Episode 33: To Thine Own Self


Writing is the ongoing process of repeated failure. If that sounds a bit harsh, it is, but the failures aren’t the point. All those abandoned drafts, deleted scenes, blinking cursors, and reworked “finals” are the labor by which something greater than the sum of those failures is produced. That is, the writer may keep falling, but the trick is to always fall forward—and away from sinkholes.

One of the most—if not the most—important things that any writer can do is to routinely perform maintenance and checkups. We are a bit like cars in that regard: without maintenance we start to wear down. In fact, my guess is that most cases of “writer’s block” have a lot to do with a lack of introspection and refueling, if you will.

So, how does a writer keep the engine running (okay, I’ll stop with the car metaphor)? The simple answer is that there is no simple answer, but there are some steps that you can take to evaluate your passion and recharge.

First, routinely consider where you are as a writer. Set a schedule like you would for the dentist and stick to it (and no drilling involved). Pull out everything you’ve worked on since the last checkup and look for progress, themes, and patterns. For example, have you used certain phrases consistently? Do your characters have similarities? Are there things that bother you about your writing? Did you finish anything?

After that, find opportunities for enrichment. This is actually much easier than you may think. Some simple things you could do:

  • Read books or watch movies outside of your comfort zone. If you’re usually a history buff, read some science fiction. If you normally prefer suspense, attend a conference on antiques.
  • Join a writing group or take a class (you didn’t think I’d miss a chance to harp on that, right?).
  • Spend some time observing instead of writing. Go to a local library and listen to people, attend an expo, hike, or anything you prefer. Just keep notes about what you experience.
  • Start a blog and record your thoughts. Don’t worry about how great or regular the blog is; just focus on working through your ideas.

Finally, and perhaps most painfully, consider your passion. Do you feel like you have to write or do you force yourself to do it? Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see everyone take a crack at making words dance on the page (or, at least, hobble). However, if you want writing to be your main focus (and your main source of income), then make sure that you enjoy it. That may seem obvious, but writing for a living requires a great deal of work and commitment—and frustration.

The more you stop to consider yourself and your writing, the more you’ll have a good grasp on where you are as a writer and how far you have to go. As I said, just keep falling forward.

What are some of the things you do to evaluate yourself? How do you recharge?

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