bones. You’re aching for it.

So what are your options?

1. Find a mentor

Yesterday, I noticed a spelling error on a friend’s About Me page. I emailed my friend and ever so gently asked if it was a typographical error, confessing that it’s bothering me every time I visit. That it felt like it was taunting me to do something about it. My friend took it well. He even appropriated me as his mentor, which of course means I’d alert him whenever he becomes sloppy with his posts. I agreed to guide him.

The community that you build around your blog is studded with generous people. Seek their help. You’d be surprised a lot of them will be happy to work out with you on your concerns.

2. Self-study. A treasure trove of rich online resources sits on your doorstep. Practically a click away. You’re just sidestepping it in pursuit of more exciting web activities. Make self-study a top priority in your online schedule. You have time to give Easter eggs to your Facebook friends when you’re not wasting hours playing Travian. Give up an hour or two for your study. Keep at it daily.

3. Buy this book – The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E. B. White. I highly recommend it. I swear by it. It’s my bible. It’s only 92 pages long but it’s priceless. Bought it in college – that was eons ago – and I still keep it with me.

Because I consider this as a conversation, I’m asking for your suggestions and writing tips. There are a lot of things I have overlooked, I know. What in your experience have you found useful in dealing with the problem of writer’s insecurity or feeling of inadequacy? What do you recommend?

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  • Thank you for quieting the little man in my head. I will rewrite so much that it seems like the words are moving by themselves on the page and I can hear my heartbeat in my ears. It's like an overdose on letters. I enjoy your blog, it's quite helpful for me since I have been trying to get my freelance writing business off the ground.
  • Jan Geronimo
    @Lio Loco: Hi, there. You've made me nervous coming in like that as though through the backdoor - by leaving a comment deep in my archives. My initial thought was - now, what has somebody found in my old post that prompted him to leave a comment.

    Ahahaha. But you're a kind soul, I see. Nothing to worry about pala. :)

    Thanks for your kind words. Indeed, andito lang ako sa tabi tabi. I'm not yet giving up on my dream of publishing a post in a sidewalk cafe in Paris. Or in a lobby of a great playhouse in New York. That dream still burns inside me.

    But of course I still have to take care first of paying for the utilities like electricity and internet connection before I can possibly save up to satisfy my wanderlust.

    Nice meeting you, Lio Loco. I'm just another promdi - from Oriental Mindoro. Nothing impressive about that. Well there is actually - when I shall have recovered my life back. It's been taken away from me since I've been bitten by this infernal blogging bug in December of 2008.

    Do drop by again when you have the time. Oh, I'm old enough to be your father. But I will have to ask you to be a little kind and perhaps ask you to consider me as an aging uncle? Ahahaha.

    Cheers, Lio Loco. :)
  • what great wonders a simple blog-hopping can do!

    i was looking for something new to read over the Internet while boredom is crippling me slowly here in the office and stumbled upon your blog by accident, mr. geronimo. truth to tell, i think i've fallen for your awesome writing mojo - hook, line, and sinker. at first, i even thought that you were a US-based freelance writer of sorts but upon checking your about page, i was even amazed to find out your a fellow pinoy hibernating down south.

    from now on, i'll be checking this wicked site every chance i get to log on the Internet. not to boost your ego, mr. geronimo, but your way of writing makes me feel like i'm writing shitnitz. really. reminds me that i still really have a lot to learn to improve my writing style.

    i used to blog in the english language before. but i abandoned it in exhange for comment patronage. you see, after i blogged in the vernacular, my stats remarkably soared high as compared to when i was still blogging in english. i shoudn't have abandoned it for sheer blogging popularity. tsk tsk. now, i think i'll be blogging back to the original tongue that i've always loved.

    your blog is a big inspiration to me, mr. geronimo. and that's an understatement. i really couldn't express how i'm happy and enlightened to have come across your blog. here's to hoping for more insightful pieces of advice on blogging and writing. big thanks!

    p.s. just curious. if i may ask, how old are you, good sir? 21 here, btw.
    .-= lio loco´s last blog ..Fuckin' Once in a Gawddamn Blue Moon =-.
  • jan
    No, before this escalates I have to make myself clear. Got to draw the line at sheep's eyeball. Yikes!

    But only if there's wiggle room. If not, and this blog's on the line, well surely squeamishness goes out of the window. :)
  • Holly
    Are you counting on this "shaman" to be compassionate and say that your blog's existence doesn't depend on it? You're a brave man.
  • jan
    Only if my blog's existence depended on it. I'm so squeamish! :-[
  • jan
    "Practice means you can't second-guess yourself all the time - you have to write. There are plenty of other people in the world who will judge. Leave it to them. That's THEIR avocation."

