What a broken washing machine can teach you about writing

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Have you ever fretted about how to improve your writing? It might not be as expensive as you fear…

We had a plethora of reasons for rebuilding our house four years ago.

  • It had a cracked foundation that made it unsafe in the earthquake zone in which we live.
  • We had only one bathroom for a family of five. (Really!)
  • We wanted enough space for our kids to live with us while they went to university.
  • My husband and I wanted to head into our retirement years without having to worry about upkeep for a 100-year-old house.

We solved the first three issues immediately. But the fourth? How naïve! Even though we were delighted with our house and our contractor, we’ve had more repair people here in the last four years than we did in the previous fourteen.

Then, last week, our brand new washing machine (pictured above) lost its power. My husband was smart enough to flip the breaker switch and it re-started. But at the end of the cycle, it lost power again. Suspecting we were in for at least a $250-$500 repair, I called the company that had sold us the machine. Our warranty had expired. Of course. But the clerk gave me a savvy suggestion: “Flip the breaker switch again,” he said. “And leave it off for at least 30 minutes. That could just work and will save you a service call.”

When I asked him to explain why this might succeed, he compared it to rebooting my computer. A clerk who understood metaphor! I got it.  I did as he suggested and then as soon as my daughter’s next load of laundry went through, we were pleased to see the machine didn’t turn off. In short, we’d fixed the problem.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Like our “broken” washing machine, your writing may not be as bad as you think. Here are five steps you can take to address any writing problem you have, including two options that have no cost at all.

1)   Allow your writing to incubate. This means putting it in a drawer or a forgotten corner of your hard drive for at least a day, longer if possible, no peeking! Ideally, you want to forget about what you have written so that you can approach it with fresh eyes. Incubation is crucial because it gives you some essential distance, allowing you to see what’s good and what needs fixing. A writing friend of mine and I like to joke that the “editing fairies” go to work on our texts as soon as we leave them alone. If you’re writing a book, I strongly recommend letting it incubate for at least six weeks before you start editing.

2)   Ask me a question. You’re welcome to ask me your writing questions, no charge, as long as you post them in my blog. (Post them any time – they don’t have to relate to the topic I’ve written about.) If the question is simple, I’ll answer it immediately. If it’s more complicated, I’ll try to turn it into a Power Writing column. Either way, I promise you’ll get a response from me.

3)   Read a book about writing. There are countless books about writing, including my own 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better.  If you can’t afford the modest price of most books, check out your local library, which won’t cost you a cent.

4)   Take a writing course. This will be a little bit more expensive but will give you a lifelong skill that will help you become infinitely more productive. I offer a year-long email based course, Extreme Writing Makeover, and many night-schools and universities provide extension classes, too. Pick one that works for your time and budget. (If you’ve already bought a premium version of my book you’ll get a $59 discount for Extreme Writing Makeover. Email me if you’ve lost the code.)

5)   Get some coaching. On the surface, this is the most expensive option but before you dismiss it, do a cost-benefit analysis. If you’re struggling with a particular aspect of your writing, what difference would it make if you could fix it? Many writers I coach say that a single hour of coaching with me is enough to make a profound difference.

Washing machines, cars and writers all break down from time to time. But it needn’t always cost you a fortune to fix the problem.

What tricks do you have for fixing your writing? We can all help each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me. If you comment on ##my blog by May 31, 2014 I’ll put your name in a draw for a copy of the delightful non-fiction book Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.

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