Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to Write With Authority

Quote of the Day:
The best advice on writing I’ve ever received is: “Write with authority.” ~Cynthia Ozick

This quote reminded me of a conversation I’ve had with a few friends. Especially those who write non-fiction. You know, it can be pretty intimidating to be seen as the expert on something…even if you ARE the expert. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that no one is going to take you seriously if you don’t take yourself seriously.

There have been many times in my life, in writing this blog, writing my non-fiction book, writing guest entries, answering questions on a variety of things, writing news releases and other things for my brother’s company, that I’ve sat there and thought, “What am I doing? What if I mess up? What if I don’t know as much as I think I know?” My doubts about my own knowledge and abilities have siderailed me many times. There have been times when I’ve felt like a total fraud and I just knew that someone was going to call me on it.

But you know, I DO know what I’m doing. I’ve been writing for a long, LONG time. Do I know all the answers? Of course not. But I do know a lot. I’ve got enough education and experience that I should be confident in my abilities. But that isn’t always the case.

You know how to deal with that? Fake it. Push through it until those feelings of inadequacy go away. No one is going to have confidence in you unless you have confidence in yourself. If you see yourself as the expert, as the authority, others will as well.

So, what is the easiest, most effective way of writing with authority?

It’s simple. With this one little act, your writing will go from sounding hesitant and unsure to being strong and authoritative.

Remove statements such as “I think,” “Maybe,” “I believe,” “In my opinion,” from your writing.

Those phrases weaken your authority and calls what your saying into question. For example, look at these sentences:

1. I think you should put a thesis sentence in your introduction.

2. Your introduction must include a thesis sentence.

Both statements say the same thing, but the first one makes it sound more like a hesitant suggestion, like maybe you aren’t sure. The second one decisively gets the information across in a sure and authoritative way.

1. Maybe you should change the wording of this sentence.
2. The wording of this sentence would be stronger if you changed it.

1. I believe the right answer is B.
2. The right answer is B.

It’s simple…a minor little tweak, but the effect is profound. This is now one of the main things I check when I edit my work. I do occasionally use these phrases if I’m trying to be gentle about something, like in critiques – but only if it’s something I don’t feel strongly about.

Put your knowledge out there. Make your statements, share your expertise. And don’t be wishy-washy about it. Even if you don’t feel 100% confident in yourself, write like you do. Write with authority and you will be seen as an authority.


Jennifer Shirk said...

I think you're right--er, I mean, you're right! :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wonderful post. I'm ready to hit this day with authority. Thanks!

Tana said...

I just finished a proposal and I rewrote several portion where I would state "I hope to..." to read, "I will..." I def. was in this frame of mind this weekend!

Jen said...

Great post! Thanks for the encouragement. I use those weak phrases in my every day speech. I think I need a change :)


Roni Loren said...

I love the "fake it til you make it" philosophy. None of us start out as experts at anything. There's a faking period in every career.

Laurie Marquis said...

You go girl!! I always knew you were a brilliant mind and am so excited that you know it too!!

Unknown said...

I tell this to my students CONSTANTLY! Why don't they ever get it? :)