    And, pray, tell me where you've been when I was writing this post? You're so right there. And the paragraph before that - where you delineate the fine distinctions about the different kinds of writers. :)
  • Holly
    Sheep's eyeballs. Pork brains in gravy. C'mon - you could SO beat me at that game. I have discovered my limits...

    Recent blog post: Learn Something New Every Day (May 8, 2009)
  • Holly
    I think the problem stems from how we define "writer." The word seems to span a broad spectrum, from "a monkey can use tools; pencils are tools" to "I blog" to "writing is like breathing, I have to write, or I'd die" to "writing IS my day job" to "I just got a six-million-dollar advance on my next book."

    Even within that very broad spectrum, there's another sliding scale of talent and skill. Talent involves imagination, a drive to write, an engaging style of storytelling - skill involves learning how to use the tools of the trade and caring about things like spelling, grammar, and punctuation. To be a writer, you really only need to have an urge and enough skill to put your thoughts on paper in words. To be a good writer, you must also have the ability to tell the story - whether it's fiction or non-fiction, there has to be real communication of thought from your mind to the reader's. To be a professional writer requires the addition of discipline and a high degree of skill. The only way to go from scribbling ideas on paper to being a good writer or even a professional one is to learn, practice, and care. Practice means you can't second-guess yourself all the time - you have to write. There are plenty of other people in the world who will judge. Leave it to them. That's THEIR avocation.

    Recent blog post: Learn Something New Every Day (May 8, 2009)
  • jan
    Guess, I will just have to suck that in. Unless I can top you in a game of one-upmanship. I remember only too well that video of you eating raw tripe on a dare. :)
  • Holly
    "You are not defending a thesis. We are not here to make hell for you just because you said complement instead of compliment."

    Killjoy. :-P

    Recent blog post: Learn Something New Every Day (May 8, 2009)
  • fifi
    hey jan, got this book in college, was assigned to us but never really opened it until a professor told me that her weakness in prepositions was allayed by this book, which came very late for me (like several years after college).

    one should not be limited by his or her ineptness in the english grammar or spelling because what are dictionaries and editors for? we write in english and we speak in another language so there is too much processing involved when one writes. so writing lapses like getting words misspelled or interchanging there and their (or your and you're) can be forgiven.

    it's a different story when the blogger declares himself to be a writer and disappointingly by the way sentences are constructed, you'd realize that he is far from being one. that's when harsh commentaries gush out from the disappointed reader, maybe because of brutal frankness, lack of prudence or just plain tactlessness.

    (i could hear my devcom teacher in high school always telling me, "write to express, not to impress")
  • Jan
    @lemuel: I'd prefer to be humbled by great blog writers. Which means I acknowledge my shortcomings and with a little more faith I get to improve my writing. Feeling inferior can kill one's enthusiasm if we don't watch out. And it's best to keep those unproductive feelings at bay.

    Each of us is unique. Every one of us has an interesting story to tell. So there's room for us all. :)
  • Jan
    @Third World Geek: Good for your two little elves. :) I bet they also got a hefty bonus for quarterbacking in your blog. hehehe.

    @tonex: When someone who writes well visits my blog frequently I'd take that as a quiet endorsement. I'd be flattered. That's my spin on this. Unless of course he/she begins trolling me for corrupting the English language. hahaha. Or if he/she talks badly about me behind my back.

    @petit: oh my God, I forgot to ask your permission. I'm sorry po. Good though you did not find my presumptuousness irritating. Lucky me!

    I can't post every day. I'm not that productive yet. :)
  • lemuel
    great advice! sometimes i also feel inferior to a lot of blogs i visit. i just think that when i write, i write the things which i am interested to write about, sometimes hobbies, sometimes about my family. my blog is an outlet for me. i get to express my feelings and sometimes i get advice from others.
  • Petit
    waaahaahaha! that was me!! okey okey, i'll make a new post one of these days and ill be very honored to have you jan as my mentor. hahaha you guys have blogs everyday, gosh, and good at it. im new here and i just envy all of you, being on the rush and blogging at the same time, how'd you do that? well maybe, that comes naturally. i wish i could learn that too.. thanks for the goooood advice! i need it...badly.
  • tonex
    I must admit it's not as fun as before when you know somebody with good english is reading your blog.

    I think I have above average english grammar and spelling but I don't like to review my posts for grammatical errors and the like.

    I guess that's one of the perks of blogging as compared to writing hehe.
  • Third World Geek
    I got my team this lil book for christmas 2 years ago. I just hope those guys read it. lol.

