How to Write: Climb the mountain, explore the plateau
When the rejection letters arrive in the mail;
When I don't know how to fix a clunky paragraph;
When my creative taste outstrips my creative ability;
When I've neglected my muse and can't hear a word she's whispering;
When writing feels more like walking alone under a hot desert sun without water instead of riding a flowing current down a beautiful river;
When I sit down to write, each time, every time, even now, and
I wonder: What if this is as good as I'll ever be? What if I never improve? Can I really learn to be a better writer?
I know that the answer is yes because I'm a dramatically better writer than I was ten, five, even two years ago.
About three years ago I underwent a rapid growth spurt as a writer. I made some important discoveries and connections, and -- dare I say it -- had some epiphanies about writing in general and about my writing in particular. I found a new writing voice and uncovered new material. I learned to read like a writer. I learned techniques that I'd never known before, and I learned how to name and talk about techniques that I'd previously only understood intuitively. (Having the language to name and explain something gives you a new level of mastery over it, especially when combined with an intuitive way of knowing.)
All of this happened when I was in grad school, which I'd entered to help me move past the writing plateau I'd been stuck on for a few years. I finished that leg of the journey eight months ago, and I've been standing on a new plateau ever since. The climb was exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting. In some ways, I'm glad for the rest, the time to look down the mountain and see how far I've come, to catch my breath and enjoy the view. Or rather, I'm trying to be glad for these things. Mostly I just keep running in circles, darting to and fro, fretting about when I get to star climbing again, because, dude: There is so much more mountain above me!
The writing plateaus make me twitchy. I get nervous. Insecurity and fear set in, accompanied by a frothy dollop of doubt. What if this is as good as I'll ever be? What if I never improve? Can I really learn to be a better writer?
We like progress. We like an upward trajectory. Climb the incline, rest at the plateau, and then keep climbing!
But what if there are other ways to grow?
What if I calmed down, looked around this plateau and discovered its true terrain? What if I embraced what I now know and simply practiced it again and again? Not all growth happens along a linear path. (Not much growth happens that way, methinks.)
What if I stopped running in circles and sat down in the middle of this flat place, took a deep breath, and watched the sky for awhile?
What if I wandered around with eyes ready to see tiny wildflowers peeking out from the glinting rockface?
What if I discovered a cave and decided to go spelunking, to really explore its depths, no matter how dark or strange it was?
What if I invited other writers (and wish-to-be writers) to join me on the journey? To climb the path that I once walked, to sit on the plateau with me, to smell the flowers, explore the depths, and to go on ahead?
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You -- and your writing -- are invited.
Come climb your own mountain, explore your own plateau, and discover your own wildflowers and caves. Join me for Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing, an online course designed to help you transform your writing and take it deeper and w i d e r than ever before. The next session runs April 2 - May 11.
The word "alchemy" means "a power or process of transforming something common into something special." Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing helps you transform something common (words) into something special (your essays, stories, poems, blog posts, etc.). Learn practical writing techniques to give your stories deeper meaning. Combine the nitty-gritty details with flights of fancy and watch your words sparkle and soar. Discover tips and practices to overcome your writing challenges. Be motivated, inspired, supported, and encouraged in a community of writers.
I created this course by collecting together the writing techniques, tips, practices, and inspiration that contributed to my big growth spurt. In it I share what I learned in grad school and from my nine years as a professional writer. I'm honored to have Liz as one of the featured guests in the course. Other guest spots include interviews with inspiring authors such as Brené Brown, Marianne Elliott (Zen Peacekeeper), and poet Susan Wooldridge. Learn more and register here. There's plenty of room on this mountain for all of us.
Jenna McGuiggan is a writer, editor, and coach who works with creative souls and organizations with heart.
Visit her in The Word Cellar, which she envisions as a cozy, stone-walled chamber filled with twinkle lights, shelves of stories, nooks of books, and plush armchairs perfect for sharing your tale.