Thursday, January 10, 2013

Are your current writing habits causing you to stumble?

As a little girl I loved watching figure skating. I loved how effortlessly the skater glided across the ice and pushed into a triple lutz or spiraled down and up in the Camel Spin. I loved the quick jumps to the beat of the music and rhythmic claps of the spectators. And if they fell, they bounced right back up and kept going. Nothing phased them. It looked like so much fun.

Some day, I remember thinking, I’m going to be just like Kristi Yamaguchi.

It wasn’t until high school that I finally got my first chance to step out onto the ice. I’d grown up rollerskating and figured I had the basic mechanics down. It was basically the same sport, right?

Not quite, I discovered. The instant my blades touched the ice my legs scissored outward and I fell. Hard. And I realized just how unforgiving the ice really is.

They make it look so easy, I thought of the other skaters passing me by as I clung to the wall and tried to walk on the ice. Now terrified, my eyes were glued to my toes and the moment I started to gain any sort of momentum I panicked and started wobbling uncontrollably until down I went onto my knees...again and again.

It took someone who knew what they were doing to come alongside me, coax me away from the perceived safety of the edge and into the smooth ice of the center where there were less pits and grooves.

It turned out the very thing I thought was keeping me safe and moving forward was actually causing me to stumble and fall.

With some gentle, yet firm encouragement I soon found my balance and was completing laps around the rink on my own.

Twelve years later my skating career is limited to an annual two-hour experience with a group of friends. Each time I step out I have to remind myself that skating isn’t easy but the worst thing I can do is worry about falling. The trick is balance. Keep your chin up, watch ahead of you, consider your surroundings, and just enjoy the moment.

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

I think the same is true of writing. After the initial excitement of becoming a writer wears off, once the first rejections start arriving in our mailboxes, it’s easy to become disillusioned.

We read incredible stories by writers who make it look so easy. We know we have something of value to share, but we discover the hard way that writing well requires a lot of dedication, patience, and work.

I think it’s time we let go of what we’re comfortable with as writers and explore new territory. 

It could very well be that the confines we’ve found safety in are precisely what has been holding us back. Now, this doesn’t mean we throw out all the rules and all that we’ve learned in the past. I mean it’s time we open ourselves up to branching out and in learning something new. If you write fiction, try your hand at non-fiction. Only write prose? Why not spend a month writing in stanzas?

Thankfully it’s easier than ever to find a bit of direction and encouragement from others who have been there before. Whether it’s through a great book on writing, a cherished mentor, or a friend who has a bit more experience, there are days we all need a firm yet gentle nudge to get us to let go of the wall, the crowds, and the most pitted ruts in writing rink to explore that scary open space where we’ll best have a chance to make our mark.

But first we have to be willing to accept the help.

I would never have learned how to skate had I insisted on doing it my own way. And I will never become the writer I know I want to be if I think I already know all I need to know and refuse to listen to the advice of others.

Easy reading may be damn hard writing, but it’s also worth the effort.

I’m sure Mr. Hawthorne would agree.

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