Write, write some more, and move on

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.

11 thoughts on “Write, write some more, and move on

    1. Thank you for commenting! Glad you liked the post. This very issue has been nagging me lately, so I decided to share my thoughts on the matter. I think we’re all prone to this situation now and then, and it’s best to learn and move on!

  1. Great observation and advice.

    What’s tricky is when that little voice inside of us misleads us a bit.

    “Hey, that’s pretty damn good!” he says, but it doesn’t appeal to others.

    “Oy, that’s awful!” yet people eat it up.

    In the end, what do you think is the measure of our writing? How do we know if it’s good or not?

  2. SUCH a great post. I am not a professional writer, but am the daughter of one, and think I inherited some of my father’s angst re: “own worst enemy/critic” when it comes to writing (think newspaperman, back in the typewriter-and-smoke-filled-press-room days). Sometimes this angst makes writing for pure pleasure almost painful for me. I will remember this post, and power through when the perfection obsession sets in! Thanks, Stephanie. -Tara

    1. Glad the post helped, and thanks for commenting, Tara! I’m the same way, but even though it’s a difficult trait to deal with, I think it’s largely a good thing. If we’re never truly satisfied with our writing, we can always steer ourselves toward improvement. Whether we’re good or bad writers, inherently talented or not, we should always work at making our writing even better! But we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over the little mistakes, either. Writing takes time and practice, and as long as we keep learning, it all adds up to better writing.

  3. I love! I’m so glad you shared this, I like the message in the last paragraph, “Sometimes the most important lesson to learn is to learn one at all.” That’s just brilliant! May I quote you? :)

  4. Once again, Stephanie, solid advice with just a touch of wisdom, always a strong a combination. For me, if I can look at piece of writing another way is most helpful, especially if it is writing that puzzles me or irritates me. There’s energy there, and I want to uncover it. Fine, fine post, Stephanie.

    Wanted to tell you I am reading two dream books (Burroughs, which you reviewed some time ago) and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, whose writing is everything you said it was. I am happy to read her every word, which is so rare for me to say. Burroughs, also as you said, does not win any new readers with this one but the splashes of dreams and the book’s structure appeal to me; however, I must admit I am struggling with a dream scene in a piece of writing so craft is playing a big role here.

    As always, Stephanie, look forward to your posts.

    Karen

    1. Thank you, Karen! Appreciated as always. And I’m glad you liked The Night Circus!

      Do you mean William Burroughs or Edgar Rice Burroughs (A Princess of Mars)? From your comment I suspect the former, although I haven’t actually reviewed any of his books. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the one you read! Let me know how your dream scene develops, as well.

      I’m currently on a bit of a hiatus with book reviews here because I have to pump out a few confidential reviews for Kirkus, but I plan to read and review another as soon as possible!

      1. Sorry, Stephanie, it was William, as you suspected: My Education, A Book of Dreams; perhaps it was a book cover post but it called to me. My read is more of a cursory one but I’ll let you know if I come across anything of particular interest.
        Karen

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