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Perhaps your writing — or writing practice — seems inadequate to you? Here are some ideas about how to get from where you are to where you want to be….
I was almost 30 years old when I first visited the UK. To this day, I still remember standing on a subway platform and hearing a recorded announcer intone, “mind the gap,” to prevent people from falling into the space between the platform and the train. (You can listen to the recording yourself on YouTube.) To this day, whenever I hear the word “gap” I am instantly taken back to that underground station.
Gaps affect all of us and while they may not be as dire as a stretch of space between a safe platform and a rapidly moving train, they can disorient and undo us.
For example, if we want to run a marathon, there is probably a rather large gap between our current level of fitness and our ability to run 26.2 miles in one go. If we want to speak a second language, there is almost certainly a gap between full fluency and our vocabulary, our use of tenses and our understanding of idiom.
If we’re running a business, there is probably a gap between how much we want to sell, and our ability to reach the customers we need or perhaps even hire the suppliers who can help us.
In fact, the Internet is filled with pages about “gap analysis” for business including the benefits of doing it, the tools you can use, and advice on how to streamline the process. See some of those pages here and here and here.
Yet the phrase ‘gap analysis’ is seldom linked with writing, where, to my mind, it’s particularly important.
I’ve worked as an editor for more than 45 years and I know that the wonderful ideas in the heads of many writers bear little relationship to what eventually winds up on the page. As a result, many of them become almost unspeakably discouraged.
- How did the brilliant idea turn out to be so trite and unconvincing?
- Why are so many other people able to express themselves more articulately?
- Why is it so difficult to improve?
So, how do you get from where you are to where you want to be, as a writer?
Taking a page from the business analysis websites, and using my own experience with writers from the last four decades, here are five steps I recommend:
1-Always start with where you are. This means not sugar-coating your level of skill but instead, being realistic about what you can and cannot do. If you were running a marathon, you wouldn’t start your training with a 26-mile run. Instead, you might start with a few blocks. You get yourself into condition gradually and with care and attention. You understand that pushing yourself to go too far, too fast, will only result in injury.
2-Do an analysis of your skills and weaknesses. Many of us avoid such an analysis with respect to writing for one of two reasons. Either, (1) because we’ve been conditioned to believe it’s something that anyone is able to do. After all, we went to high school (or university!) and we had to do plenty of writing there. Or, (2) because we’ve been convinced we have absolutely no talent for writing. We may be good at other tasks, but writing is not one of them.
Instead of adopting a winner-take-all philosophy, accept that you are probably somewhere in the ‘middle’ with respect to talent and skill, and make a list of what you’re good at and where you need to improve. Here’s a list to consider. Are you:
- A good researcher?
- Skilled with grammar?
- Good with visual images?
- A born editor?
- Someone who likes to think and plan?
Ideally, don’t focus too much on what you need to improve (at least not to begin with). Instead, focus on what you’re already good at and try to become even better at it.
3-Focus on the small goals rather than the larger one. Many writers freak themselves out by focusing on the Big Hairy Audacious goal rather than what’s right in front of them. But if you think about the demands of a project like a dissertation (40,000 words or much more, depending on your subject) or a book (70,000 words or more) you’re only going to become stressed. And that stress will only make writing even more difficult. Instead, focus on what’s in front of your nose. Decide what you’re going to do that day, and be satisfied with that.
4-And the next day, do the same. Writing doesn’t occur in one fell swoop. It’s a project requiring daily time and commitment. Focus on what you can do every day — the small, incremental progress you can make — and, over time, you will not only accumulate more words, you’ll also improve.
5-Get professional help. Athletes and business people use coaches to help them. Writers can use them too. If you’d like to work with me, I have a program called Get It Done that accepts new writers at the start of each month. (Deadline for applications for Oct. 1 is this coming Thursday, Sept. 23). But if my style doesn’t appeal to you, there are lots of other writing coaches in the business.
Writing is not magic. It’s a process that requires determination and persistence. Believe it or not, it can also be fun. The gap between where you are and where you want to be needn’t be a chasm. Instead, it can be as narrow as a subway gap — something you can learn to skip over, if you’re careful and attentive enough.
Are you a self-publisher looking for someone to do the layout for your book? I have an excellent page layout artist who’s looking for more work. She’s highly skilled but relatively new to the business so she’s offering a discounted rate. Email me for her contact info.
My video podcast last week addressed how to narrow the focus for your blog. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
How do you get from where you are to where you want to be? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!