When I was eight, my friends and I would lower the rim on our neighbor’s basketball hoop and dunk. Shooting wasn’t cool yet, and we couldn’t make a free throw without hurling our entire body at the target like a shotput. We would spend hours pretending we were LeBron James, throwing alley-oops to each other, and come home each night with bruised forearms.
Our neighbor was furious, not that we might break the backboard, but because he felt we didn’t appreciate the game of basketball. I’m sure some of you can relate to what happened next.
One day, the basket was elevated to ten feet, and the crank was missing. “I threw away the crank!” Our neighbor said from his porch, “The next time you dunk will be post-puberty.”
We lost interest in basketball, and my friends and I went our separate ways in terms of athletic pursuits. That was probably for the best. Mike became an all-American freestyle swimmer, Colin played rugby in college, and I played golf for Ohio Wesleyan.
But I often wondered what might’ve happened if our neighbor had never raised the basket. Would we not appreciate the game? Would we never learn proper shooting techniques? Would we have lost interest in the game anyway?
Would we find joy and continue to have fun? Take that ethos and carry it over to passion, grit, and productivity. Perhaps instead of playing golf this afternoon, I’m gearing up to play LeBron in the playoffs. Sounds like a stretch, but I don’t think it’s that crazy.
What does this have to do with writing?
Like a little kid staring up a ten-foot basket, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that writing is hard, demanding work devoid of joy— a life filled with deadlines and blank pages.
I’ve had that mentality before, and it’s disheartening. What’s more desirable is to focus on activities that inspired you to write in the first place, so it’s less of a mental and physical challenge and more fun — slam dunks.
Academic author Angela Duckworth said in her book Grit.
“Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, then a lifetime of deepening.”
Let’s discuss a few of those activities.
Write recklessly so you can let your creative juices flow
The need to impress others cripples the writing process. There’s a beautiful book from the 1930s called “If You Want To Write” about how aspiring writers sound “pretentious”, “lying”, and “dull” because they’re programmed to think writing is special and not just putting your voice on paper.
“I found that many gifted people are so afraid of writing poor that they cannot summon the nerve to write a single sentence for months. The thing to say to such people is: “see how bad a story you can write. See how dull you can be. Go ahead. That would be fun and interesting. I will give you ten dollars if you can write something thoroughly dull from beginning to end!”
— Brenda Ueland, from If You Want To Write
When you focus on perfection, you’re engaging the engineering side of your brain when you should fire up the creative side. As a result, you tighten and grow frustrated with writing.
For your next project, write as recklessly as you can without thinking about grammar, style, or who might read your work. I promise you will see how “not dull” you are. If the story is good, run the text through an online grammar tool. I vet all my work through Grammarly and ProWritingAid before publishing.
Feed the brain: Make reading part of your writing routine
A few of you will disagree, but I genuinely believe reading and writing go hand in hand. You can be a great reader and not write, but it is impossible to be a skilled writer and not read.
The reason is simple: writing is less about grammar and prose and more about making connections that most people overlook. Reading is the best way to groom your intellectual insights and flex the connectivity muscles in your brain.
In a study published by Brain Connectivity Journal, researchers asked students to read a novel while they monitored brain activity. After each reading session, they found high engagement in the areas of the brain related to memory, receptivity to language, and perceptive talking. In other words, reading exercises three key ingredients to storytelling.
“Not long ago the great readers were the great writers, the great critics were the great novelist, and the great poets were the great translators.”
Feed your brain! Reading will help you plan ideas, draw connections between disparate concepts, and identify valuable language. By incorporating reading into your routine, writing will become easier and feel less like a chore and more like a relaxing exercise.
Go back to the basics so you don’t let the bottom fall out of your game
A good rule for life, when struggling with anything, always go back to the basics.
“The minute you get away from fundamentals — whether its proper technique, work ethic, or mental preparation — the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing.”
- Michael Jordan
In writing, this means the elementary act of putting words on paper. Start small; write for 10–15 minutes each day. Many writers recommend a sensory journal or a journal in which you define a recent experience — something you felt, saw, tasted, or heard in as much detail as possible.
For example, write in your journal a conversation you had with your boss. What did she say, what did you say, what was her response? Describe what caused the dialogue and the outcome.
A great “small win” exercise because you’re building confidence by merely noting your thoughts and bolstering your ability to observe people and space.
Patience, give yourself time to catch your stride
More of a mindset than an exercise, but an essential quality that all prominent writers possess. Overcoming perfectionism and finding your authentic voice makes writing fun but requires patience. Discovering your style will take time and practice. Let’s call it getting in your reps.
I recently read an internet marketing book by Pat Flynn called Superfans. He talks about the arc of his podcasting career similarly. He said his first episodes were absolute garbage — his friends and fans said nothing made sense till the 49th episode. 49 shows!
Publish twenty stories on Medium or your blog site without judging yourself; write carelessly and honesty. If you’re patient, you will find your stride and enjoy the process.
Tell a personal story, there are interesting lessons in everyone’s life
Sometimes we don’t have the energy or confidence to research a new topic, let alone write a compelling story. But we always have the means to talk about ourselves. Look into your past; write 15 events that taught you a lesson about life, work, or love; pick one and write about it.
Lead us through the story, introduce the characters, the villains, the stakes, and the climax. Tell your story and tell us what you learned.
Even with nonfiction, I pretend I’m going through the Star Wars hero’s journey and ask myself the following questions.
· What’s the theme?
· What’s the climax
· Who’s the villain
· Who’s the hero
· What’s the jeopardy? (The trouble that occurs)
· What are the stakes (What’s on the line.)
Scratch your own itch, write about what excites you
The big debate on Medium right now: to write for yourself or for your audience. For the context of this article (finding writing enjoyment), I’m going to side with the former. You will generate more clicks when all your pieces adhere to the internet’s “what’s in it for me” culture, but his type of writing isn’t always fun or sustainable.
Writing for an audience forces you to predict what the masses will be interested in next — A strenuous exercise that’s difficult to achieve with consistency. You will grow resentful of your audience, and that bitterness shows itself in your work.
Influential journalist and the creator of the blog “Brain Pickings” Maria Popova once said.
“The second you start doing it for an audience, you’ve lost the long game because creating something that is rewarding and sustainable over the long run requires, most of all, keeping yourself excited about it.”
I wrote this article because I know that writing can be lonely. And just like an elevated basketball hoop when you’re little, the anxieties caused by high expectations and perfectionism will cause you to lose interest.
Don’t go down that pit, find the little things that will burn your passion for the craft. If you do, you will work harder, be more productive, and make more money.
You don’t need to have fun to become a great writer, but it probably helps.