Write with Heart, Tin Man

Write with Heart, Tin ManAll exceptional writers, copywriters, and bloggers all share a quality that distinguishes them from the throngs of mediocre echo-artists: They write with a unique style and authentic voice. They write with heart.

Writing with heart? That’s your big secret? What, do all freelance writers live in fantasy land?

Most of time, yes, but we’re forced kicking and screaming to keep one foot firmly anchored in Mundania – we have bills to pay, after all.

In the real word, our writing takes many forms: Many of us still write stories, but others write blogs, articles, websites, white papers, or ad copy. Most freelance writers do some eclectic combination of all of the above.

Great writers explore subjects that interest them and that they naturally have strong opinions about, so their passion for the topic clearly shines through in every word they write. And when it’s time to get down to business and put words on the page, they can easily avoid writing’s cardinal sin: writing uninspired wishy-washy drivel that slowly sucks their readers’ lives out through their eyeballs.

But even the most menial writing jobs can be rewarding if you practice Scarecrow Zen to get curious about every topic your clients need. Curiosity is the secret to transcending obscurity – but not because it leads to encyclopedic knowledge.

Deep curiosity is the gateway to passion. And passionate writing separates the masters from the tin men.

“But once I had brains, and a heart also; so,
having tried them both, I should much rather have a heart.”

What inspired you to write?

Can you remember?

I used to sit up at night, flashlight in hand, mesmerized by the misfit adventures unlikely heroes: Slaying dragons, solving mysteries, romancing fair maidens, and saving the universe in the process. Nothing was impossible. Not to an eight year old.

Masterful storytellers brought their ideas to life in my mind. Their words were magic; their unique voices spun tales I’d never forget.

I turned page after well-worn page, and it set my imagination on fire.

Writing was my outlet. I could let my wildest dreams out to play. My head was brimming with stories, and I had to share them with anyone and everyone.

I wrote as fast as my pen could move. My words spilled out of me like it was the most natural thing in the world. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, and exactly how to say it. I was uninhibited. Fearless. I had a style of my own and my voice was authentic.

I wrote with passion. I wrote with heart. And I knew that what I was writing mattered.

But somewhere along the way, we forget that simple truth.

We grow self-conscious and fearful. We’re taught to hide who we really are, and we embrace our disguises spectacularly.

Too many would-be writers are crippled by their desire to play it safe. They forget why they picked up the pen in the first place, and they let writing become just another rat-race job. Their fire dims; their writing suffers.

They lose their passion. They lose their heart. And they give up.

“And I should not have had my lovely heart,” said the Tin Woodman. “I might have stood and rusted in the forest till the end of the world.”

Finding your Voice:

A Rusted Writer’s Oil Can

Let’s face it; people could get their information anywhere. They choose to get it from you because you deliver insightful ideas in a unique voice. Your voice. You bring a nuance to your writing that no one can duplicate. No one else has your unique combination of experiences, and no one else combines disparate ideas in exactly the same way.

When you’re a writer, your voice is your unique selling point. It’s your connection to clients, readers, and publishing deals. It separates you from the tin men of the world.

Sure, you’ll use a different tone to write a white paper than a short story or a blog post, but all are equally infused with your individual style. That style may me friendly, authoritative, snarky, casual, humorous, serious, or some random combination of Mad-Libs adjectives, but it will be your own.

The Tin Woodman, raising his axe, rushed toward the little man and cried out, “Who are you?”

Commit yourself to finding your voice; it will be your greatest strength.

Take off your mask and write with heart.

And when you do, people will listen. Once you’ve hooked their attention, your thoughts and ideas have a powerful influence. You can make people smile. Or cry. Or buy. Or transform their life. Who knows, maybe you’ll spark an idea that changes the world.

Yes, your words have that power: The Fate of Humanity is in your hands!

But only if you can hold your readers’ attention, and you’ll only do that by writing with heart.

