Writing is Like a Muscle

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Think about the last time you started a physical activity, one using muscles you had not used much before. You started out feeling fine, but the next day, you were sore. Those muscles were protesting their initial use. But you enjoyed the activity, so you continued to use those muscles. And gradually or quickly, the strain decreased, the muscles grew stronger, and you were able to do more.

Writing is like a muscle because writing involves many developing many skills — from understanding grammar to understanding purpose and audience — skills that need practice in order for you, the writer, to become proficient. When you start writing, your writing muscles are unaccustomed to that activity, so you ache afterwards. This ache could translate into over critical evaluations of the work produced (probably valid), unfulfilled expectations that the writing would be easier than it actually was, or frustration that the activity took so much more time than expected with much less produced than hoped for.

IN THE BEGINNING, YOUR RESULTS ARE AWFUL

Lew Hunter talks of “training-wheel screenplays”: those first four or five screenplays that are truly awful but that you need to write in order to learn enough to write a fairly good script. These first scripts should never be shown to anyone because they are embarrassing.

Every writer has a time of producing training-wheel material, whether short stories or novels, articles or books, or short stories or novels; however, we are so proud of our accomplishment — we actually finished something — that we show it to everyone. Most readers are polite, perhaps even encouraging (mothers can be like that); some will say, “It needs work.” That is all part of building the writing muscles.

Realize that practice is essential to building muscle. That practice takes time and effort, focus and concentration, and much patience on your part. You must allow yourself time to grow those skills and confidence to the next level. Proficiency only comes with much dedicated practice and focused effort.

Refrain from too much self-criticism at the beginning stages of your development. Do not become discouraged at your first feeble attempts at your craft. We all start out as poor writers; with practice, we become better writers. Eventually, we can become professional writers, if that desire is strong enough.

Do not make the mistake I did. In my early writing career, when I was trying to decide the genres to focus on, I would write something and send it out. The rejection came back with boomerang swiftness. With each rejection, I would jump to another type of writing, figuring that rejection indicated my talent for the genre. The result was that I never stayed with any one kind of writing long enough to become proficient in it.

I finally realized that all this jumping around was not the best course of action, so I chose a few types of writing that I had enjoyed (writing books, writing about travel and writing, writing screenplays) and focused on developing those muscles (skills) specific to each type of writing. Eventually I became good enough to be published or to win awards, but I worked hard, spending a lot of time and effort to reach that point of proficiency.

One benefit of all that jumping around was that I learned about many types of writing, and I learned to write better out of sheer practice of writing. Writing is always good practice for better writing, no matter the genre you write.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

The more you exercise that writing muscle, the stronger it becomes. The more writing practice you put in, the better writer you will become. The stronger the muscle becomes, the more you will be able to perform more complicated, challenging tasks. You will feel confident at tackling larger and more complicated projects. So you can move from writing short blog posts to short 10 page e-books and eventually to writing 100 to 200 page book manuscripts.

The old adage is true: “practice makes perfect.” For writing, since no writing is ever perfect (a topic for another article), we will amend the adage to “practice makes improvement.”

Exercising the writing muscles is hard work, at least at first, but the whole process does become easier — with practice. The key to success is constant, daily (or as often as possible) writing. And write projects that really spark your interest, so you can sustain your writing efforts through the frustrating times.

Granted, some people do hit success with their first attempt at a genre, but most of us need that practice before we are good enough to be recognized for our accomplishments.

EVENTUALLY, YOU BECOME A PROFICIENT WRITER

As you become a better writer, you will find other writers who agree to read and critique your efforts (I am not talking about your mother or close friends or relatives, unless they are truly qualified). You may join a writing group, or you may just find friends who are also good writers.

As your writing is critiqued by these qualified readers, you will learn even more, especially about those issues particular to your writing — your “favorite” grammar errors or lazy ways you put words and sentences together. You will learn to tighten your writing. You will learn techniques to create better ideas and better ways to express those ideas.

Regardless of the pain and frustration of building up your writing muscle, trudge on. Continue to write; play with different types of writing; play with writing for different audiences and age groups; eventually, you will stumble upon your best fit for your writing. Actually writing is the only way you will achieve that level of proficiency so that your writing is taken seriously.

To get to that level, practice writing– stretching the writing muscle is essential. Write in a journal or write a blog about your hobby or passion. Write novels and stories and screenplays for you alone as the audience. But write. And then write some more.

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