Atrophy: decrease in size or wasting away of a body part or tissue ~ Merriam-Webster.com
When we hear or read the word atrophy, we tend to think about muscles . . . parts of the body as the definition above suggests.
But what about writing? Can't it suffer from atrophy, too?
Surely, for some writers, there are moments (sometimes long stretches of moments) in which no writing gets done. We might call it writer's block. We might call it focusing on work and family and whatever else is on the list that goes before writing, but the fact remains, the word count is at a standstill.
There are some of us that can easily jump back into writer mode as if we never left, but there are others who find coming back to the page a daunting task. It's as if they lost the know-how of writing. Lost the joy and wonder of it as well.
I call this Literary Atrophy: the decrease in size or wasting away of writing in one's life.
The MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia suggests that to treat muscle atrophy, an individual should develop "an exercise program (under the direction of a therapist or doctor)" ("Muscle Atrophy").
To treat literary atrophy, writers should develop a program as well. Here are a few steps to help in doing so.
Step One: Get an accountability partner. Just as a patient should talk with a therapist or doctor, a writer should talk with someone who can help them back into their writing. This can be a fellow writer, a mentor, a writing group, a critique group. It should be someone you trust with your thoughts and your work and someone who is not going to let your writing muscle languish further. You need, in short, a drill sergeant. They should be tough . . . yet loving. Find this person, talk briefly to him/her about your writing woes, but mostly spend time talking about what you want to do writing wise, what time you have to write, and what role you want your partner to play in this journey.
Step Two: Find your writing "retreat". Almost three years ago, Kathryn Haueisen Cashen wrote "Create Your Own Mini-Writing Retreat" for Writer's Digest, and even now, the advice in it is important for most writers. Often, to hear "retreat" is to think about week long stays at places away from home where you are focused on all aspects of writing. Most of the time, we don't have the time for week long stays. According to Cashen, we can plan mini retreats. We can go to our favorite cafe. The library. Set up a spot in our home dedicated just for writing. Spend a day, or two, at a local hotel. The point is to find a place, a regular place, where you can bring all your writing essentials and where you will be comfortable writing.
Step Three: Devise a short-term writing plan. If you haven't exercised in five years, you wouldn't go to the gym, put 500 pounds on a weight bench, and try to lift it, would you? (I hope not). Why would you then develop such grandiose expectations for your writing if it's been a long time since you've written? With your accountability partner, talk about your plan. Decide on a length of time. Two weeks would be good. Decide on your retreat locale. Decide on what you will write, when you will write, and what goals you are setting in terms of how much you will write. Also, this is a time to think about other aspects of writing. Perhaps your goal is to start submitting to agents. If so, then time to research agents would be important. If you plan to work on a new writing project, perhaps you need to schedule in your research time on settings, characters, etc. These things and others like creating character charts and plotting and outlining are important to consider for your plan, too.
Step Four: Assess plan with accountability partner. After the plan has concluded, assess what transpired. Did you complete your goal(s)? What worked and what didn't work throughout the plan to help facilitate the results achieved? How can you eliminate the negatives and accentuate the positives?
Step Five: Revise plan and move forward with regular writing and assessment. The ultimate goal is to strengthen the writing muscle, and to do so, you need a regular writing program and assessment of that program.
As you work to break your literary atrophy, don't forget to add one other thing to this process: REWARDS. What you are doing (or are about to do) is no small task. Sometimes, the road back to smooth, steady, regular writing is bumpy with many side streets to distract you. As you move forward and strengthen your writing muscle, as you complete a writing to-do, be good to yourself, treat yourself. It will keep you happy and positive, and ultimately, that will keep you wanting to come back to the page.
Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both academically and creatively while also interviewing women writers on her popular blog, ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. In 2012, her second mystery, Into the Web and her short story "I Wanna Get Off Here" (in the short story collection, The Corner Cafe) were published. Her next release, Saying No to the Big O, will be published in mid-February. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University ... and trying to find the time to WRITE.