    We're practically neighbors jan. :)
  • Jan
    @mye: Well, that can be arranged. :) It's not the writing that scary for me. It's the lack of ideas - now that scares the hell out of me. hahaha.
  • mye
    hi jan - i also want you to become my mentor! you and bingkee...^_^

    i love how you write and i love your grammar. mine is not that perfect and i lack vocabularies but i know i can still write a little ^_^

    thank you for the kind words left in my blog ^_^
  • Jan
    @Roy: You should see me turn green with envy whenever I'm reading a writer on the web that's compellingly written. Of course, the next step is to add him/her to my reader. I'm going to learn from this guy, I always say to myself.

    So reading is the other half of the coin. You're spot on.

    Thank you. I will never correct a fellow writer on his comment page. If I can't resist the urge, I'd write him/her an email. You might feel better teaching a fellow or two and congratulate yourself, but at what cost. You might lose a potential friend. And I will never risk that.

    Me too. But I don't obsess about it much. If I do, I will not have anything to post about. hahaha.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
  • Roy
    great bloggers don't really make feel insecure, but I do get a feeling of envy... you know, feelings like "hey, I could have written that!"

    I love reading... and I guess that is one thing that has really helped to write. As I have always been writing, I really suck as a conversationalist, I need time to think. That's why I've very much comfortable in writing.

    That was nice of you to correct the error in friend's blog. I read somewhere, someone taking note of my 'imperfect grammar' as if she was my English teacher as she linked and write about one of my blogs which was featured on TV last year.

    I don't have a perfect grammar, I often make mistakes in my compositions and I am not even aware of them. I just go on with what sounds good to me and what makes me feel comfortable.

    oops! I thinks I've said quite a mouthful :)
  • Jan
    @sheng: Thanks. I just hope I didn't drive you to tears with my long post. :)

    @yatot: yeah, if we can't be a good writer we might as well be a good blogger. Or the best candlestick maker, the best butcher, or best anything.

    Practice spells the difference.

    It's the call center industry's loss, not yours. :)

    @bingkee: I'd hate to be in your class. Imagine competing with a kid who gobbled up books for dessert! hahaha. Bet you left your classmates huffing and puffing just to catch up with you.

    I've my stint with diary writing, too. Every time I find one I get rid of it. You know, like making a bonfire out of it. It's ugly and pretty much retarded. :)

    But you're right - a large part of my writing voice has been honed through those early stages of writing: venting, ranting, coping with unrequited adolescent love.

    Keep on writing, that's the key. Thanks, Bingkee. Love your input.

    @Dee: I don't think you have much use for it though. You have a good command of the language. And you have a husband who looks over your shoulder. Some people are just lucky and blessed. :)
  • Dee
    Good advice that addresses an issue I sometimes face. It's really intimidating sometimes if one reads a very well-written page. But I mostly enjoy the writing.

    That's an excellent book, I do have that and the other one, The Elements of Legal Style or something. They're helpful for us because what we most do is write papers. But the thing is, I haven't read it yet, hehe. And we've had them for like 7 years! My husband had though so I just ask what the important points were.:D
  • bingkee
    Jan, you hit it right. You gave sound advice. Hey, I read that book in high was helpful but now it's kinda outdated for my rebellious "nature " of doing what I need to write and the way I write it.
    I started writing at age 8 because of my love for reading. I learned to read at age 5 and from then on, there's no stopping me and then became fascinated how words are woven to make amazing stories. I first wrote poetry but poetry is limited for me who liked details. I read a lot , history books, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton, Sweet Dreams series then to classical literarture then to bestsellers. I also read romance books but I never like them . I also shun chick lit---it's like comic books to me. Although I read comic books too. But my favorites are the classics. I also read a lot of magazines---fashion, music, technology, news , interior design, etc.
    I just write and write and write . I still have my diaries (journals) in my handwriting since Grade 3. And if you could read it, you would find a lot of incorrect grammar but never a wrong spelling :-)
    So , my tips; read and read and read a lot. Write and write and write a lot. Develop a style of your own but be natural to yourself. Don't try to be what you are not. It's just gonna come out you're a T.H. if you do that.
    Write as if you're talking to a person as if your writing reads by itself. As I've said before, refrain from using too much "difficult words"---you're going to shove your readers away.
  • yatot
    as I said in the past, people can all be bloggers but not all of them can become writers... but then again, here's the good news... blogging can improve the way you write... it's like a practice ground to everything in writing!

    i started with a loser subject-verb agreement knowledge... yeah i sucked at that... that's why i was not hired as a call center agent.. i sucked at sentence construction and straight talking in english...

    but when i was hired in a publication company, my grammar and conversational english somehow improved as time goes by... hey, i think made it...

    for some tips on writing and blogging... i want to share my blog entry that you can read here!
  • sheng
    Hi Jan, great site, and great tips too...
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