Does our writing need a regular service?

Driving home the other day, unbeknownst to me the front passenger-side suspension spring broke on my car. I only realised the extent of the damage once I’d got home, when I saw the virtual zero clearance between tyre and wheel arch. Without doubt something nasty could have happened during those last few miles home…

The good news is that nothing did. And that the spring can be replaced. And that I’ll be back on the road again in a few days. Actually, the car was serviced a little while ago, but I suspect a flaw in the spring (presumably internal and invisible) could not have been picked up.

The whole experience can be applied as a metaphor to a writing life. Fanciful, I know, but bear with me. If our writing is like a car, taking us on a journey from one place to the next, do we ever stop to check it out, give it an MOT or a service? I suspect not. Most of the time we probably plough on assuming everything’s in working order – including the Sat Nav which will, after all, be telling us in which direction we should be going.

But what if there’s a flaw in our ‘writing car’? What if the Sat Nav’s actually developed a fault? Who knows where we’ll be headed – or whether we’ll get there in one piece…

I think a regular ‘service’ for our writing is essential in order to ensure that our ‘vehicle’ is healthy and that we’re heading in the right direction. How might we do this?

  • Take some time out to review what we’ve written over the past few months / year. Is it what we’d expected? Is it what we’d intended / hoped to write? Is it good enough? If something is unfinished, are we motivated enough to carry on? And do we know where we’re planning to go over the next period?
  • Take ourselves away into a fresh environment. For example, attend a writing retreat and spend some dedicated time with others, working and discussing, sharing ideas, being inspired.
  • Go on a course – potentially relating to something we don’t consider our genre e.g. poetry if we write fiction, playwriting if we’re a poet. This will give a fresh perspective on our craft – and possibly inspire (and fix!) that Sat Nav.
  • Give ourselves a time-bound dedicated ‘project’. Focus on a specific theme, landscape, person, whatever, and contract ourselves to write about that and nothing else in order to achieve a specific goal at the end of the allotted time: six poems, a 5,000 word short story, whatever.

There are probably dozens of ideas for a ‘service’.

All of these things can freshen up our work, but most importantly they can provide a mirror against which the health of our vehicle – Sat Nav and all! – can be assessed.

Then, if we find something ‘broken’, we’ve a chance to fix it…

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