Monday, October 29, 2012

Improve, Stagnate, or Decline: WSG 28

Writer's Survival Guide 28: Improve, Stagnate, or Decline

My favorite NFL team is the Detroit Lions. For the last two decades, the Lions struggled. They rotated through coaches, players, and they could not find a way to win. Every season ended with frustration. Fans wondered why? Why can't this team get it together and win?

Coach Jim Schwartz took over four years ago. He brought a fresh enthusiasm to the role, and, with a first round, first pick quarterback--Matthew Stafford--fans waited in hopeful anticipation that the Lions would turn around.

They did.

It took time, patience in the face of injuries, more smart draft picks, but last season, the Lions actually made it to the playoffs. It looked as if the rough years were finally behind them. Surely, they would continue to improve, to advance, and maybe even make it to the Superbowl at some point?

This season the Lions are struggling. They're plagued by penalties and they don't look like a cohesive unit. Many experts say the team lacks discipline at the coaching level. Off the field, there have been arrests and poor behavior. Needless to say, if a team can't win games, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to make it to the playoffs this year.

Football is a tough sport. Many factors go into what makes a winning team. And nothing guarantees they keep their spot at or near the top.

Writers face the same challenges. Whether we, like the Lions, struggle for years before finding success, or we find success quickly, we have to mentally outfit ourselves to write strong.

One writing myth is that at some point we won't have to work as hard. We'll "write that perfect first draft" or, since readers loved our last book, they'll automatically love our subsequent books. This is dangerous thinking. We, like football teams, have to continuously work hard to make our books shine. We have to be disciplined, humble yet confident, and we can't take anything for granted or we risk stagnating and declining.

Writers have to push themselves to continue advancing in their career.

We can never get complacent with our writing. Writing shouldn't be easy. Each book should challenge us--force us to examine exactly why we're writing it.

I'm not saying writing isn't fun, rewarding, or any other wonderful things. It is. But if we stop examining our work for good plot structure, conflict, pace, grammar, and characterization because we think the work we did in the past was good enough, well, we're on our way to stagnating and declining.

Every book gives us a chance to improve our writing.

What do you think? Is there ever a time we can stop examining our books and still be assured they're good?

Have a terrific day!


  1. I agree. Some bestsellers have stopped pushing themselves and I stopped reading their books. I believe in and welcome challenging my writing with each book. As soon as I stop doing that, it's time to stop being a writer.

  2. Nope, never. I think a fool does that. I want to be an 80-year-old woman loving learning even more than I do now.
    ~ Wendy

  3. I love the Lions too:) And in answer to your question, no, I hope there is never a time where I think I can stop trying--in anything. I'll never know it all, it's one of the things that keeps me leaning on God and I don't want to ever believe I don't need Him.

  4. Oh no. I can always tell when an author has stopped examining their's just not as good. I'm so afraid those who liked my first won't like my second. But on the other hand, it's possible that those who didn't like my first WILL like my second. LOL We never know but we should always try our best.

  5. So, many people know I'm a huge fan of Susan May Warren and she's been an amazing mentor in my writing life. One of the things I love most about her is that she keeps working to improve...even with almost forty books under her belt, even as she's teaching other writers (and changing their lives!), she's working on her own stuff, picking out areas she wants to improve in and working toward that. I want to be like that--never stagnant or stale.

  6. Such truth, Jill! I don't ever want to stagnate either. Especially if we are writing so God will be glorified, then we shouldn't, either in our writing or our spiritual lives.

  7. No, I think all writers need to constantly evaluate themselves and keep their mental muscles in shape. It shows that we care not only about our progress, but what readers deserve. We all know a couple of famous authors who have subscribed to the "plug and chug" method of storytelling. As Christian writers we can't get stagnate in our faith or the work God has handed us.

  8. Thank you all for stopping by and chiming in. I nodded as I read each comment. I'm SO with you on this! Thanks!!

  9. In answer to your question, No. It also applies to other forms of writing. I write Christian esssays. Because of the nature of my writing, I have to be on top. I recently turned in a column I did in a hurry. Well, my rating told me a few of my readers thought it wasn't my best work either. I am now spending more time on research and planning than I have before. Lesson learned.

  10. I hope I never reach the point that I stop working to improve--in my writing as well as other areas of my life.


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