*All quotations from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (Free Project Gutenberg version available here)

Do Tell…

What inspired you to write? Have you found your voice? Has writing with passion influenced the content of your writing? Share your experience in the comments.
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(Writing would be Easy) If I Only had a Brain

The straw-brained ScarecrowI admit it.  My head is filled with straw.

I simply don’t know enough to write anything informative or insightful.

How am I supposed to educate and inspire without the wisdom of a sage?  How can I write believable characters without a thorough grasp of psychology?  When my research geologists drilled into a frozen Antarctic lake, were their machine malfunctions plausible?  What if a freelance client needs an article exploring the ecological impact of biodiesel?

By some cruel twist of fate, I didn’t spring forth into the world knowing all there is to know.  I’m going to go out a limb and guess that the universe played the same trick on you.

Fortunately, we have an ace up our sleeves.

We’re writers.

And writers love to learn.

Scarecrow Zen

The Scarecrow’s Secret Gift

“My life has been so short that I really know nothing whatever. I was only made day before yesterday.”

Little did the Scarecrow know, he was quite a lucky fellow.

Zen master Shunryu Suziki stresses the importance of approaching life with a beginner’s mind.  By adopting “Scarecrow Mind”, you open yourself up to the possibility of discovery.  The entire world seems fresh and full of mystery; there’s always something new to explore.

The beginner’s mind sidesteps our preconceptions about the “right” way to approach a problem. It promotes insightful writing from an unconventional perspective.  And it acknowledges that there’s always more to learn.

If we allow ourselves the arrogance of thinking we’re experts, we close ourselves off to new information.  And the world is changing too fast to allow ourselves that luxury.

The rate of scientific discovery is snowballing as Moore’s Law propels us toward the singularity.  But until we’ve all merged with cyborg supercomputers, we need to concede our incomplete understanding of the world and keep learning the old-fashioned way.

If you’ve ever made a mistake (which I’m absolutely certain has never happened), you’re familiar with the danger of assuming you know everything.

The three most powerful words in the English language are “I don’t know”.

By acknowledge that you don’t know something, you’ve given yourself a valuable gift:  the opportunity to find out.

Childlike Curiosity

“Luckily, when the farmer made my head, one of the first things he did was to paint my ears, so that I heard what was going on. … he painted my right eye, and as soon as it was finished I found myself looking at him and at everything around me with a great deal of curiosity, for this was my first glimpse of the world.”

Do you remember when you were young, and even the most mundane objects commanded your fascinated attention?

There was so much to see, to hear, to learn.  Every new experience taught us something about the world, so we opened our eyes and took it all in.  We made keen observations.  We asked endless streams of questions.  We yearned to make sense of the world around us.

Then, we stopped.

What happened?

As we’re socialized into adulthood, we internalize the misguided notion that questions make us look stupid.  And no one wants to look stupid, so we stop asking questions.

Big mistake.

Especially for a writer.

Great writers are inherently curious.  They’re not afraid to ask “stupid” questions, and they scour the world for answers.  They repeat the incessant “why?” of a child. They want to know how everything works, and by golly they’re going to find out.

So get curious, and keep asking questions.

Want to know why?  Glad you asked.

You Know More than You Think

(and You Think More than You Know)

“Can’t you give me brains?” asked the Scarecrow.
“You don’t need them. You are learning something every day. A baby has brains, but it doesn’t know much. Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.”

Young or old, innocent or experienced, writers are some of the most well-read people on the planet.

We ponder literary masterpieces and devour dog-eared paperbacks.  We analyze magazines and scrutinize blogs.  We used to read newspapers.  We study history, and science, and philosophy.  We’re in love with danger, adventure, and romance.

We’re hopelessly obsessed with storytelling.

“You mean, you actually read for fun?”  Pretty strange, I know.  But if you’re a writer then I’ll bet you’re an avid reader, too.  We can’t help it. We’re under the Imperius Curse compelled to do so.

