It's not a national holiday (yet), but today is my younger sister's birthday. And because of that, we're going to kick off our month-long discussion about growth by starting here:
Why? Because my younger sister was born with the motto: Let's make it fun. (Whereas I tend to focus in on projects with an unconscious motto of Let's make it GRIM.)
When she decided that she wanted to learn how to cook, she transformed herself (over the period of a few years, sure) from someone who did very little in the kitchen, to a darned fine home cook.
1. She found people that she was excited to learn from. She subscribed to a fun food magazine and immersed herself in the Food Network, printing up the recipes that caught her attention each day.
2. She was obsessed with getting the best tools she could... and she got them in bright red: her favorite color. Because high quality can be fun, too.
3. She practiced. A lot. She kept going even when a recipe was a bust. And she stretched into the areas she was most excited to learn.
All right, it's pretty straightforward, right? And some of you might have this learning style already. But for those of you who come at new skills with a LET'S MAKE IT GRIM mentality, well--we're in the same boat.
Let's see if we can't learn from my sister's tricks.
1. Who would you be excited to learn from? Who is writing well, or teaching how to write well, but doing it with an attitude that you admire?
I've developed a really low tolerance for learning from people who seem to be yelling at me. Know what I mean? I don't need to be reminded that writing is hard, or that I'll never learn everything I can about this craft. I don't need a grumpy teacher.
This is why I talk up Heather Sellers' book so much: because her attitude is so grace-based. And Eric Maisel is massively encouraging, so he's a good one too. Barbara Abercrombie and Judy Reeves are favorites for the same reason.
And what about blogs and websites? I've recently discovered Writerology, She's Novel, Eva Deverell, K.M. Weiland, and Joanna Penn, all talented writers whose attitudes are encouraging and you-can-do-it, while still being wonderfully helpful.
2. How can you get the best tools in the best colors?
Some of this means your environment: How would your writing space react to the idea of growing and learning? Do you have a brittle work area, a place that's only geared toward one thing?
Or can you drag reference books across your desk? Do you have places where you can tack up inspiring quotes or mood boards for characters? Do you need to buy yourself some quirky blank notebooks, some astonishingly lovely pens?
Austin Kleon recommends having an "analog" area in your work space, a place where you get to deal with real paper and real pens and markers and scissors... the physical, tactile side of creation. Even if you prefer to write on your computer, consider creating a place where you can actually touch the tools of creation, trace letters with your fingertips, and use the smelly markers.
But the other side of the tool question is this: What are you working on?
I've caught myself using subjects I don't like to practice skills I'm not good at. Friends, it is a BAD COMBO.
Like: researching something I really don't care about. Doing a writing exercise with a subject that doesn't make my heart skip a beat. Working on dialogue with a character that I didn't like.
Yikes! We owe it to ourselves to write about what we love, to bring our passions right in to our writing exercises, and to making our characters profoundly NOT boring.
3. Practice taking a lighthearted view of failure. Counter it by continuing to stretch.
Perspective goes a long, long way when you're learning something new, when you're growing a skill.
Do you make everything a life-or-death issue? Because--as you know by now--I tend to do that.
I've always admired how my younger sister can shrug off difficulties more easily than I do. Sure, when a recipe didn't work out, she didn't like eating a mediocre meal. But it wasn't the end of her world, either.
And besides, she'd also tried some cupcakes to follow. And those just might have turned out to be a win.
Can we borrow that attitude with our failed attempts? The crappy paragraphs that aimed so high and didn't make it? The writing exercises that came out all cramped and muddied?
Can we tell ourselves that it's not the end of the world. There's revision. There's another try. There are new techniques. There are other paragraphs. And tomorrow is a new day.
Challenge yourself. Refuse to think: I HAVE ZERO TALENT, I WILL NEVER RECOVER FROM THIS.
Let's be more like my sister. And let's say, "There are always cupcakes."