Writing Muscles

Outtakes 216

Writing Muscles

By Cait Collins


I learned a number of things during my vacation. I think the most telling was I don’t exercise enough. I did a lot of walking on less than level streets and climbed up and down ladders and stairs. By the end of the trip I was hurting. So I resolve to exercise more so that I don’t punish my body when I travel or have an adventure.

Just like our bodies deteriorate from a lack of exercise, our writing skills can suffer from a lack of use. Too often we use the same formula when we begin a new project? What if we changed the routine? Could the story be more exciting or could the different turn propel us to new avenues for our careers? Is the risk worth the potential results? Maybe the better question would be what if we never take a risk? Will the failure to explore possibilities actually be detrimental to success?

Work your voice. Not the one that verbally articulates your thoughts, but the voice that is uniquely you. Craig Johnson, author of the Longmire series has a style that advertises the author. You only have to read a few paragraphs to recognize the style and hand-picked word choices. That’s what we all need and want – – a voice that promotes our individual style and personality.

We must also exercise our basic skills of grammar, vocabulary, characterization, plot and description. We can not become lazy and complacent in these areas. When the primary elements become weak, the whole work suffers. For this reason, I play with lists, colors, unusual situations, and new characters. I recommend 642 Things to Write About and 712 More Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. The books provide fabulous exercises to stretch, mold, strengthen and sculpt our skills.

Just as flabby and weak muscles are not good for the body, underdeveloped skills do not make for good writing. Resolve now to work the skills that lead to better and more fulfilling work.


A Dream

Outtakes 213

A Dream

by Cait Collins

When I was a kid, I had this dream of being a great actress. I created some great characters in my mind, and I dreamed of walking up the aisle at the Oscars to accept my Best Actress award. I did some acting in junior high and high school. In college I won my Best Actress award for portraying a crazy woman.

So why did I let go of my dream? Because the sacrifices were too great. You see, I don’t like to exercise. I love good food, so I would be dieting all the time. Acting is hard work. You must learn the lines. For me that wasn’t just my lines. I memorized the entire script. I don’t like being tired. And I was constantly exhausted during rehearsals. But the bottom line is it was just not important enough to give up so much of my private time. Besides, I would not be nice to the guy invading my personal life just so he could make me look bad in the tabloids.

But I do want to be a writer. Writing is hard work. It requires me to avoid social gatherings, miss favorite TV shows, or leave books by my favorite authors unread. I must bare my soul and my work to my critique group and pray they are gentle in their comments. It means growing a thick skin when my work is rejected. The whole point is I have stories to tell, communities to create, and characters to nurture. I love to write. I get excited when a story comes together, and I cry when I must cut a character because he makes no real contribution to the story.

I am a writer. I have supported myself by being a good researcher and writer. Even if I never make the Best Seller List, I can take pride in my numerous accomplishments in broadcasting. So tomorrow I will get out of bed, dress, and fire up my computer, and make adjustments in my current work.

I am a writer.