Training Your Writing Life

056A new puppy joined our family a year ago.

Yes, he was that cute. All puppy smells and fuzzy bums and soft little pads on his feet.

Such a baby! He could hardly run in a straight line back then. He kind of hopped and flailed with his feet, and somehow he made progress.

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There were a lot of other things he had to learn.

Like going outside to do his business.

And how to get along with the big dog.

And how to play with the cat.

 

026But he learned all of those things (although he still makes mistakes).

As he reached the ripe old age of ten months, things got interesting. That’s the adolescent age for dogs. He lost all brain power and forgot everything he had ever learned.

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The rest of the family was ready to give up on him.

But patience and consistency are the keys.

My writing life is much like training a new puppy. Is yours?

Do you sometimes feel like you can’t do the basic things like write a sentence, or come up with a verb other than “was”?

And then there are the “big dogs.” Those multi-published authors can be pretty intimidating sometimes, no matter how nice they are. And whose heart doesn’t start beating faster when you see your agent’s name in your email inbox? Or when the phone rings and you don’t recognize the number?

Have you learned to play with the “cats” in your writing life? You know – your peers who are traveling this same trail with you. Have you made friends, or are you friendly rivals? We’re all in this together, and it’s good when a friend has your back.

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Or have you passed that beginning learning stage, and are now in the throes of your writing adolescence? Sometimes I feel like my brain has forgotten how to write.

But I keep telling myself, just like with the dogs, and with my children as they were growing, my writing life is growing, too. It needs patient training and consistent discipline.

Without it, I’ll never get past the flailing puppy legs stage!

Here are the steps I’m taking:

1) A dedicated writing time every day. It’s like punching a time clock. I write from 10:00 to noon, and then from 12:30 to 3:00.

2)  A dedicated writing place. My desk is in a corner of the family room, with a view of the creek that runs behind our house. This time of year, birdsong accompanies my writing music.

3) I stay in contact with friends who are ahead of me on the trail, and can encourage me along the way. I also stay in contact with friends who are just starting out on their own writing journey, encouraging them and sharing with them what I’ve learned.

4) I take chances. I try to market myself, even though I dread talking to strangers. I try to write stories that stretch me as a writer and as a person.

 What steps are you taking to help yourself grow beyond the puppy stage of your writing?

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Closing The Creative Gap Between What You Imagine and What You Write

The Gap Between What You Imagine and What You WriteTrying to play the piano can be humbling. You dream of executing a Bach fugue in perfect timing, but when you sit down it’s chopsticks or nothing. Writing is a lot like that, too. An amazing scene plays out in your mind, but after your critique group reviews your rendition, you wonder how you ever thought you could write.

Welcome to the imperfect world of creative artistry. Check your ego at the door. It can’t help and may hinder your efforts to bridge the gap between what you imagine and what you can create.

Let’s go back to that piano. Even when you love playing and have a natural affinity for music, to play well you’ll probably need lessons. In the same way, studying the craft is one of the surest ways to advance your writing skills.

But studying itself won’t teach you to write any more than watching the teacher play improves a musician’s abilities. Long, laborious, tedious practice is required. Yes, there are a (very) few musical and literary geniuses in the world, but for most of us practice is what it takes to become a master. Could that be why an art is called a discipline?

At times you’ll want to bang your head against the keyboard in frustration. It becomes easier to make excuses not to practice than to face that tell-tale gap between what you can imagine and what you actually write. Are these dues of time, money, effort, and disillusionment worth paying?

Only you can decide.

Thankfully, the gap narrows with time and effort, but it never completely goes away. Living with that reality is a cost every writer continues to pay. It is also a gift that helps keep us humble.

If you persevere you may reach a comfortable level of proficiency with the pain of your early efforts only an unpleasant memory. This may result in you having less patience with beginning writers and even a feeling of superiority. The temptation to skimp on improving your abilities will be stronger. If the gap will never close, why not save your time, money, and effort and settle for doing an adequate job?

Having a good work ethic can see you through those times when you lose your desire to write with excellence. Is it worth the trouble? That’s up to you to decide, too. However, in a crowded literary marketplace, it isn’t hard to be lost in the shuffle.

It helps to be clear on why and for whom you’re writing. Whether you’re writing to make your mark, to reach a particular audience, or to glorify God, close enough is never good enough.

Writing with excellence is a self-taught skill that, oddly enough, requires you to face and accept your imperfections.