Improving Your Writing and Howling at the Sky


I’m in my office, here, and catching up a few student emails before I teach. I’ve got thirteen minutes to tell you something important.

If you want to take your writing to the next level – if you want to get better at it, it’s going to hurt.

See, growth hurts. My daughter told me this morning she is getting growing pains in her gorgeous long legs. At the time were watching Pokemon and one of the little monsters had evolved. It was frustrating for the poor monster because he couldn’t fight the way he always had. He was getting very upset indeed, banging into trees and howling at the sky.

My MA student hasn’t charged into any trees, but I’ll bet she’s done her share of howling. It hurts to give up on a certain way of writing, even though you know it’s limiting. Sometimes your way of writing will have got you such a long way that it’s painful to admit that it needs to change if you are to go any farther. You have to put down the old ways of doing things and just trust that you’ll be able to find a new way that’s better. For a moment, you are standing there naked, without any technique at all…or at least that’s how it feels.

The Pokemon was okay. By the time my daughter’s school taxi arrived, he’d learned how to use his new form and fight a whole new way. My MA student is going to be fine, too. In a few years, she’ll be publishing books and winning prizes and I’ll tell you her name. And my daughter won’t be growing forever. Her bones and nerves will settle down.

But I’ll be growing forever, and so will you, if you want to be the best writer you can. And sometimes, I promise you, you will howl at the sky…

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