Several years ago, I attended a writing workshop with Caroline Pignat, (a wonderful author and twice a Governor General Literary Award winner!) and she began the session with this simple exercise:
- On a piece of paper draw a circle that represents the creative talent you think you have.
- In relationship to that, draw an overlapping circle that represents the writing craft skill level you think you have.
- And now add another overlapping circle that represents your commitment to actual writing.
What did it mean?
The middle area where the three circles intersect represents the success you can expect with your writing goals.
My talent and craft circles were about the same size, but my commitment circle was woefully small in comparison. The resulting central shape for success was tellingly small too. According to this diagram, if I upped my level of commitment, my success area should increase. I kind of knew this in my heart of hearts. I can write, but I don’t. I should submit, but I don’t. It was common sense really. And it compelled me to change some things in my life to remedy it.
Your circles may be different: perhaps you write every day and have a natural talent for telling stories, but your level of craft is low — passive writing, bad grammar or a lack of understanding of structure. Or you’ve taken a boatload of workshops and read widely on the craft, and you have a high level of commitment, but your storytelling skills need help and it means you don’t turn out compelling fiction.
Whatever the imbalance, paying attention to it will help you succeed.
Getting back in balance
So as part of your resolution making /goal setting this January, work on getting your circles in balance. There are many ways to do it, but here are a few tips:
- Schedule writing time like any other appointment and stick to it
- Find a writing buddy, and support and motivate each other
- Fight feeling overwhelmed by making small, specific and achievable goals
- Find a place to write where you feel creative and are not disturbed
- Tell your family about your goal and ask for their support
- Believe in yourself; confidence is the best boost for talent
- Face fears – submit even though you fear rejection; try a new form or genre – you won’t know what you’re good at until you try
- Remind yourself why you like to write and rekindle your passion
- Read, read, and read – your ability will improve by osmosis. Really!
- Fill your creative well often – try other art forms; visit museums, galleries, parks and natural spaces. Remember observation, mindfulness and curiosity.
- Join a critique group – the critiques you receive are just part of the learning process. Giving critique and listening to critique of others’ work helps you understand all aspects of craft and different genre expectations. You’ll also learn to read critically.
- Read as a writer – when you are impressed by the way an author handles a scene, analyze what they did to achieve it.
- Take workshops or attend conferences – choose them wisely depending on what you need to know to improve right now. Random courses are more likely to boost procrastination than skill.
- Allow yourself to write a “shitty first draft” by knocking the inner critic off your shoulder. Like all skills, writing takes practice.
- Network with other writers at breakfasts, workshops and writing events. I often learn as much from attendees as I do from facilitators.
I’m happy to say that when I check in with myself this New Year, I know my circles are more in balance – still not equal – but improving. And I’m happy with that.
A few more tips
Some previous Top Drawer posts you might like to revisit that speak to aspects of this post:
- The truth about finding time to write
- 7 ways to keep writing every day
- Your anytime writing retreat
- The art of noticing
- Writing through hard times
- Gift: a writer’s space
- Writing room worthy
- Submit, I say
- What’s in your writing drawer
- Writer: who’s in your tribe?
- The minimalist writer