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Friday 25 February 2011

The Getting of Writing Wisdom

Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald has a new feature, ‘The Getting of Wisdom’, where famous and successful people share life’s lessons they have learned. Reading the views of Australian swimmer Geoff Huegill, I noticed how pertinent some of them are to writing.

Huegill retired after participating in the 2004 Olympics Games. Then as he puts it, ‘I lost my way’. Several years later, he decided to return to competitive swimming, a goal that required him to train rigorously and lose 40 kilograms. In the 2010 Commonwealth Games he won gold.

I have paraphrased his comments (in bold) about his career and life, and then comment on how his views connect with writing.

More important than winning is learning to deal with disappointment—how you dust yourself off and look at the next challenge.

For many of us, writing is a game of snakes and ladders, sometimes with more ‘down’ than ‘up’ paths—we miss out on a grant, someone else wins the writing competition, publication remains an unfulfilled dream. So we better learn how to deal with disappointments.

If we apply Huegill’s idea, instead of wallowing in self-pity or anger because we have failed, we instead focus on our next writing project or challenge. Some down-time to get over a disappointment is realistic. But stay in this space too long and it becomes harder to return to being an active, forward-looking writer.

If you don’t have goals, you don’t have direction. And if you don’t have direction, you don’t have a purpose. And if you don’t have a purpose, what’s the point of getting out of bed every day?

If you see your writing as a serious pursuit, not just a pastime, consider where you want to go with it. Knowing your direction enables you to identify what in your life is helping you move towards your writing goals and what is creating obstacles.

To be your best, keep it simple. You can’t be excellent every single day, but you can go out there every day and be the best you can be at that moment.

Good advice to writers, to make the best writing effort each time you write, but not prematurely or overly assess if your output is excellent or not. Concentrating on doing the best you can in the moment brings freedom, a space to create something, anything.

Be honest with yourself. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to climb Mount Everest—just don’t put an unrealistic three-month window on that goal.

His comment reminds me of going on bushwalking trips. Success depends on setting a realistic time period to prepare for the trip and attending to a number of variables, such as your fitness, mental attitude, knowledge, equipment, supplies, support.

If you have a writing goal, what is a reasonable timeframe for achieving it?

What do you need to address in your life in order to reach your goal in this timeframe? Maybe you can find more writing time, make better use of time, or create a constructive writing space. Or increase your technical know-how. Do you need to address any important financial, psychological or physical issues? Or find supports, formal or informal?

Motivation is a quick fix. It can spike you and lift you, but it doesn’t have the follow-through to change lives. Inspiration fills you from the inside every single day.

When you are motivated, you feel impelled to achieve. When you are inspired, you experience a higher level of motivation, what the dictionary describes as ‘an animating or exalting influence’.

We rely on motivation to finish individual writing tasks and submit our work to magazines, contests and publishers. We look to inspiration to keep us going over the long hau, to keep writing while we search for recognition, acknowledgement and other trappings of success.

How-to books on writing often downplay inspiration, warning that you cannot wait for it. True, you need ways to stay motivated when you’re working on a writing project. But underlying each project, your inspiration is what identifies why you have made writing part of your life.

It helps to find ways to recharge your inspiration batteries. Some writers rely on reading inspirational books on writing or attending workshops. Some enjoy the support of a writers’ group. Some create a schedule of some sort for their lives. Others choose an interest that seems irrelevant to writing, but it refreshes and recommits them to the writing life.

from Writing Companion

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