Though I haven’t always stuck to the topic exclusively, I started out blogging about self-help / personal development and that has formed the basis of my my writing.
Writing self-help isn’t easy. To start with I was consumed by insecurity about my writing. Due to my particular sort of rather brazen or stubborn personality, this didn’t stop me writing; however, I did kind of cover up my insecurity by acting too confident in the advice I was giving. Despite my innate dislike of guru-types, I found myself becoming a kind of guru myself.
In time, I’ve learnt to be very, very honest about where I’m coming from. When I’m writing a piece of advice, I work out whether it comes from my experience, stuff I’ve read, intuition, or any mixture of these things. Then, I usually work that information into my writing, so my readers know exactly how much to trust a certain piece of information.
When writing from experience, I prefer to recount my experience directly when possible, so that others can learn from those things which once served to teach me. It’s the best way of avoiding guru-speak. I also find it makes my writing rather more engaging.
When I’m recounting stuff I’ve read, I generally try to give sources when possible or at least say things like “I read this once on the internet, I don’t know where, but…”. I try to give people an impression of my fallibility as a source. Compare “This is how it is,” to “This is what I read and I think it’s probably true.”
And then there is writing from intuition. This is the trickiest.
I believe that we have a vast source of guidance inside of us, and that we can tap into this for our writing. Sometimes, in fact, I find that my inner guidance seems wiser than my real-life self.
It is rather weird to “talk the talk but not walk the walk” as they say. Again, all I can really do is to let people know where I’m coming from. “Though I base this on nothing but my intuition, I feel that things are this way”, or, “Even though I struggle to live this this myself, I sense that things are that way”. Even just starting sentences with “I think” or “I believe” helps, removing the impression of objective factuality.
The funny thing is, that when I write stuff that is a little beyond my everyday level of wisdom, I often find myself learning from it as I write it. Writing advice can be a way of growing; the advice can be a reminder of what you already know but don’t always live, or it can even be something that is somehow new for you as well as for your readers. Writing can be a way of getting all your latent thoughts and ideas to click together into a coherent whole, revealing new insights in the process.
You need to learn the difference between tapping into a deeper level of wisdom and just writing bullshit, though. Particularly in my insecure early days, I wrote a lot of stuff which just sounded nice but which wasn’t really coming from my authentic wisdom; filler, or worse, misleading stuff written with too much confidence. I guess the way I improved on that was to become more secure that I did have a message to give that was valuable to others, and that I didn’t have to overinflate my authority to be worthwhile.
And I do think that you don’t need to be a super mega guru genius to be able to give advice. I think all you need to do is to think about and work on the sort of things you’re encouraging other people to think about and work on. Then, you can share the things you discover on your own process. I think that’s the most natural, organic way of writing, in fact, because when you discover something you’re naturally inclined to share your discovery, and sharing it can be a good way of consolidating it.
I often share things just as I have discovered them. This could be new perspectives, or new ways of dealing with certain problems. The great thing about doing this is that I usually have a surge of enthusiasm about an idea when it first comes to me, and it’s easy to write about it when it’s fresh in my mind. The problem with this is that sometimes I have a great idea which later turns out not to make sense when I’ve spent a while putting it into practice.
For a while I thought I just shouldn’t share ideas when they were this new, preferring to wait until I had some real experience with them to back up the theoretical part. Now, I often choose to take advantage of the surge of enthusiasm I get when the idea first arrives in my head and write about it, but I usually tell people as I do so that the idea is new and that things might change as I later put them into practice.
So, overall, I think you can improve your self-help writing by being as “real” as possible. It keeps your writing honest and authentic, and by telling people where you’re coming from with the advice you give, you give them some idea of how much to trust you. We’re programmed since a young age to trust people who position themselves as authorities, so I think that if we voluntarily step down from our authority pedestal we can help people as they liberate themselves from this form of mental prison.
Sometimes I look back at my old writing and I no longer necessarily agree with what I wrote. I have in the past edited or deleted a lot of those articles, though mostly only the ones where I wrote with an overinflated sense of authority. Hopefully, in the articles where I write with more humbleness and honesty, it will be easier for people to come to their own opinions about what I write rather than succumbing to the programming that induces them to trust those who are positioned as authority figures. That way, I can feel okay even when I think my old opinions are wrong, or when I consider how my current opinions might later turn out to be wrong.
Most of all, don’t give up writing self-help if that is what you are drawn to do. “Guru-syndrome” can be cured, and like most things, you get better the more you practice. And yes, you do have advice people would want to hear. How do I know that? Because you are a person.