Layout Image

Are You Waiting for Permission to Write?

I came across this sign when I was out walking the other day.  It said:

check your permit. Permit by Joanna Young on flickr

It got me thinking about the number of times we tell ourselves - consciously or otherwise - that we need permission before we can change things, before we start something new…or before we do something audacious.

It raised some questions in my mind:

1. Are you waiting for permission to start?

2. If  so… whose permission do you think you might be waiting for? (The answer to this might tell you a lot.)

3. If I said you had all the permission, all the authority you could ever need to write what you want to write now…

What difference would that make?


Share on Twitter


  1. Ken Allan says:

    Kia ora Joanna

    I hear what you’re saying - and I agree.

    It is the same culture that prohibits learners from transcending the barriers to learning in the classroom.

    So often, young minds will wait for permission to learn. Even the brightest will wait for the teacher to give the nod of approval for something to be learnt.

    How do I know? I used to attempt to teach calculus in my physics classes. Despite my students understanding calculus; despite them realising that it was a slick and neat way to solve a difficult problem; despite that their maths teacher would have been so proud of them if they’d used a bit of calculus in physics, they needed confirmation that this was an OK thing to do in a physics class. Even their physics teacher wasn’t authority enough to give them that approval - fact!

    We live in a (western) culture that dotes on approval, Joanna. It is reinforced unwittingly through etiquette and other societal conventions. As I write this comment, there is an unwritten convention that says, “Kenneth, you should draw this comment to a close. Now!”

    And do I follow approved practice?

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  2. Ulla Hennig
    Twitter: ullahe

    another good question! Actually I am thinking about embedding a youtube video in my post - and I have the slight feeling that I am waiting for someone’s permission to do it. Whose? Well, sometimes I’ve got the feeling that concerning blogging there are already rules - you do this, you don’t do that. (in order to get more traffic to your blog). And you have to play the rules. I think that audacity in this relationship means being ready for setting up one’s own rules and trying out how they work (or not)!

    Ulla Hennigs last blog post..Happy New Year!

  3. Lucy says:

    Excellent food for thought…often enough we delay permission to ourselves by always finding something else that needs tending to;-)

  4. Robert Hruzek says:

    Once again you hit a surprising truth right on the the head (ouch!) Joanna!

    The day I suddenly realized I had my own permission to write - well, the rest is history! Talk about freedom!

    Great point about being audacious!

    Robert Hruzeks last blog post..What I Learned From 2008 - Robert Hruzek

  5. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim

    Joanna, I share Robert’s reaction, you really did hit on a surprising truth. When I read your words I felt like you were sitting here speaking directly to me. Somehow I too had fallen into the trap of forgetting that my life really does belong to me. I can go in new directions and try different things. Brilliant words of wisdom on this fine morning. Thank you Joanna!

    Karen Swims last blog post..7 Limiting Beliefs Fatal to New Business Owners

  6. Kendra Crispin says:

    Wow. I think you hit the nail on what’s been keeping me from writing. My life/writing coach has been working with me on this, and I could name several places where I may feel I need permission to move forward.

    One other thing: We need to let go of needing permission to learn anything; most of what we will learn takes place outside of the classroom - even when we’re young. As a grown homeschooler, I feel that classes are sapping the joy and curiosity out of learning, and pushing this permission mindset on us all. Of course, to quote Dennis Miller, “That’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.”

  7. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Ken, thank you for that great (if slightly depressing) example. I agree with you that this is deep ingrained. It’s reinforced by the educational system, but I think it’s deeper than that, and often unwritten and unspoken which makes it so hard to spot, and deal with.

    I’m glad you left that comment long :-)

    Ulla, that’s a good example, and I’m glad to see the video has now gone up! Yes, there is so much ‘advice’ out there it’s easy to lose sight of our own path, our own instincts. Audacity (coupled with positive intention) is a way to experiment, to forge ahead, and find our own voice.

    Lucy, yes, because it’s easier to stick within our comfort zones, where we already have authority or ‘permission’. Don’t I know that one!

    Robert, I realised posting this that many of you had already ‘got’ it :-) And I can see the resonance with what I’ve read of your own writing journey - and what you did to set your words free. Thanks for taking the time out from the blogapalooza to come over here.

  8. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Karen, that’s my intention :-) I’m so excited by the journey you’re on at the start of 2009 - I know it will be good for you, and inspiring and motivating to those of us who watch and learn, and reclaim those parts of our own lives that we’ve lost.

    Kendra, hi, and thanks for stopping by. Glad you got an ‘aha’ moment from this post. Realisation is often the first step to letting the feeling go.

    I agree with your comment about deep-rooted learning of the permission mindset in school but also out of it. Best wishes with your own writing.

  9. wilson says:

    Well, Joanna. Here are my answers to your questions:

    1. Are you waiting for permission to start? No, and why should I do it?

    2. If so… whose permission do you think you might be waiting for? (The answer to this might tell you a lot.) Since I don’t need any permission, then I have to skip this question! lol

    3. If I said you had all the permission, all the authority you could ever need to write what you want to write now…

    Hmm…, tough question. I might properly write something to raise up the attention of public to the cancer or unfortunate people…

    wilsons last blog post..Low Cholesterol is The Warning Sign of Cancer!

  10. Tumblemoose says:

    Hi Joanna,

    I think there are a lot of folks who feel like they do need permission to take those first few hesitant steps.

