Hello, logophiles! A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon my dusty, dog-eared copy of Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul and, craving a bit of encouragement from fellow authors, decided to read one or two of its stories per night. I can’t tell you how inspiring it has been! Reading about how other writers have overcome obstacles, conquered fears, handled rejection, and found their voices has been tremendously invigorating. Today, I want to talk about one such story written by Dan Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior and The Life You Were Born to Live.
Millman opens his essay by explaining that he was known not as an aspiring writer growing up, but as a promising gymnast. Toward the end of his college career, he discovered that writing to him wasn’t pure drudgery – he actually liked it! (A sure sign you’re a writer is when being assigned a research paper or short story is more exciting than Christmas morning.) Not knowing much about storytelling, Millman signed up for a correspondence course to learn the basics. “The rest,” he writes, “would depend on my willingness to rewrite and rewrite again until I got it just … write.”
Millman then transitions into what I found to be the most resonating aspect of his piece, something that I believe every writer can learn from:
“Training in gymnastics had taught me that elbow grease mattered far more than genetic gifts; that talent was made, not just born … I learned to break large tasks into manageable steps – and applied the lessons of sport to the field of writing.”
If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you know that raw talent only gets you so far. There are countless gifted writers whose words will never meet a single reader’s eyes because they don’t have the tenacity, discipline, and “elbow grease” necessary to advance from amateur to professional. Writing is only one facet of being a writer. Researching, outlining, rewriting, editing, querying, marketing, social-media engaging (yes, social media is a must for modern writers!), brainstorming and reading may not be as fun as writing blissfully by the seat of your pants, but it’s what professional writers, who take their work seriously, do.
For Mr. Millman, gymnastics taught him invaluable lessons that translated seamlessly into his role as Writer. Over the years, those lessons were distilled into the following five indispensable rules:
Show Up: Sit in the chair in front of your laptop or writing pad. Treat your daily writing time like it’s the most important appointment or business meeting of your life!
Pay Attention: Appeal to all five senses when you write. Doing this will draw the reader in and make your world come to life. Read your writing back to yourself, then notice the weaknesses and improve them as best you can before hiring an editor.
Tell Your Truth: Write the way the Good Lord created you to. Write the stories that are percolating inside you, the ones that keep you up at night and distract you during the day. There is no other person on the face of the planet who can write the way you can – don’t take that for granted!
Do Your Best: Rewrite repeatedly! Then, set the manuscript aside for a while – perhaps as long as a month or two! – before doing an even better draft.
Don’t Be Attached to Outcomes: You can’t control what an agent, publisher, book reviewer, spouse or friend thinks about your book baby. The effort itself is a success you should be proud of. Millman reminds us that “Not even Michael Jordan could control whether he made a basket – only whether he took the shot.” Every shot we take increases our chances of sinking literary baskets.
I hope those rules will be helpful to you in your writing journey! What’s your current favorite piece of writing advice? Which of today’s rules do you think you’ll find most beneficial? Please comment below or tweet me @dandersontyler. I’d love to hear it!