Don’t Rest on Your Laurels – They’ll Just Go Flat

By: Marilyn L. Davis

“To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.” George Keller

Don't Rest on Your Laurels - They'll Just Go Flat marilyn l davis two drops of ink


Complacent or Creative?

I recently wrote an article for my other blog about being complacent in our recovery and taking a break when we’re only halfway through a project, and it made me wonder if I’ve been resting on my laurels at Two Drops of Ink. 

Now it’s not like there’s been a ticker tape parade for me, and you just missed it, or that my articles went viral, but my views have been increasing nicely – thank you all who read and comment on them. But that other article helped me see how we can become complacent when we are getting noticed. Complacency as a writer takes many forms. How many of the following apply to you?

  1. Afraid that the next post won’t be as well received as the last?
  2. Concerned that you won’t approach the topic from an interesting perspective?
  3. Too busy to check for new links: Heck, Wikipedia will have something.
  4. Using repetitive words, rather than finding just the right word.
  5. Taking only the complimentary comments to heart?
  6. Not paying attention to constructive criticism?
  7. Tried and true quotes: Lincoln, Einstein, and Churchill must have said something like this.
  8. Typos: sure spell check misses things, but views prove readers don’t care.

If any of those describe your attitude, then you may have gotten complacent as a writer.

Why Do We Get Complacent?

We typically get complacent or satisfied with our writing because we think:

  1. We don’t have to improve
  2. We’re afraid to change topics.
  3. There’s a formula for posts.
  4. It will take too much energy to improve as a writer.

Sure, we can operate from those attitudes and still produce a post, but all of those will keep us stuck, in a rut with our writing, and sacrifice another opportunity to improve and expand our creativity.

What generally happens when we rest on our laurels is that the writing comes off as just a rehash of what's worked in the past. The posts become repetitious. Click To Tweet

Dull and Repetitive? Let It Wait

Like all of us, some days, I have limited resources, whether it’s time or energy.  I didn’t sleep well the other night. My cat used my feet as a toy, and my dog had to go outside more than usual. It seemed like every hour, I was awake. The following morning, it was overcast and gray outside, and that reinforced my low energy level.  Usually, it’s sunny and bright, and I let that energize me for the day.  

Not helping my energy level, my dog, Morgan, and my cat, Jackson got to take a nap and provide me with a distracting pose right next to my desk. When I went back to the writing, each sentence seemed dull, repetitive and boring.  Rather than accept the writing and justify that all writers have bad days and still put it out there, I put it aside rather than publishing it.

Then there are the days when you do not have the time to write, edit, and find images for a post. While I made a commitment to write four days a week, life intrudes.  I can find 20 minutes here or there when family or other work obligations don’t require my attention, but I’m not going to get a stellar piece – just the beginning, if that. So, do I jot a few things down, start my outline, or forego any writing until I can devote more time?  Each of us will handle these time constraints differently.

I’ll opt to jot a few things down, create a couple of working titles, or find one germane quote so that when I can give the piece my undivided attention, I’m on track. Sometimes that process means that I didn’t meet my goals of four days of writing, but I did not get complacent and just publish for the sake of releasing a new piece that day.

Are You Proud of your Writing? 

Excellent writing is a challenge. However, it is like all other challenges, and our writing will get better with time, energy, and effort applied to the task.

One of the easiest ways to determine if you've gotten complacent in your writing is to gauge your level of passion, involvement, and interest in your subject. Click To Tweet

I don’t like the niggling feeling of shirking my responsibilities, either in my recovery or my writing.  That voice that says, “You didn’t put your all into this.”  I recently celebrated 29 years of abstinence-based recovery, and while I’m proud of this, there are still times that I am less spiritual than others.  I know the difference in the days when I’m practicing principles and when I’m acting from my character defects.

It’s the same with the writing.

Be Present and Productive

I know when I’m present with the words, just as I am aware when I’m present and engaged in my recovery.  Each takes attention. But it’s more than attention.  I can be attentive and repeat myself in my writing and that seems lazy.  That doesn’t represent growth in my recovery or my writing.

I wondered about all of these people saying the same things when I first attended a recovery support meeting. People kept quoting slogans about recovery.  I didn’t like slogans then, and I still don’t. Each of those slogans has value, but when people only know to say the words and don’t understand the intent behind them, they sound repetitive and sing-song, and I think that diminishes the importance of the meaning.I figured I can teach a smart parrot to say them, but what will the bird know?

We run the risk of sounding like the parrot in our writing if we just keep repeating the same things. Sure they worked for a piece two weeks ago, but if we're going to improve as a writer, shouldn't we be creative in each post? Click To Tweet

I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t love words and since there are millions of them, why limit ourselves to the same ones each time? Certainly, I’ll have to use the same ones given the subject or topic, but beyond that, I can and do try to increase my working vocabulary to include ones that I like, and the reader understands. I appreciate the way the poet Donald Hall captures my feelings about words. “The writer must be able to feel words intimately, one at a time. He must also be able to step back, inside his head, and see the flowing sentence. But he starts with the single word.”

Original, Imaginative, and New

Hall celebrates writers who “are original, as if seeing a thing for the first time; yet they report their vision in a language that reaches the rest of us. For the first quality the writer needs imagination; for the second he needs skill. Imagination without skill makes a lively chaos; skill without imagination, a deadly order.”

Does that mean that I read dictionaries or grab the thesaurus for each sentence?  No, but it means that I read, and when I find a word I don’t know, I look it up.  It means that I know when I’m complacent in the words I’m writing for descriptions, feelings, or abstract ideas and will go back and interject a more compelling and interesting word.

If it was boring to write, it will be boring to read. However, we will only improve our writing and the experience for our readers if we engage in the following:

  • Writing the best that we can at the time.
  • Make an effort to improve our writing skills.
  • Overcome our fears and take action.
  • View each piece as a chance to develop our ideas.
  • Step outside of our comfort zone.

Publish or Pause and Develop a Better Post?

Perhaps you didn’t sleep well the night before, you don’t have time to polish the piece so it shines, or other responsibilities are intruding. If you find that you’re resting on your laurels, think about how flat you might have gotten, and take some time to evaluate your writing.

That may just mean that you don’t publish for a few days while you determine your level of commitment to the piece. Sometimes, rearranging the words or finding time in your schedule to devote solely to the post gives you time to produce the best post you can.

For me, I’m buying Jackson a new toy, changing Morgan’s eating and drinking schedule, and reading some books about being a better writer.

But I’m always curious, what do you do to keep from getting complacent in your writing?

If you’ve got some helpful tips on better writing, a memoir piece, or want to expand your online presence, consider writing a guest post for Two Drops of Ink.

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