Monday, October 04, 2010

Writing is Like...Working Out?

In my mid-30s, I spent a lot of time at the gym...and NO time writing. At the time, I had nothing better to do, honestly. All my friends were workout fiends and, living alone, you start to do anything to avoid going home to your empty apartment every night. So you hang out at the gym with the other "steroid heads." (My affectionate nickname for these guys):

I didn't want all that. I just wanted a toned, thin body so I could wear summer clothes without feeling flabby. I learned something from all that working out. The entire process of building muscle involves tearing that muscle. You tear, then it builds back stronger. You tear some more, even stronger. And so on.

When I returned to novel-writing after a three-year hiatus (which I spent obsessively blogging), one of the first things I did was join an online critique group. I posted one chapter and was promptly skewered. The chapter, in a word, sucked. Okay, they used a whole bunch of words for it. By the time they were finished ripping it to shreds, I figured it was unredeemable. Better toss it aside and start over on a new book.

But then I stopped myself. Was I really avoiding this criticism? Criticism is what built my talent in the first place. I spent most of my 20s in and out of critique groups, where my writing was labeled 'shallow,' 'trite,' 'contrived.' I had editors tear me down, while telling me they loved my voice. The story just wasn't working for them.

And with each new book I took that advice and applied it. Sure, the negativity weighed me down at times...and I could have given up. But I had enough encouragement to stick with it, plus I'm one of those writers who can't NOT write. It's in my blood. Even if I were never published, I'd still be happy as long as I wrote something every day of my life.

When I think of that naive girl I was at 24, starting my first young adult series about teens working in a movie theater, I feel a bit of nostalgia. Oh, to be so foolishly confident again. I had no doubts at that fears at all. I was sure I'd put "The End" on my manuscript, ship it off to a publisher, and be the next Francine Pascal in no time.

Then came my first rejection.

More rejections followed. I found Romance Writers of America and co-founded the first Nashville chapter of the organization. I attended workshops -- GAVE workshops. I met published authors and unpublished authors. I read everything I could get my hands on about writing. And I suffered rejections like you wouldn't believe.

But with each one, I grew stronger. They tore my writing muscle so it would grow back stronger. And that, my writing friends, is why you don't toss the detailed critiques of your contest entries into the trash without reading them. You read every word. You feel the pain and move forward. You read it over, scream in anger and say you're never writing again...then, once you've calmed down, you go in and take the advice of these strangers. Because your work will become stronger for it, but even more than that...YOU'LL become stronger for it. Because in order for that muscle to grow back stronger, it must first be torn down.


  1. I have always been an avid reader since I discovered the library in my elementary school. I loved books so much, that I guess it was a natural progression to think about becoming a writer. I quickly discovered that being a reader doesn't make a writer. One has to be disciplined, have imagination and be able to mangage and organize their thoughts in order to write. And of course, have a "voice" as you mentioned. I lack certain book writing skills. I entertain myself by blogging.

  2. Great reminder. When I have been critiqued on a piece of writing or a project, I try to remind myself that at least now I have something to go with, some sort of direction to follow. There is nothing worse than getting rejected without knowing why. I write a lot of project proposals for work and when the project comes back unfunded, it hurts a bit, but if I can at least find out why then I can improve the project next time. It's aggrivating to get rejected without any feedback as to why. That is the worst feeling. It's like it's not even good enough for the reviewer to take the time to help make it better. - G

  3. "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self." (Cyril Connolly)

    "You fail only if you stop writing." (Ray Bradbury)

  4. I think a lot of people can't handle the criticism. Good for you for it making you stronger!

  5. I agree. You have to have that impartial feedback to really SEE your work sometimes.

    Great analogy!

  6. This is absolutely true! is a great place to start for those looking for somewhere to begin.

  7. Great encouragement and so true! :O)

  8. Hey Hon,

    This is a great post...I have felt the very same things and been told the very same things...but like you, I have to write...

    I've been published in articles and I'm still waiting to get to print in romance...I know one day it'll come. This is a business you can't be in a hurry for that's for sure.

    Big hugs

  9. I wish this were me! Can I have some of your motivation please? For the life of me, I can't get my butt to the gym! I mean I definately want to go, but my butt doesn't ;-)

    Happy Monday Dear! xo

  10. Right On!

    This was a new blog.

    I feel you.

  11. Good analogy and so true.

  12. This was a great blog!!! I loved the picture added with the piece, what a perfect analogy!!! I have times where I handle the criticism and other times where I don't...

    Normally after 3 days I realize that person didn't hate me... they just wanted to help me. Now I allow a three day rule so that I feel less crappy and am able to think clearly!

  13. Have you ever read a or the "writing life" by annie dillard? She talks a lot about this. I think your comparison is very good.

  14. So much truth in this post. You did us all a service by sharing this part of your journey with us. Thanks!

  15. Wow, I must say thank you for putting writing into a new perspective. I did not think to picture all the critiques as a way of building new muscles to be a better writer. Very interesting. I'll keep this entry in mind. ^_^

  16. Great read and a very good analysis. Writing is like working out isn't it ... I enjoyed the descriptive ...

    I'm a reader like most people; blogging is an outlet to get the creativity flowing; sometimes just as a way to vent out thoughts .. I don't know if I have the skills to be a writer .. but I can only imagine the amount of critique that each writer has to face before getting published ! and hats off to them for bringing us readers the best of their creative imagination :)