Thursday, January 30, 2014

Work It!



In recent months I’ve been having treatment for an injury to my “lower back”. (Really low—like, the part you sit on...) Anyway, through this often frustrating process of recovery I’ve discovered how easily muscular function can be taken for granted.

In many ways the skills we use for writing are like muscles working together. Grammar. Character development. Plot. Dialogue. (Etc.) It can be really easy to focus on one area, and in so doing, enable others to atrophy, whether through under–use, misapplication or inexperience.

Something I’ve discovered is it’s one thing to say a muscle needs strengthening; it’s an entirely different matter to achieve that goal. Anyone who’s had physiotherapy knows that process can be really uncomfortable, even painful. Writing pain can take many forms. It might look like embarrassment or frustration. Perhaps accentuated by a rejection letter. It might be someone saying they don’t like our work, or criticism highlighting flaws in our writing.

But even when we’ve identified a weakness, there comes the active pain of exercise. Worse, we can pay exorbitant amounts of money, say through a writing course or critique, but if we don’t take on board the instruction and do the exercises, nothing changes.

I don’t know about you, but I can get a bit attached to parts of my work or writing style. ‘It doesn’t work that way.’ Well, that’s just an opinion. I like it! So someone else reads the work and says a similar thing. It’s a bit like my physio pointing out differing joint function and shifts in weight as I do requested movements. I might think there’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing, but patiently he highlights where things aren’t quite matching up.

So, time to get motivated! Join the writer’s gym!


But guess what? Not only can that be painful and expensive, it’s often plain straight out hard work! And those exercises can also feel really awkward at first.

Just the other night I was doing one legged squats against a wall and thinking how easy it was to drop back to familiar habits to compensate for the muscle weakness that has developed. I know I’m getting stronger, but it’s slow. I have to form good habits and progress at an achievable pace until my body shapes up.

As a writer, have you ever looked back on old work and shuddered? It’s a bit like watching myself do those squats. I look clumsy and uncoordinated. But I’m also learning. I can see myself developingcan see strength and balance coming back into my movements and, er, “lower back”...

I think that sometimes it’s a good thing to pick up an old manuscript or short work from the past and have a read. It may not seem like you’ve changed your style much, but oooohhhh, yes, you have!!!! Little by little, over time, with sometimes painful, expensive and awkward processes, you have grown stronger in your craft.

What a satisfying realisation this is—and such good motivation to continue strengthening. Even more exciting is growth shared with other writers. By encouraging each other to continually build our writing skills, over time we get to celebrate the new strength and achievements together. Now that sounds like fun!


Adele Jones lives in Queensland, Australia. Her writing is inspired by a passion for family, faith, friends, music and science – and a broad ranging imagination. To find out more visit www.adelejonesauthor.com

22 comments:

  1. Great blog Adele. You had me with that analogy right up to one-legged squats. If I tried a one-legged squat I'd have to do a risk assessment followed by a trip to the physio - LOL. But I know what you mean. In our writing, it's easy to neglect the things we find difficult and keep doing the bits that are fun. But if we don't stretch ourselves and work on the difficult areas, they'll never improve. Hope your .. um ... lower back improves soon. I must go and work on mine :)

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    1. I can help you with those squats, Nola. ;-) Seriously, I think our propensity to remain in our comfort zone is something that creeps into all areas of life. Writing is no exception. To challenge how we write is certainly a stretch that can take a little getting used to. All the best with that "lower back" work. :)

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  2. Having had a similar 'injury', I remember wondering if the pain and discomfort would ever go away! It did, eventually, but I've developed habits designed to avoid any activity which could aggravate the problem. It is good to recognize our writing weaknesses and vulnerabilities, because then we can actively improve. Thanks for your wisdom, Adele.

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    1. Really like your reference to habits, Cathie. Repetition is definitely a key to consistency when it comes to sustainable change. It's certainly frustrating when first embarking on the journey. Everything seems so uncomfortable. I know that even after years of "change" I can find old writing habits slipping back in. Because they've got that pleasant feel of familiarity, sometimes it takes someone else to point them out before they're obvious. Back to that wall... :)

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  3. What a great analogy, Adele. How easy it is to read over our work and gloss over the weaker places, believing they are shaded by the brilliance of the rest! I think it is called denial and this blog exposes them! Thanks.