With our noses buried in books we’ve lived a thousand lifetimes, inherited the insights of vivid imaginations, and had experiences others could only dream of.

We’ve absorbed a wealth of information from well-researched content.  The internet connects us to the sum total of human knowledge.  Anything we need to know is available at the touch of a button.

And when we’re learning something new?  There’s always someone one step behind, eager to benefit from our recent experience.  Why not share the journey, and find out where it leads?

“If this road goes in, it must come out,” said the Scarecrow, “and as the Emerald City is at the other end of the road, we must go wherever it leads us.”

Next time you feel like your head is stuffed with straw, and writing would be easy if you only had a brain, consider yourself lucky.  You know exactly what to do:

  • Adopt a “Scarecrow Mind”, and open yourself to the possibility of discovery.
  • Practice childlike insatiable curiosity.  Don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions.
  • Realize that you know more than you think.  You’re a writer, after all.

*All quotations from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (Free Project Gutenberg version available here)

Do Tell…

Have you ever felt like your head was full of straw? How did you get through it? Share your experience in the comments.

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The Lion of Oz and the Courage to Write

The Courageous Lion

Writers are notoriously self-conscious creatures.

We doubt the flow and the cadence of our words. We question the validity of our thoughts. We are eternally plagued by the self-sabotaging belief that nothing we write will ever be good enough.

How could we possibly measure up to the sheer genius of those who stoked the flames of our passion and inspired us to write in the first place?

What if we pour our hearts into our prose, only to have it relentlessly dismembered by critics and trolls?

What if we lay our souls bare and no one notices or cares…

Scarier yet, what if they do?

The King of Beasts

When we read L. Frank Baum’s classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it’s difficult to imagine it as anything less than the masterpiece we’re familiar with today. Certainly he never doubted that his writing would become a cultural mainstay and touch the lives of millions, right? I mean, great writers are supposed to know they’re great. Why would anyone with such a knack for storytelling ever hesitate to share their gift?

“It’s a mystery,” replied the Lion. “I suppose I was born that way. All the other animals in the forest naturally expect me to be brave, for the Lion is everywhere thought to be the King of Beasts.”

But it’s completely normal for a writer to be filled with apprehension at the thought of publishing their work, and that’s not always a bad thing:

  • It forces us to critically re-examine our words.
  • It can save us from embarrassing errors.
  • It allows us to fine-tune our thoughts.
  • It allows us to redraft our sentences and paragraphs to ensure that they convey our ideas effectively.

But the overly critical writer gets stuck in analysis paralysis.

If we allow the critical voice within to dominate our thoughts and actions, we’ll never share our words at all.

Or perhaps we’ll seek external validation from some all-powerful wizard in an Emerald City (or a well-known blogger) to give us the courage we seek.

“Oz keeps a great pot of courage in his Throne Room,” said the man, “which he has covered with a golden plate, to keep it from running over. He will be glad to give you some.”

And although that wizard may be the most wonderful wiz that ever there was, he’s still just a person. Like all people, even the best writers doubt their words. On a regular basis.

But every great writer started somewhere.   We have  to crush – or at least temporarily suppress – our fear of the critics.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain – he cannot give you anything you don’t already have. The best articles, writing coaches, and blogs do nothing more than awaken you to the truth that you had the courage to write within you all along.

Writing is a risk.  It exposes our hidden desires, passions, fears and vulnerabilities.
Successful writers are the ones who have learned to get comfortable putting themselves on the line and taking that chance.

The Cowardly Lion said it best:

“I am terribly afraid of falling, myself,” said the Cowardly Lion, “but I suppose there is nothing to do but try it. So get on my back and we will make the attempt.”

*All quotations from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (Free Project Gutenberg version available here)

Do Tell…

Have you ever struggled to find the courage to write? Do you still? How did you overcome it? You can start small: Share your experience in the comments.

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