The Secret to Writing Better: Looking Up

Author:
Publish date:

I'm always surprised and humbled by the gracious notes I receive from readers about my Editor’s Letters—but no letter in recent memory has drawn as much of a response as the one in our latest, November/December 2013 Writer’s Digest (on newsstands and in libraries now, and available for instant download), which is devoted to a simple but powerful theme: Write Better. My simple little essay has spurred some inspiring discussions, so I thought I’d post it here, as well. I invite you to share your own insights in the comments section below, and thank you, as always, for reading WD online and in print!

WD1213_NewsStand_160

Looking Up

A couple of weeks after my son turned 2, we took him to his first amusement park—one of those little nostalgic ones, with a generous “kiddie land,” a lake full of paddleboats and the smell of funnel cakes in the air. I figured he could ride only two or three things, tops, but thought it would be worth the trip anyway. (Could anything that involves funnel cake not be?)

We began by situating him onto the tamest ride—a circular train—and stood anxiously on the other side of the fence, waving. He did not cry that we weren’t able to ride along with him, as I’d feared he would; he did not panic and try to climb off when the ride started up. He simply rang his engine’s little bell happily and waved back every time he passed by.

So far so good. The next logical step was the turtles. We got in line.

“How ’bout airplanes, Mommy?”

I followed his gaze to the biggest of the toddler rides. I eyed it nervously—the height, the speed, the fact that riders could maneuver their planes up and down. Instantly, I had a vivid image of him pulling the lever, unknowingly rocketing himself into the air and screaming in terror while I was powerless to stop the ride.

“What about these turtles, buddy? Don’t they look fun?”

“How ’bout airplanes,” he insisted, louder this time.

It was the ride’s attendant who overheard and got me to relent. He showed me that a key locked each rider in, and said the lever would likely be too hard for a 2-year-old to pull. “I pilot! I pilot!” my son yelled, beaming, as he rode the ride again … and again … and again, whizzing past the turtles with pride.

On the surface, this sounds like a parenting lesson, about not underestimating what kids can do, letting them take their own risks (within reason), even at a very young age. But I can’t help but think that it’s a lesson in a lot of other things, too.

Have you predetermined, perhaps without realizing it, a safe speed for your writing? Are you avoiding heights you can too easily visualize ending in catastrophe? When it comes to our writing, there’s far more danger in playing it too safe.

The articles in this issue have been crafted to challenge you to take your craft to the next level. Because when it comes to writing, it’s good to feel as if there’s something that might be beyond your reach—and you should always be reaching for it. That’s how we grow. It’s how we improve. It’s how we learn to write better. No one else is going to push you onto that ride. You need to be the one on the alert, asking yourself, Hey, how bout airplanes? Sure, there’s a chance you’ll get dizzy from the spinning—but you might just end up at the top, looking down in wonder at how far you’ve come, with a great big grin on your face.

Preview the complete November/December “Write Better” issue of Writer’s Digest now.

Jessica Strawser

Editor, Writer’s Digest Magazine

Follow me on Twitter @jessicastrawser

Like what you read from WD online? Subscribe today, so you’ll never miss an issue in print! Or, have our specially formatted digital issues delivered directly to your inbox, or to your Amazon Kindle.

writing_mistakes_writers_make_talking_about_the_work_in_progress_robert_lee_brewer

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Talking About the Work-in-Progress

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is talking about the work-in-progress.

Kelly_1:15

Greta K. Kelly: Publishing Is a Marathon

Debut author Greta K. Kelly reveals how the idea for her novel sparked and the biggest surprise of her publication journey.

Poetic Forms

Mistress Bradstreet Stanza: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the Mistress Bradstreet stanza, an invented form of John Berryman.

capital_vs_capitol_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Capital vs. Capitol (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use capital vs. capitol with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Dulan_1:14

On Writing to Give Grief Meaning and Write Out of Challenging Situations

Author Lily Dulan explains why writers have to be willing to go to difficult places inside themselves for their writing to make a positive impact on ourselves, others, and the world.

Brandt_1:14

Gerald Brandt: Toeing the Line Between Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Science fiction author Gerald Brandt explains how this new series explores the genre boundary and how he came to find his newest book's focus.

plot_twist_story_prompts_moment_of_doubt_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Moment of Doubt

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character experience a moment of doubt.

dr_caitlin_oconnell_finding_connection_and_community_in_animal_rituals_author_spotlights

Caitlin O'Connell: Finding Connection and Community in Animal Rituals

In this post, Dr. Caitlin O'Connell shares what prompted her to write a book about finding connection and community in animal rituals, what surprised her in the writing process, and much more!

new_agent_alert_zeynep_sen_of_wordlink_literary_agency

New Agent Alert: Zeynep Sen of WordLink Literary Agency

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Zeynep Sen of WordLink Literary Agency) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.