Finding An Online Voice:
Simple Tips to Improve Your Writing
by Anna Bowness-Park
Some years ago, writing was difficult for me. Writing about my faith and spirituality was even more challenging. Faith is something we feel is precious to us, so we tend to want to keep it in a safe place – protected, unchallenged, hidden from the world. Yet here I am now, regularly writing about spirituality and healing.
So what changed?
It started when I accepted a position that required me to write and speak about my church and faith – so as to give the public a better understanding of Christian Science, but without proselytizing. A pretty tall order. To do this, I enlisted the help of a writing coach to help me get past my fears and find my voice. I also realized that I needed to step out of my comfort zone. So I decided to write about what I loved, while at the same time loving the reader who had paused to look at my articles.
Creating a Community Blog: How did it begin?
Sometimes it is easier to do new things if we are part of a team or a group. At least it is for me. So I approached the Times Colonist newspaper in Victoria, B.C. with the idea of a community blog on their website – one that would be open to spiritual thinkers of different faiths, no faith, or those who are spiritual but not religious, but who wanted to write. The editor loved the idea, and Spiritually Speaking was born.
That was seven years ago. Since then, our intrepid group of eight writers has doubled to sixteen, with guest writers often contributing. The Times Colonist liked it so much they also created an entire page for religion in their Saturday print edition, and gave our blog a weekly column on the page.
What has been so rewarding is how all the writers have grown in their confidence and writing skills. We have had new writers join; others have retired to write their own blogs; yet Spiritually Speaking just keeps growing, and so do our writers.
As for me, this humble beginning expanded my confidence so much that I began writing for other online sites as well, including three years of a weekly spirituality and health blog for the Vancouver Sun.
Think about Your Readers
Spirituality is a touchy and very personal subject, so taking readers into account when writing is important. They may be casual spiritual thinkers or deeply religious; atheists, or somewhere in between all of these. They will hail from very different backgrounds and have a wide variety of opinions, so a deep respect for the reader is a great place to start. This sets the tone for your articles.
Next, I ask myself: “What will give the reader a fresh and inspiring way to see a problem that they may relate to, empowering them to rethink that issue?” I then consider what is frequently in the news that I could write about in an uplifting way. The news could certainly use some of that these days.
Simple Tips to Help Improve Your Writing
1) Think it through: Many people use a stream of consciousness writing style. However, I have found that this does not work well in a public forum. Readers don’t want to work hard to understand what you are saying; it needs to be well thought through.
2) Focus on one idea: The most well-read articles are those which share one clear, simple idea, and an example of it. The most effective of these is personal. For example, suppose I want to write about the concept of forgiveness. Rather than just talk about what Jesus said (or one’s religion thinks) about it, I would share a tangible example of forgiveness in my own life or in the world – maybe both. (I highly recommend the website, The Forgiveness Project, for inspiring examples on this subject.)
3) Three simple rules: To help me be more focused when I write, I write these three statements at the top of every article I do:
- What is the one clear idea I wish to share: (e.g.) Forgiveness
- An example of that idea: Example from The Forgiveness Project
- Share it in a way that a reader would understand.
It may take a little discipline to begin this way. However, the results will be rewarding and your readers will come back for more.
4) Stay on course: Every time I write a new paragraph, I also look to see if it is still focused on my subject.
5) Ask someone for help: I have always found it helpful to have someone edit my work. This enables me to see things I don’t. It also helps to corral and sort out the many ideas I have. Sometimes this feels like an exercise in herding cats, since my ideas can be scattered about or interrupting each other. But it has been essential for helping me find the ones that are most important.
6) Practice letting go: When writing about spirituality, it is very easy to become attached to our words. Yet letting go of a personal sense of our work or faith is absolutely essential for good writing. While this is tough to do, it is very freeing when accomplished. (It is most easily accomplished when you have someone you trust give honest feedback about your writing.)
These are just a few ideas to get started with. But the most important thing is to write about things that are in your heart and you wish to share. When we do that, it becomes a heart-to-heart conversation with readers which begins and ends with love. This infuses the article with inspiration and freshness, which not only blesses you but those who read what you write.
Invitation to Readers: If you would like to write more, please let me know. For those located in British Columbia, I can arrange for you to write an article for Spiritually Speaking, or on our new blog, The Spiritual View (for the Vancouver Courier website). You would not need to commit to regular writing. And it is a way to emerge gently into publishing your ideas to the world without the heavy work and expense of having your own blog.
Anna Bowness-Park writes about spirituality and the potential for experiencing its healing effect on our every day lives from her experience as a Christian Science practitioner. She also manages Spiritually Speaking, an interfaith blog hosted on the Victoria Times Colonist website. You can contact her on her website at http://anna-bownesspark.ca