When you’re uncomfortable with the story or content you’re writing, you might shy away from specifics and instead make broad generic statements. Your sentences might be unnecessarily complex.
You may be subconsciously creating a protective space between yourself and your words. This can make the writing abstract. It’s a dance between your true voice and your reader. When you distance yourself consciously or unconsciously, your reader can often sense that disconnection.
Here’s what someone writing on loneliness said at first:
“Since childhood, I’ve been familiar with the sense of being alone, and the struggles of isolation. Until finding meaning for seclusion, there’s no way to move on. When you lose your voice, it’s like they put a spear in your heart.”
That’s partly because the writer used a passive voice to remove themselves from their writing. The first sentence is vague and distant. The statements are generalized instead of personal. Ideas jump from one to the next. At times, the subject or action is unclear; it’s unclear who “they” is.
Perhaps the writer realized they were trying to protect themselves from the pain of past memories. They decided to try stepping directly into their story:
“Since childhood, I’ve felt alone and struggled with loneliness. My heart was breaking because it was like no one understood me. I lost my voice. I was living a story that wasn’t mine… until I discovered meaning for my seclusion and found myself.”
In which version do you feel more connected with the writer?
In general, people tend to use a passive voice when there’s a power differential, in collectivistic cultures (versus individualistic cultures), when uncertain, and in lieu of taking responsibility. It can also be an unconscious avoidance strategy as an internal protective mechanism.
You can stay in the writing in order to connect more deeply.
Have you ever parried with beliefs like: “I don’t have the right to tell this story. Others will judge me. I’ll be abandoned if I share this story.” Let’s look at ways to not just change the words on the paper, but to open your heart to let yourself out.
Find a safe space to work with your internal self.
- Tune into the heart of what’s keeping you at a distance from your writing. Notice your beliefs, fears, and worries.
- Ask your fears what they need. Reassurance? Permission? Acceptance?
- Give the fears what they need as best you can. Imagine a resource—a fairy godparent, nature, you as an older and wiser self—soothing, guiding, and protecting the fearful self.
- Does meeting your needs help go deeper into the story? …Notice if that’s true for you.
Once you’ve worked with your internal self, check your writing to see if the energy of these beliefs and feelings are evident there…
- Look for abstract, generalized, vague statements. While having diplomacy is a strength in many contexts, consider if a direct route is necessary. (If you can’t see it, ask another set of eyes to take a look—it’s hard to see in your own writing.)
- Identify where you’ve written in the passive voice. As an experiment, change it to active, and see how it feels both personally and in the writing.
Don’t lose who you are! Put yourself out there, and notice how that shifts your writing and your inner self.