This concept of improvement and moving from being a good writer and storyteller to a great writer and storyteller is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. I keep asking myself, “How do I get from point A to point B?” As you can imagine, there really are no simple answers. Rarely does life present a silver bullet that fixes everything, but I can share enlightenment that I’ve recently come to understand.
Busy Work and Hard Work Aren’t the Same Thing
We’ve all heard the term “spinning our wheels,” but does each of us recognize the spinning pattern when we’re engaged full tilt in something we’re working on. For a long time I didn’t really see the signs in my own behavior. Now that I’ve been writing for several years, I know when I’m waffling in my work versus applying myself to doing everything I can to bring about the result I’m looking for. This may sound crazy, but when I’m fearful about something, even a small doubt or worry, the manifestation of that fear comes out of me in the form of time-wasting activities that I convince myself need to be done right away. Usually I’ll float along in a state of low productivity before the light comes on and I realize what I’m doing—running from myself. Once I own my fear, worry, or doubt and get a handle on what’s at the core, I’m able to reset my compass and move toward progress.
Learn as Much from What People Don’t Say as What they Do Say
Let’s say you’re talking to someone and they comment on your outfit, for example they might say, “Not everyone can pull off wearing a shade of red that color.” What does your mind process? Do you take the comment to mean the person believes you have done a good job of pulling off the red dress you’re wearing or do you think the person meant to establish their observation of your failure to pull off looking good? Without proper context it’s hard to establish the speaker’s intent. But even with the absence of detail, one thing we can all agree on. The speaker didn’t say, “Wow…I love that red dress on you.” Sometimes I’ve been so busy enjoying what I perceived was a compliment that I missed what the speaker actually didn’t say. Oddly, though, I’ve learned more as a writer from unspoken comments, cursory niceties, and head nods than I’ve learned from meaningless platitudes. Think about it…if you pitch a novel idea about anemic vampires to an agent or editor, and the agent or editor comments on everything but the story itself then you know the chances of that person being interested in moving forward are pretty slim.
Break Out of “The Pack”
I’ll be the first to admit there’s safety in numbers, but doing things the same way as everyone else won’t necessarily move you from good to great. Sometimes it’s good to be in the pack—especially when you’re learning and still in an infancy stage of development. But once you’re strong enough to stand on your own and ready to fly solo there comes a time when pack separation is not only good, it’s needed. What do I mean when I say, “Pack?” I define “pack” as the unspoken, but yet universally understood and accepted mold that those in whatever group, community, profession, etc. conform. Not that conforming is bad because it isn’t in and of itself. It’s when you become a “me too” that you might miss a creative direction that will lead to greater results. For example: if most writers sell books by doing A, B, and C type of activities, perhaps consider brainstorming on X, Y, Z approaches. If you’re not an X, Y, Z type of thinker, who do you know who is? Forget that the X, Y, Z thinker you know has no experience with writing or marketing because at this point it doesn’t matter. All you want are fresh approaches and different ways of looking at things.
Fast Isn’t Always Better
When I finished my first novel and took a break to catch my breath, I felt this weird pressure to get my proposals out quickly and then move on to writing book number two. For days, I poked along on book number two, beating myself up for not having a higher word count, and then one day, after feeling discouraged, the Lord helped me see why I was so discontented. I was so busy trying to get my proposal out fast that I hadn’t devoted time to crafting the best product I could. It’s like I hung all my hopes on a proposal I had only sent to three people. Not only that, I moved at lightening speed to get the proposal out rather than taking my time to craft an excellent package, strong enough to canvass lots of industry professionals. Now that I’ve slowed down, my senses are coming back and guess what…so is my mojo.
If you’ve discovered tricks that help you move toward improvement, please be sure to share a few with us.