by Jenny Hansen
You can thank my husband and his knee for this post.
The wear and tear of fifteen years of football finally took its toll this last year and he hurt his knee working as IT Wonder Man at a conference in San Francisco.
He came home limping and the pain got progressively worse until he had to cave and go to physical therapy.
In our heads, his knee would need replacement and he’d be doing physical therapy to get used to the new knee. In reality, his work at the conference threw his body out of balance and the therapist spent eight weeks strengthening key muscle groups until he was back in balance. (He’s fine now and we’re doing Crossfit.)
My bloggy self always perks up at the mention of words like “balance” and maximum potential, so I sent Hubby in with some questions.
What was their goal for him?
To strengthen weaker muscles to balance with the stronger muscles to keep his kneecap aligned. His pain was from his kneecap (patella) literally being pulled toward one side of his knee.
Keep reading about what they did to achieve this balance because I swear it sounds like what we do as writers.
There are three components that assist you in keeping your body in balance:
- Your vision
- Your inner ear
- Your musculoskeletal control
The example they gave him:
When you hold your arm out in front of you, you see your arm. As you look at your arm, you remain upright through the balance of your inner ear (which is the only aspect of this that is really out of our control). You sense your arm through nerve impulses transmitted from the core strength of your muscles which attach to your bones.
All this lets you keep that arm held out straight and still, for much longer than you might think you could. Try it…the act of staring at your hand, out there at the end of your arm makes a huge difference in the amount of effort you need to expend for this exercise.
The reality is that if any of these three components are out of whack, the arm (or the leg, or even your entire body) will no longer be able to stay upright. Focusing all three components on the task is what makes it work.
So how do we relate this to writing?
Let’s change the order around a bit and dig a little deeper.
Part 1 – Your Inner Ear
Your inner ear is your voice. Voice is the cadence that is essentially you; it’s what makes your work stand out as unique.
The best description I’ve ever heard of “voice” is:
Imagine you are sitting in a café, telling your friend a story. The way you tell a story is quintessentially you. You don’t stop to think about how the story sounds when you’re talking to your friend, you just tell it. The visual and verbal cues you get back are what help you time the rhythm of your story and play certain parts of it up or down.
The best part, and the hardest part, about writing is that we do it alone. There is no one across the café table, or computer screen, to tell you what’s “just right” and what is falling flat. We learn to recognize what works on our own (through Craft) or we find a great critique group.
Part 2 – Musculoskeletal Control.
Techie Definition: This control is essential in our balance and vital to our ability to walk normally. The mechanics of human ambulation, or walking on two legs, is quite unique in nature. It has been described as consisting of a cycle of `controlled falls’, which highlights the complexity of distinguishing between a fall or stumble and normal, controlled walking.
This definition immediately made me think of a blog Kristen Lamb wrote on the importance of learning to fall.
For the writer, “musculoskeletal control” is Craft.
The more you exercise your writing muscles, the more balanced and resilient they become. It took me ages to recognize (and accept) that it doesn’t matter whether you can lift a five pound weight or a fifty pound weight, what matters is that you can do it a lot and do it smoothly.
In writer-speak that means: a good writer with the courage to approach the page every day is going to be published long before a great writer that approaches the page sporadically.
Just like targeted physical therapy can turn a weak knee into a strong one, daily writing can turn a good writer into a wonderful, well-disciplined one.
Who has the time? I can’t! I don’t wanna! My inner Lazy Ass said all that and more.
The reality behind these complaints was: I’m scared. What if I fail? Won’t that make my writing so important I will want to die if I fail?
We all have these fears, just like we all have that rat bastard inner critic. The fact is, no one said it would be easy. Writers are a tough breed and my money will always be on us. Just hitch up those titanium panties and sit your butt in the chair to write (as soon as you’re done reading this post :-)).
Some great Craft posts:
- “A Deeper, Richer Understanding of Craft” Part 2 by Larry Brooks (THEN read Part 1)
- Any Craft post by Sharla Rae – she’s amazing at separating huge concepts into bite-sized pieces.
- New and Improved Writer’s Toolbox by Laura Drake
Part 3 – Your Vision
Your visual strength is what you rely on after you’ve gotten the words on the page. Your vision translates into editing.
I know wonderful writers who have lyrical prose and the ability to create fantastic worlds with engaging characters. Yet they are still fighting to be published. Why?
Is it those mean editors? Those crazy publishers? I regret to say, it rarely is. Most of these writer friends tell me it’s actually because their editing or proofing is not strong enough yet. Practice makes perfect and we’ll all get there if we keep at it and build a powerful writing team to provide help when we need it.
There is a reason why Oscars are given for film editing – it is the art of separating out the unnecessary footage to keep the viewers hooked. It works the same with books.
There is a famous quote by Elmore Leonard that frustrates the hell out of most new writers: “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” The structure of a story is a lot harder than it looks because we have to learn what parts people will skip and why.
Some fantastic posts I’ve found on editing are:
- The Three Simple Stages of Self-Editing by Jody Hedlund
- How I Edit by Nathan Bransford
- 11 Resources to Make Editing Your Novel Easier by Virginia Ripple (the one by Jami Gold is my fave!)
Wherever you are on your writing journey, DON’T STOP. The best is always yet to come because we keep improving the more we do it. What you hear with your inner ear and see with your writer’s eyes will eventually be translated by the “musculoskeletal” strength of your Craft.
I heard Linda Howard speak at a writer’s conference in San Diego some years back and I’ve never forgotten her words, which meant so much to me.
“Everybody dreams,” she said. “But writers are special because they write down their dreams.
“As writers, we can do anything and be anyone. You can be astronauts or spies or time travelers. Writers can go to amazing places and build imaginary worlds for others to visit.
“The sad fact is that no matter how hard you try, the music and the magic of your dreams will never be equaled by the words you put on a page.
“Do it anyway.”
Every writer in that room started crying because it IS so hard to translate the grand scope of our imaginations into words on the page. The words never seem quite big enough or important enough to express the magic that lives inside our minds.
My hope is that, even on those days when you feel that all is lost, when you wonder why you ever believed that YOUR words were important, you keep at it.
Do it because you have to. Do it because you need to. Do it because the act of sharing those words is more than most people will ever attempt.
And finally, do it because no one else will have the inner ear to hear the words exactly as you do, the strength to birth them onto the page, or the vision to translate those words into the perfect story that floats from your heart to ours.
Do it anyway. You won’t be truly happy unless you try.
What part of writing do you struggle with the most? Voice, craft or editing? I have the hardest time with structure and editing myself, and head-hopping, and conflict and…Oh, sorry. Enough about me. What’s your writing albatross?
Till next time,
About Jenny Hansen
Jenny fills her nights with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, short stories (and chasing after the newly walking Baby Girl). By day, she provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s digging this sit down and write thing.
When she’s not at her blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at jhansenwrites and here at Writers In The Storm. Jenny also writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.