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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

‘Close Enough’ Cures Writer’s Block

greatnessMy previous post clarified that writers need places to practice being okay with being less than perfect. We need safe places to take writing risks.

My practice place is a dog agility game called Chances. (I learn so much about writing, coaching and teaching from agility – just one of the reasons writers need hobbies.)

Chances courses are designed to be extremely difficult and to challenge both handler and dog. In the last Chances run Blue and I attempted (video below), only one of eight teams at the Open level completed the course correctly. That one team wasn’t us. It usually isn’t us.

But I keep entering because Chances is a great place to fail. It’s a great place to for me to practice being “close enough.”

In Chances, there is a line the handler cannot cross, which means the dog has to “work distance.” As you might guess from me yelling “Out tunnel, out tunnel” Blue was supposed to run through the tunnel, not go up the dogwalk.

I didn’t communicate that clearly enough – dogs read body language far more than they respond to verbal cues. (Like a writer’s unconscious or muse, which is unimpressed by promises and only responds to whether or not we actually show up.)

I knew this would be a tricky discrimination. If Blue knew I was disappointed with the choice she made, she would have shut down. So I needed to know in advance what my personal victory would be – something less than perfection, but a stretch for Blue and me.

My goal was not to run the course perfectly, although I would have been thrilled if we did. My goal was to give Blue time to figure out what to do if she paused and to get her running again and keep her playing so that the next time I entered us in Chances, she would be eager to play again.

Blue did stop running in the middle. When she sniffed the ground, she showed me she was confused and stressed. When she turned and ran up the dogwalk, I yelled “Close enough!” It wasn’t perfection, aka the official course, but it was the goal I set. That was close enough for that run on that day.

Approaching Perfection via Incremental Improvement

Training Blue to run accurately with greater distance between us is a matter of incremental improvement – pretty much all dog training is. I need to know in advance what small improvement I’m looking for and how I’ll reward those small improvements.

I will never reach perfection (in agility or in writing), but that’s no reason not to play and have fun while practicing.

failure-Henry-Ford1When we improve, that’s reason to celebrate. When we fail, that’s reason to celebrate.

Mistakes are a source of essential information that allows us to make the next try a little closer to perfection.

Writing is a matter of incremental improvement as well. You need to know when to tell yourself “Close enough” and be satisfied with your effort. You need to learn to celebrate failure as essential information.

If you don’t, you will shut down. You’ll avoid your writing or make yourself miserable when you force yourself to spend time with it.

What small improvement are you looking for in your writing? What’s your Chances course where you can practice being close enough?

In the next post: How close is close enough and how to make the most of failure

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2 Comments on “‘Close Enough’ Cures Writer’s Block”

  1. Joel D Canfield September 11, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    I’m gonna need to remember this when I get back to writing “anodyne.” it’ll be almost a year off from writing to work on craft, and then if I get stuck trying to make my first serious mystery perfect, there’ll never be a second one.



  1. From Close Enough to Excellence Through Failure | The Bane of Your Resistance - September 17, 2013

    […] answer to the questions raised in the previous post, you move from close enough to excellence with discerning, observant practice where you change what […]


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