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On Getting Better: Writing in the Deep End

Yesterday I told a story about throwing my daughter into the deep end of the pool. It wasn’t intentional, but it was astonishingly effective.

Funny enough, I’d been thinking about that metaphor a lot lately. In the last year I’ve been thrown into the deep end at work, building incredibly challenging documents on impossible deadlines with a remarkable consistency.

Throwing Yourself In

I’ve also thrown myself into the deep end in quite a few ways over the last year:

  • Pretending to be a university professor
  • Pretending to be a professional blogger
  • Pretending to be a freelance editor
  • Pretending to be an entrepreneur
  • Pretending to be a manager
  • Pretending to be a writing coach
  • Pretending to be a grant writer
  • Pretending to be a ghost writer

The list goes on, and every item on it has been terrifying. It’s often overwhelming, but time and time again I’ve found myself learning the same thing Annabelle learned in the pool: if you just keep doing what you know how to do, just keep trying, it’s possible to find your way back to the top.

Finding Your Depth

This really goes back to the same issue Courtney raised in a recent WILAWriTWe. I hate to seem like I’m picking on her, but I want to refute yet again her claim that she’s not an expert.

I know exactly why she said that, and I know every one of us feels very inexpert whenever other people first start looking to us for advice. It’s a sentiment founded on fear — fear we’ll find ourselves trapped in a situation we can’t get out of. And, just like Annabelle’s fear of going under water, it’s a fear that keeps us from doing things we want to do.

In the last year, I’ve spent an astonishing amount of time in abject terror. I’ve also made unbelievable progress on half a dozen major life goals, and discovered a wealth of incredible new opportunities that promise an amazing future. Even in the midst of the fear, I find myself happier now than I have been for most of my life.

I can do things now that I couldn’t do back when I thought I couldn’t do them — and that’s only true because I tried to do them anyway.

Learning to Swim

Honestly, this isn’t a message about writing. It’s a message about expertise and confidence, but it’s mainly a message about learning by doing, and Unstressed Syllables runs on learning by doing.

In fact, that’s why I make such an effort to stress the “unstressed” part of Unstressed Syllables. I want to help you get over your fear and maybe make the big unknown seem a little more familiar. I want to give you the confidence to jump in.

Without that confidence, nothing I say here is going to do you much good. Last week’s advice that you try out programming in Python was a big terrifying suggestion that you do something you’re not remotely qualified for. Do it anyway! Even if you don’t end up adding a line to your resume, you’ll learn something. That’s worth doing.

How to Write in the Deep End

The same goes for my writing advice, too. All the things I have to say about document templates, audience analysis, and story structure are just so many words until you actually put them into practice.

Practice makes perfect. It doesn’t matter too much where you’re starting from, so long as you start. Come back tomorrow for some tips on applying this stuff to your writing tasks.

2 Responses to “On Getting Better: Writing in the Deep End”

  1. Bob Hayles says:

    Good article. Boil it down to basics and you have my attitude about writing. Do it Nike style…”Just Do It”.

    I do have to disagree with your last point…”practice makes perfect”.

    No, it doesn’t. Practice makes permanent, as in forming a habit.

    PERFECT practice makes perfect.

    Don’t believe me? Listen to a bagpiper who practices…wrong…3 hours a day for 10 years. When he plays a funeral, what should be the haunting strains of “Amazing Grace” instead sounds like two cats, tied up in a burlap bag, fighting.