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What I Learned about Writing this Week…from Being an Expert

Apprentice, Journeyman…Master?

Okay. The first thing you should know is that I do not consider myself an expert in writing. Yes, I’ve had education, training, and experience. Yes, I’ve been doing this for two decades. But no, that does not make me what I consider an expert. Why? Because there is still so much education, training, and experience for me to acquire in my craft.

I’m no expert — I’m a student. An apprentice. A Padawan. I’m the young grasshopper who’s desperately trying to figure out why I’m waxing a car windshield that isn’t there.

And I love it. I love to learn, and I pray I might never stop. I never want to think that I Have Arrived and can now rest on my proverbial laurels. If I ever reach that point, I shall die of boredom — for what adventure is there, if we are not continually facing challenges and absorbing new information?

So. I am a student, not an expert. But what fascinates me is that other people think I’m an expert. They read what I write, they see my writing as prolific, and they conclude that I have achieved a level of skill beyond that of a beginner. These people actually believe that I know what I’m doing! How weird is that?! I am flabbergasted. Apparently, I put on a really good show. *grin*

Good enough, anyway, that I get how-to questions from writer friends from time to time. I answer as best I can, drawing upon whatever resources I can. Sometimes, the resource is my own experience. Sometimes, it’s something another writer (whom I consider to be expert) has said. And yes, it’s flattering when a fellow word-smith asks me which tool to bring to the forge. But mostly, I appreciate the question because it challenges me.

Questions bring me to the forge, where I stand too-near the flames and risk getting singed, all in the name of attempting — yet again! — to purify my craft in the crucible. Were I an “expert,” I hope I would still appreciate and treasure the challenge. As a student, I cherish the opportunity to try putting into words something I have learned — and thereby glean more from it than I did in the first learning.

The Question

So when a friend of mine asked me what he should do about his writer’s block, I thrilled at the chance to help out a fellow writer while re-teaching myself a very needed lesson. My answer to his query went something like this:

Courtney’s Cure for Writer’s Block

1. Grab Inner Editor by scruff of neck.
2. Drag him down to the darkest depths of the deepest mental dungeon.
3. Lock him behind the most solid steel door available.
4. Break the key off in the lock.
5. Skip light-heartedly back up the mental stairs.
6. Write, write, write…
7. …and write anything, even if it’s just stream-of-consciousness stuff that has nothing to do with your current project, without thinking about it, without changing anything, without correcting anything, without stopping, for at least 20 minutes.
8. Take a break and go do something completely unrelated to writing.
9. Wash, rinse, repeat.

That all sounds very tongue-in-cheek, but it really does work. The point is to give yourself the freedom to write anything and everything, without stopping to think if it’s “good enough” or not. It’s all about getting past the intimidating, blank white space you’re trying to fill — be it paper or word processor screen.

Do not let yourself verbalize the question “Is it good enough?”

Never read something you’ve just written and think to yourself, “This isn’t good enough. This stinks.”

Of course it doesn’t smell good. It’s a fresh kill — the blood’s still dripping. What right have you to criticize? You’ve gotta finish the butchering — because yes, sometimes writing is exactly like slaughtering something that simply will not die (which is strange, because at the same time, writing is exactly like bringing something to life). And you’ve gotta drag the dripping thing to the stew pot, dump it in, and let the whole mess simmer for awhile. What you pull out will be Draft Two.

Whatever you do, don’t formulate the sentence “This isn’t as good as _______________’s.” That thought will turn your delicious fresh kill into carrion that only buzzards will pick over.

No Buzzards

Nope, I’m not an expert. I’m just an apprentice who wants to learn more and more and more…

…or maybe I’m a journeyman, who knows enough already to grab her lightsaber and whack off buzzard heads whenever she encounter them. There is yet something to salvage in that piece of uncarved meat! Let’s see what a little anti-writer’s-block seasoning will do.

And that’s WILAWriTWe!

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

8 Responses to “What I Learned about Writing this Week…from Being an Expert”

  1. Josh Unruh says:

    Good words, good words inDEED! Something like this is why I started blogging a couple ideas that I want to play with but am not entirely sure where they’re headed. Interestingly enough, with only a couple days and a couple posts under my belt, it’s working!

    • Courtney Cantrell says:

      Here I am a month later, but still nodding enthusiastically at what you’re saying, Josh. :o) Blogging is an excellent way to work out the kinks of an idea or just try it out to see if it’s viable in the first place. How’s it working for you at this point?

  2. Dave Doolin says:

    I like starting from scratch in a new genre once in a while.

    Keeps me humble and sharpens all my skills.

    • Courtney Cantrell says:

      Ahh, the ever-challenging challenge of getting out of one’s box. 😉 Good point, Dave! You’re reminding me that I’ve wanted to do a WILAWriTWe on a certain type of poem…. Hmm, time to sharpen some of my own skills!

  3. “Grab Inner Editor by scruff of neck. Drag him down to the darkest depths of the deepest mental dungeon. Lock him behind the most solid steel door available. Break the key off in the lock.”

    Love it. It’s called the editing pen in my head and oh how it loves to play too. Fabulous advice and told so well.

    Thanks Courtney 🙂

    • Courtney Cantrell says:

      You’re welcome, Eleanor — thanks for leaving me such compliments! It’s always comforting and encouraging to know that my writing has resonated with someone. 🙂

  4. Love it all, Courtney. Every bit.

    And I wanted to put in that while you may not consider yourself an expert, you speak like one. When you give advice, you are specific and confident. If a fellow writer asks you something, there’s no “uhhh, I don’t really know…I’m not sure..” type speak. You give a concrete answer. So, IMO that gives you expert status.


    Also, just reading that cure for writer’s block made me want to write. I’ve been off the wagon for a few weeks, caught in the busy-ness of life. Writer’s block may not be the cause whenever I stop writing for a while, but it may very well be what keeps me from jumping back on at my first opportunity. And I don’t even realize that’s the problem until I read an inspirational writer’s-block-cure such as your own.

  5. Courtney Cantrell says:

    Uhhhh, I don’t really know how to respond to this….

    LOL Thanks, Becca! 🙂 I honestly don’t feel confident most of the time…but I always hope that what I lack in confidence, I make up for with enthusiasm. 😉 (And plenty of emoticons, apparently. What the…?)

    I’ve been off the writing wagon for a few weeks, too (vacations can be dangerous, dangerous beasties), and reading your remarks and those of others’ inspire me to get crackin’ again! But I guess that’s exactly what we writers are supposed to do for one another. 🙂 Onward!