People Like It, Now Make It Better

A crazy thing happened last week.  I got more views and visitors than I’ve had since I started this blog in October.  And it was all because of some quirky little post.

I understood why readers liked it.  I wrote about something that all writers deal with, and I wrote it in a humorous and witty way.

Great! So I found something that works.  Now, how do I recreate that?

The problem?  I didn’t really know what I was doing when I wrote the post.  I imagined the first line and wrote that down, and then I came up with a few lines in the middle of the post.  Over the course of two days, I opened the document several times, worked on it for ten minutes or so, walked away, and came back to it.  I eeked it out word by word, and by Sunday evening it was finished.

So when I went asked myself the question – how do I recreate that post? – I set an expectation of how the post should read and had a fixed idea based on that.  When I wrote something and it didn’t fit this ideal, I became blocked.

There was no spark.  I had a momentum, and I wanted to keep it going.  Every draft I wrote felt lame in comparison, and writing the next post was a Herculean task.

What was my mistake?  I psyched myself out by jumping immediately to an imagined outcome.  When it didn’t meet that ideal, I gave up on what I started.  I didn’t respect the process by allowing my new post to take shape on its own.

So what is a writer do?

  1. Stay in the present.  There’s a phrase I’ve learned in my Zen practice, “Nothing more is needed.”  It’s a way of accepting whatever conditions are in the present moment.  When you feel yourself thinking about the final product, take a few deep breaths and bring your mind back to the present moment.  Then say that phrase out loud to yourself 2-3 times.  If our minds become set on a fixed outcome, we are disappointed when it turns into something else.
  2. Keep plugging away.  This is often the most challenging step.  But all you have to do is write the next sentence.  And then the one that comes after that and so on.  It gets easier, but first you must endure an arduous period.  Having experienced it myself, I can tell you it doesn’t last very long.  Just stick with it.
  3. Finish the next thing…and the next thing and the next thing.  For the love of everything that is good and pure, don’t stop writing.  Even if you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel and stringing together the worst sequence of words you’ve ever put down, just keep your hands and fingers moving. If you stop, then it will only get harder.

When we’re writing, there’s really no way of knowing how people will respond.  I’ve written posts that I thought would flare discussion but were total duds.  Other posts I throw out on the blog with little thought, and I get great responses from readers.

The most important thing is to keep moving.  We have to throw things out there and see what our readers like.  I learned that many readers enjoyed my sense of humor, and they enjoyed reading about something that many writers experience yet rarely talk about.

At some point, I had to stop looking at the stats.  I wrote something that people enjoyed, found helpful, and shared with others.  And that doesn’t happen every day.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. What I liked about this post ( http://wp.me/p2MjRL-6i ) was the voice that you used when you wrote it. I’ve read that voice in a few other places throughout your blog and enjoyed those posts immensely as well. Is there anyway I writer can hone in on one voice they enjoy using. I mean isn’t a voice a character in a way. A part of yourself you can access. I’m curious because there are also voices I have that I try to access and I’m curious if there are any techniques I can use.

    1. wordsavant says:

      Great question and also a tough one. The best answer I can give is that it’s very intuitive. Sometimes when I’m writing I’m rambling along and suddenly I hit a vein and go with it. The reason I say it’s intuitive is because it’s a feeling and not a specific technique or tool. At least that’s been my experience. When you write, it may be helpful to be mindful of how you feel when you write in a certain style. When you do hit that vein notice what it feels like.

      It also helps to let go. I find that I’m unable to hit that vein when I become too formal or take myself too seriously. Loosen up, and practice, practice, practice.

      I wish I could be a little more specific, but it’s largely intuitive. It’s just a gut feeling. I love your question, and it’s something I’d like to explore in a future blog post.

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