P.T. For Your Writing

Techie Tuesdays are always fun here at More Cowbell. They can be about Technology, such as my post a few weeks back about LinkedIn’s Answers feature, or they can be about the technical aspects of writing like last Tuesday’s post on e-Publishing. This week, it’s about writing and you can thank Dear Hubby who just finished eight weeks of physical therapy.

The wear and tear of fifteen years of football is finally taking its toll and, back in February, he hurt his knee working a conference in San Francisco. He came home limping and the pain got progressively worse through the rest of February and into March.

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 P.T. worked on strengthening key muscle groups until he was back in balance.

Physical Therapy is defined as “a health care profession which targets the physical treatment and management of disease or condition with therapeutic exercise to enable people to reach their maximum potential.”

Hmmm, Maximum Potential…NOW my writing self was interested so I asked the hubby to ask some questions.

  1. 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.
  2. How do they achieve this balance?
    Here is where things get REALLY interesting for us writers! It’s too long to summarize in one sentence so read on…

There are three components that assist you in keeping your body in balance:

  • Your vision
  • Your inner ear
  • Your musculoskeletal control

(Say what??)

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.

Some helpful posts about Voice:

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 I read a few weeks back 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.

Craft must be practiced and honed with daily writing. All the greats say this – Anne Lamott, Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron – and it has always been the thing that made me groan the loudest.

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:

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:

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 the spark inside us.

My hope is that, even on those days when you feel that all is lost and 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?

TWO ANNOUNCEMENTS:

#1 – I have yet to hear back from all my May winners of the Let’s Meet Up Contest.
I will be setting a webinar date tomorrow with those I have heard back from. All winners, if you did not get my email, check your Junk Mail folder. Or, you can just email me at JennyHansensMail@aol.com with a few dates and times that work best for you so we can get this show on the road. I’m raring to go on this LinkedIn webinar!

#2 – There’s less than a week left to enter the Going To The Chapel Contest at Writers In The Storm! It’s fun, it’s free and will provide the finalists with three detailed chapter critiques and supreme bragging rights.

Till next time,
Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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14 Responses to P.T. For Your Writing

  1. Laura Drake says:

    Facinating blog, Jenny!

    My voice is what it is – once it’s set, you can forget about it.
    Craft, I’ll keep learning for the rest of my life.
    Editing? The bane of my existence.
    Linda Howard also gave me pearls of wisdom – but they were that she writes ONCE. No edits, no angst. Sure, it takes her six months to start writing, but when she does, it flows. So, of course, that’s now my unattainable goal.

    Sigh.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Good thing your voice doesn’t change…I’ve read your stuff and I love your voice! Writing is endless work and endless fascination, in my humble opinion.🙂

      Like

  2. Jami Gold says:

    Thanks for the link. 🙂 Fantastic post!

    Like

  3. Jodi says:

    Wow. I needed to hear this!
    DO it anyway.
    I posted on my blog a few months back with the song by Martina MrBride called “Anyway”. If you aren’t familiar with it look it up on YouTube. My post (called ‘anyone out there afraid of the dark?’ was very personal about my fears as a writer and someday becoming an author. I struggle almost everyday with this so I have the same mantra now.
    DO it anyway!
    Thanks Jenny!

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Jodi,

      I don’t know any writers who don’t fear the stripping down of emotion that writing requires. In addition to that, we have to build up our Craft. If you really think about it, it’s a wonder anyone ever has the nerve to do it and proudly proclaim, “Yeah, that’s me. I’m the writer.”

      ‘Do it anyway’ works for me. It doesn’t matter if you’re great or if you suck, it’s just as scary either way. Choosing to ignore all that fear and ‘just do it anyway’ is extremely freeing.

      BTW, if you don’t read Kristen Lamb, you need to…she talks a lot about the fear.

      Like

  4. I’m struggling the most with voice right now. I’m not sure I’ve got one, someone told me I did so if I do, what is it? Confusing. I’ll definitely check out the links you’ve put up.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You have Voice, everyone does. It just takes a while to listen to it and get it on the page. It is the way you tell the story. No one else will tell it exactly like you will.

      Some distinct voices you know are Kristen Lamb and Chuck Wendig. They tell stories in very distinct ways. If you or I told it, it would sound completely different. Not better or worse, just different. Does that help?

      Like

  5. Oh, I tried to send an email about the contest but it came back saying your email was full?

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Really?? Ooooh. Thanks for telling me. I’ll go clean house in there. In the meantime, give me dates and times that would work in the comments. I really want to get a date scheduled as of tomorrow. The suspense of waiting to meet everybody is KILLING ME.🙂

      Like

  6. Pingback: A Treasure Trove of Writing Links | Writers In The Storm Blog

  7. Fantastic post. We all need a little pep talk from time to time. I’m keeping this in my “squashing self-doubt” folder to re-read when I think I just need to give up. Thanks!

    BTW, thanks for the link love.🙂

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Virginia! I think we all have those moments of self-doubt, when we just wonder WHY we thought we could do this thing…Linda Howard’s talk came to me at such a time and I think that’s why it resonated with me. I’m happy to pass those words on to someone else for their crappy times.

      You are most welcome for the link-love…I appreciated you putting all of those links together so I didn’t have to!

      Like

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