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    1. Denial. Yes! :) Definitely not a good idea to ignore such weaknesses. (Physios give you "the look" when you confess to a lengthy 'if I ignore it it'll go away' approach.) Just like ignoring physical weaknesses, writing ones get harder to change the longer we pretend they're not there. And just as our bodies compensate over time for a muscular dysfunction/injury, writing weaknesses can start to impact other areas of our work. Definitely important to identify them. Thanks for your thoughts, Jo! :)

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  4. Very interesting post Adele. Thank you. I hope that poor bottom (or back) is getting better day by day. Thanks for the reminder that ALL aspects of our work should be looked after and exercised properly. I must keep that in mind. Very easy to let parts atrophy while paying attention to others. So it was needed. Thanks Adele.

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    1. Thanks, Anusha. That "lower back" (okay, bottom) is certainly improving. ;-) We writers don't help ourselves with such a sedentary occupation. For me, the best reminder that there's always more growing to be done is when I read an exquisitely written work and am left breathlessly delighted by the end. I can't help but think about what makes it work so well. Yes, some people have an amazing writing gift, but they've usually taken the time to work on their skills, too. Always challenges me!

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  5. Thanks, Adele. I do hope that the pain will disappear very soon (I can identify). And as Cathie said, I've learned that I had to change my habits; sitting at the computer for too long without a regular break wasn't good for me. I will follow your good idea to get out a VERY old writing project and see how I feel about it now :)

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    1. Great advice, Margaret. Don't sit for too long; ensure we move on our breaks - and do so regularly. It's all too easy to forget these healthy habits. Why we must be driven to develop them by pain instead of proactive prevention is such a reflection of our general human disposition. We usually like to keep things simple and do them the easiest way possible!

      I'd be interested to know your reflections when reading that old work. I remember getting the shock of my life when I started reading an old manuscript just six months into writing related study. Sometimes it's not that dramatic, but usually there are positive markers of change. Thanks again for your comments.

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  6. Thanks, Adele. Writing is a very slow, long-term project all round, isn't it? All worthwhile in the end though. And I can identify with your lower back problem for sure, since I am lying sideways typing this, with my computer on a chair next to the bed, as I recover from a lower back operation!

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    1. Oh, Jo-Anne! So sorry to hear that! Trust your recovery is swift and the operation effective. Agreed, most successful authors are seldom over night successes, even if it seems that way. Usually they've invested a great deal into honing and strengthening their skills. A long journey indeed. Thanks for your comments - will pray for your recovery.

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  7. Hi Adele. Thanks for your post. I hope that your back problem is soon past history. I have been surprised looking back at stuff I've written even at the beginning of last year and have noted changes. I agree it's important to keep learning and stretching oneself - and to be aware of current stylistic preferences though I think it is also important that writers develop their own "voice".

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    1. Hi Jeanette, lovely to see your comment. I like your reference to finding our "voice". In striving to be our best, it can be easy to look for the flaws and forget that what we offer is also unique. Yes, we should also aim to grow, but I've been reminded time and again that sometimes the efforts we don't think are so great can turn out to be a timely word in season, touching readers' hearts in a way we'd never imagined. A humbling reminder that it's not all about us. The ultimate Author can turn even the most rudimentary work into a masterpiece. :)

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  8. Great post Adele. At present I'm working on my faith muscles. They really need strengthening when things don't always work out the way I have panned with my writing. Perseverance counts though, in the end. And we do improve as we hone those skills.

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    1. I mean PLANNED. Although sometimes I've experienced being 'panned'.

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    3. Panned. I know what you mean, Rita! :) (Just deleted my previous comment due to some "interesting" typos! Didn't quite make sense... Oops!)

      Can also relate to those faith muscles in regard to the writing journey. When things don't quite go how we've planned (or panned) it can really make us question our efforts on so many levels. It's a place many of us come to with the writing journey - often multiple times.

      I remember a critical point in my writing journey where my faith muscles were stretched to the max. I had done all I could in myself and felt I'd faced the ultimate test of my abilities as a writers - and failed. Only when I felt God asking me to give Him my dreams, did I realise I was holding tight to MY abilities and MY ideas of how things should work out. Quite confronting. At that place I learned, or began to learn perhaps, to release things and let Him take the lead - whatever that journey looked like. Perseverance. Yes. We writers need it in great quantities!

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  9. Good points made Adele. Thanks

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    1. Thank you, Dale. Lovely to see you here. :)

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  10. Great post, Adele. I like the way you compared physiotherapy to developing writing skills. Writing, like rehab, can be hard work physically, mentally and spiritually. Thanks for sharing what you've been thinking about. x

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Elaine. Agreed, writing can be hard work at times - but satisfying when those efforts yield successful outcomes. Know you invested a lot into your writing in 2013. Trust your 2014 writing ventures continue to see the benefits of those efforts. :)

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