We have a saying at my job: “What got us here, won’t get us there.” The idea is that we’re good at what we do now, but hard work will only get you so far. Eventually, you need to change the way you work in order to get better. To use a football analogy, what takes you down the field won’t work to punch the ball in from the five yard line.
Yesterday I was doing my morning yoga, and I got to a point where I was moving from half moon – a pose where you form a “T” with your body and stand on one leg facing sideways – to a standing split. It’s one thing to put your hands on the ground and lift up your back leg as far as you can. I was doing that in my first month of yoga. But what does it take to do the perfect standing split?
I thought about every aspect of the pose that I could imagine. If there was any tension, anywhere in my body, even between my eyes, I tried to relax it. I breathed, of course (you’re always focused on breathing in yoga). I straightened my leg, and realized out that I needed more strength in my upper quads. I wiggled my toes for a second, because why not, and realized that my foot had felt like dead weight before, and maybe it helped. I aligned my hips, and realized that I needed far more flexibility there, not just in my legs. I flattened my back, and realized that a flexible back would lead to more flexible glutes which would help my hips which would help me to lift my leg. I wondered, just wondered, if changes in my diet would help with my flexibility or muscle too, too. Finally, what about meditation? Would a clearer mind help me pick up the micro-adjustments I need to make?
That got me thinking, what can people do that take their writing to the next level?
Work hard. We all know this one. Start writing, and reading. Write the best that you can. Write the worst that you can. Write regularly, and at odd times, too. Finish your stories, then edit them to make them better. Read the things that got you interested in writing, so that you can learn from them. You’ll absorb it into your skin and it’ll color how you write.
Work smart. Writing’s about all of you, not just your passion or your inspiration. Use your head, too. Plan things out. Do research. Work on the elements, like character, plot, setting, tension, voice, motivation, and so on. A good craftsman knows how to use all his tools.
Get feedback. Use meetup.com to find a local writers group. Your library may have a club. This is great for three reasons. Your fellow writers will give you great ideas and inspiration that you never would have imagined. It feels good knowing that you’re not the only one out there who has this strange, wonderful love affair with words. And it turns writing from a lonely pursuit to a social pursuit. I can tell you that the connections I’ve made from writing have been my favorite part about it.
Play. One of the best ways to overcome writers’ block is with play. Write 100-word shorts. Write haiku. Take a scene and turn your good guy into the bad guy and vice versa. Write scenes that will never see the light of day. Turn your own personal negative into a positive.
Let it cook. Sometimes you’re working too hard on something. Let go of it and do something else, especially exercise. Sleeping on it works pretty well for me, too. Your subconscious is still working on it. The idea you’re looking for may well pop into your head once you get out of your own way.
Broaden your creativity. Olympic athletes cross-train to fill in gaps left by specialized training. Writing is a creative pursuit, and there are all kinds of creativity. Learn a musical instrument. Take an acting class. Join your church choir. Sketch. Learn calligraphy. Sculpt. This is the insight that I picked up when I was trying to do standing split in yoga. Anything you do that makes you feel more alive will help your writing. Did I mention that I’ve started creating iTunes playlists for my characters, to get farther inside their heads?
Share your knowledge. You haven’t truly mastered something until you can teach it to someone else. Helping other people improve their writing builds good karma, and it’ll give you perspectives on your own writing that you never had before. Comment on other people’s blogs and share helpful thoughts with them, as well as contributing in your writers group.
These have helped me make breakthroughs in writing, and this is just what I’ve learned so far. Give them a try and let me know how they work for you.
What have you done to take your writing — or anything — to the next level?