Lately I’ve been thinking about what writers do when we have so-called “dry spells”—when what we’re typing out onto the screen doesn’t match our normal quality of writing. Say we churn out a bad post, or maybe a few bad eggs in a row. Do we click that delete button, or do we cover our mistake with a series of hasty attempts and hope the world doesn’t notice?
We do neither. Writing is not a perfect art form. We’re going to have off days just like we’re going to have days when our writing is spot-on. But we should never be ashamed of our work to the point where we want to bury it. Every effort adds up to the bigger picture: a better, more experienced you.
We are always writers in training—not even the most practiced in the trade escape self-improvement, and if they think otherwise, they’re probably not very good. Writing is one part confidence, one part self-doubt—and that uncertainty is what allows us to push aside our egos and tell ourselves, “Okay. I can do better.” We should always make room for criticism, whether it’s coming from someone else and from ourselves.
I once read, “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” Even people who don’t write can trust their gut—and as writers, we have to trust ours as well as put our skills and experience to good use. If a piece of writing just isn’t working out, listen to that little voice that’s suggesting that maybe your approach or topic isn’t such a good idea. At that point, either scrap it and move on or start over and try looking at it another way, as the parents of the eponymous James told their son in James and the Giant Peach. Smart advice.
Sometimes the most important lesson to learn is to learn one at all. Make the most of your mistake by remembering it and applying that lesson to your future writing. The trick is to balance knowledge of good writing practices with instinct (our natural editor and ear for rhythm). Both come with time and lots of practice. You’re not going to write anything good without writing a lot of bad first.