    Until I write something, I’m not a writer - geez, I can’t write anything, I’m not a writer!

    Hey, about about designing a printable permission slip that folks can download here to give them the permission they need?

    Good post!


    Tumblemooses last blog post..Are e-books really the way to go?

  11. Janice Cartier says:

    I love that sign you happened upon. Right out of a Monty Python Skit in some ways. But I digress.

    I learned that by putting a giant piece of white paper on all the tables before some of my art girls came in for the project we would be working on that we had more creative experiences. It freed them up somehow. As if I had given them permission to scribble , doodle , play to their hearts content, no mistakes unwelcome, no silly pictures unwanted. Yes it protected the tables but it also invited them to let themselves just be in that moment for that time. It changed the synergy of the afternoon.

    Those big white sheets of paper, amazing things came out onto them. I had a hard time tossing them afterwards, in fact, I would cut and save, or let them take them home. Along with the “real” projects.

    Janice Cartiers last blog post..January Pink Sale

  12. Tracy O'Connor says:

    Great questions! I thought it was such a useful exercise I liked to it on the writer’s forum George and I have set up.

    I’ll just c&p my answers here. (unfortunately on a literal level most days I’m waiting for my kids’ permission to write. They signal it’s time by falling asleep)

    For me, it’s not so much needing permission to write as it is waiting for the green light to continue. I am not sure how much positive feedback is enough, but I haven’t reached that point yet. We could go into an in depth analysis of why that might be, but I think it’s probably more productive for me to tough through it.

    BTW, TM left a very nice compliment for me today on my blog and it did mean the world to me. So let’s make today give a compliment to a fellow writer day.

    Whose permission? I don’t know. The whole world’s? I’m not really joking.

    I like to think the difference would be, if I got tons of green lights and pushes to continue writing, I’d have more confidence. The truth is, I am a vast unfillable sea of need, so better to find some other way of getting confidence!

    Tracy O’Connors last blog post..Ich habe das Telefonangst

  13. Sheila Glazov
    Twitter: yourbraincolor

    Because of my friend, Karan Hanrahan’s (a.k.a. Mother Earth) encouragement, I signed up to receive your blog via email. I am delighted because I gave myself “Permission” to schedule time to read and learn from other bloggers. I also gave myself “Permission” to be more playful and personal on my blog. I love the serendipity of your “Permission Post.” Thank You, Joanna!

    Sheila Glazovs last blog post..Miraculous Ultrasound

  14. J.D. Meier says:

    I always feel free to write from my own experience (that’s the cool thing is we’re always the experts on our own perspective).

    For most of my writing though, the challenge for me is always building enough domain expertise to a point where I can share the core principles, patterns, and practices.

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..Influencing Without Authority

  15. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Wilson, looks you’ve got your permit sorted :-)

    Though I see the last question has maybe got you thinking a bit…

  16. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    George, there’s definitely a lot of that ‘but I’m not a writer’ about - and it creeps up on us whenever we take a leap. I’m definitely hitting it as I get ready to publish a book whereas I could blog (and blog) without fear. I like the idea of the permission slip… except my permission isn’t needed either!

    Jan, yes, the sign is funny - there’s a companion that says ‘water bailiffs on patrol’… I’d love to see them in action! You make a good point about the space and conditions to create freely… I love the way you draw parallels between painting and writing, I can learn so much from you

    Tracey, thank you for sharing that. It makes a lot of sense to me. The reason I love blogging so much is because of the feedback, the reactions and yes the affirmation that comes with it. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing - I think it’s probably a very human thing, and if it gives us confidence to stretch, grow and write our hearts out… blog on!

  17. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Sheila hello and welcome. I’m glad Karan gave you that encouragement. The permission to be playful and personal is wonderful indeed - especially when we give it to ourselves!

    JD Good point that writing from our own experience is the key to authentic and confident writing - no-one can know more about our experience than we do. I’m interested in the concept of domain expertise though - could you expand a bit more on that?

  18. Shari Smothers says:

    Hi, Joanna:

    This is another great post! I laughed out loud when I read the title. It’s the very thing that was on my mind this morning.

    There are times when I do require permission. I’ve always known that it was my own permission that I needed. Even with that, I need to renew that permission.

    My hesitation comes from the “sensor” in my mind that says ‘You can’t’ and ‘Not now’ and ‘What’s the point?’

    I keep that voice at bay and continue. Still, getting permission from you is another measure of encouragement.

    Always a pleasure,

    Shari Smotherss last blog post..healthy habits: mind, spirit and body

  19. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Shari, knowing that you need to give yourself permission must be at least 2/3 of the battle - you’re not waiting on anyone else, and you can do what needs to be done whenever that inner critic starts speaking too loud.

    Lovely to hear from you as always

  20. Sheila Glazov
    Twitter: yourbraincolor

    Joanna, thank you for your gracious welcome. Now, I eagerly await the email about your latest post and enjoy reading everyone’s comments!What I am discovering is delicious!

    Sheila Glazovs last blog post..Cranky About Civility

  21. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Sheila, thanks for the feedback - much appreciated

  22. The Story Below the Surface — Scottish Life Stories says:

    [...] Are You Waiting for Permission to Write? [...]

  23. Meet Your Writing Retreat Leaders: Joanna Young | Absorbing Writing says:

    [...] Are You Waiting for Permission to Write? ( [...]