The Secret to Writing Better: Not Overthinking It

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Written by James Dowd,
• 7 min read

No matter what you do for a living, you’re a writer.

It doesn’t matter what your job title is, or what you studied in school, you write every day, in some form, whether it be email, texts, or social posts.

You write; that makes you a writer.

If someone played a musical instrument repeatedly throughout their waking hours, every single day, for decades, would you not call them a musician?

Plus, you study writing constantly. You read a text, watch a movie, listen to a song, you’re studying the music of words, thereby becoming an even better writer.

So, why don’t you call yourself a writer? And, why don’t you write more, and more confidently, and more boldly?

Because you’re thinking too much, letting yourself get in the way of your words.

Why? Because you’re cursed — we all are — with the ever-dangerous sense of self. It’s that feeling that you know who you are, who you want to be, and how you want the world to perceive you. But, when that is threatened — maybe by potentially revealing your true self through the written word — you hide. Your fingers hit the keyboard and you consider what the reader will think of you, and how their opinions will damage your sense of self, and anxiety levels rise. You become self-conscious, stressed, and fearful. Then you don’t write.

So why do we let writing get to us in these ways? Because words when spoken are simple. You say them and they float off into nothingness, but writing…it lasts, it persists, it’s undying, it’s you, and that scares the ever living shit out of us. Writing is exposing your nerves, your thoughts, your feelings, your true self in an enduring form, and that’s why you must run as far as you can from it, because if you put any words down on paper or pixel, the world is bound to find out who you really are. And that is the most frightening thing we face in our daily lives — to be vulnerable, to be naked, to be revealed.

Writing is an everyday challenge for all of us, and it’s guaranteed to invite failure in some form at some time, so we either accept that, try and fail, or we don’t even try at all. We leave it for someone else, making excuses and continuing to run from the challenge. Or, we try and try and try, never getting anywhere with our efforts because we get in our own way. We think too much and feel too little, letting our fear and overanalysis paralyze us. You’ve seen them, and probably have been them. They’re the never-tries and the never-finishes. They never launched that brilliant business because they couldn’t even write the business plan. They never got the date because they couldn’t think of something clever to say in that dating app. They never got the job because they just sent a resume and moved on without a cover letter or correspondence. All of these are people who rationalize giving up or not even trying as an acceptable path away from their fears and self doubts, when just thinking less and writing more was the true path forward.

Even for those brave souls that do try, and even those that do finish, and do publish, writing still remains an everyday challenge, owned and experienced by everyone who makes any effort at stringing together words, but I have found the simple solutions that work for them, and everyone else. For those stranded on the ends of the spectrum — the ones afraid to try on one end, and the ones unable to finish on the other — there is an answer to your writing woes, and it can be summed up into one phrase for all of you:

“You’re overthinking it.”
— said by me, every single day while shaking my head.

Everyone overthinks writing. You overthink it at work when you’re writing even the most basic emails. You overthink it when texting. You overthink it by comparing your work to Hemingway (you’re not). You overthink it and then tell yourself that that’s your writing process (it’s not). You overthink it when you think it’s an impossible feat. You believe thought is the fuel for words, even though it’s actually the one thing fueling your inability to get those words on the page.

Regardless of your job, need, experience, or dreams, writing is and always will be an integral form of everyday communication that drives us personally and professionally. And yet, we’re all still just overthinking the whole damn thing. It’s so much simpler than anyone realizes. You’re just overthinking it.

Writing is one of our strongest and most valuable tools we have to interact with this world, and yet we overthink it constantly because it scares us, it intimidates us, it challenges us, it makes us feel uncomfortable, and no one wants that nervous, I could fuck this up and look stupid feeling all day, every day. We don’t fully understand it or feel comfortable experiencing it, so we waste time trying to add structure and rules and meaning and restrictions where they’re not needed, or we altogether keep our distance. We blame the rules, or the endless possibilities, or the competition, and we run away from it. We say that writing down words to express ourselves is just not our thing, even though choosing not to write is no different than choosing not to speak. You can certainly give it a shot, but it’s surely going to limit your ability to engage with the world around you. So why silence yourself? Why give in to fear and abandon this gift?

The writing skill-set turns out to already be inside you, I promise. It’s a fire inside that drives you to process, understand, create, and connect, and it’s fueled by everything you’ve ever read, listened to, watched, and loved. But, sinking down on top of all of that, drowning it out, stifling the flames, is the fog of ego, anxiety, overconfidence, and self-doubt, preventing it from floating free as brilliant, crisp communication. If only you could find a way to unleash it; imagine what you’d write. Imagine what you’d craft if you felt capable and inspired. Imagine what you’d create when you felt uninhibited, confident, and free.

Remember: you’re imaginative and playful, and have experienced many things. In fact, your brain has memorized thousands upon thousands of words and is quite adept at stringing them up into sentences and launching them from your mouth without much thought. Just think about your last argument. Lots flew out there, huh? Maybe some shouldn’t have. You were creating, but not editing. You were acting, not overthinking. You saw this rare, exciting, exhilarating mix of thought and passion. You were a writer all along.

So, forget what you learned in school, turn your normal brain functions off for a bit, stop trying to show off with all your fancy words, and just write. Do not consider the future, the possibility, the critiques. Do not plan your success when you haven’t even written a sentence. Simplify your thinking, calm your ego, strip away external forces, and write; just write. But more importantly, stop overthinking it. They’re just words, and none of us are perfict.

Looking to write more dumb? Reach out to the Digital Surgeons team of writers about Writing Workshops, or get the little dumb book Write Dumb: Writing Better by Thinking Less, written by DS Creative Director James Dowd.