How to Sharpen Your Writing Sword

How to Sharpen Your Writing Sword

A while back, I couldn’t sing enough praise for Ali Hale. She wrote great posts, she loved fiction, she was fun and chatty and reliable and made me smile every month.

Then she disappeared.

It felt like years of absence and I’d just about given up on her when Ali returned from her adventures of marriage, name changes, a house move and traveling overseas. She even brought me back a souvenir – this lovely guest post. Enjoy.

Some time ago, you set out on a writing adventure. And like any good adventurer, you carried a sword. It glinted in the sun. It looked impressive.

And it was sharp.

You fought dragons. You beat down demons. You forged your way forwards through a brave new world. But then …

Months went by. Years went by. And that sword wasn’t glinting so brightly anymore.

Your sword got scuffed and dented and rusted. It didn’t look very impressive. Everyone else had better, brighter weapons.

And worst of all, your sword got blunted. You wanted to fight bigger dragons. You wanted more treasure. But the journey was getting harder, and harder, and harder.

You started to wonder if the adventure was over.

Your adventure is only over if you stop learning and stagnate.

Whatever stage you’re at with your writing, you need to keep honing your craft.

When you’re just starting out, you have a lot going for you: enthusiasm, stories to tell, words that you’re burning to put down on the page.

And because of all that, most writers get to be competent. It takes time, sure, and hard work, but you can turn your raw talent into the ability to craft a good short story or a decent blog post. You might not win any awards, but you’re pretty good.

Your writing is solid. People read it. They take your message on board. And it’s easy to stop there. It’s easy to sit back and decide that you’ve finished your journey.

You haven’t.

No matter how good you get, there’s always another step to take.

I have a few illusions about my writing. I know that I’m good. That’s a speck of raw talent combined with most of a lifetime’s work. I can write a decent blog post – I’ve written somewhere around a thousand posts in the past three years. I can write a well-constructed piece of fiction.

That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning.

I’ve just finished an MA in Creative Writing, where I worked with some brilliant tutors. I’ve been through Pace and Kyeli’s World-Changing Writing Workshop. I attend the big blogging conferences. I regularly share work with fellow writers and learn from them, just as they learn from me.

In part, I do this simply because I enjoy it. I love being around other writers. I love learning new things.

But I also do it because it’s important for me and for my business. If I let myself stagnate, I’ll end up with a bunch of unread blog posts, a handful of unpublished novels, and a bank balance in the red.

Whether your writing is a business or a hobby, take it seriously. Keep learning. Some good ways to start are:

  • Write regularly. It doesn’t have to be every day, but a good session or two once a week is important.
  • Go after bigger challenges. Write a guest post for a big blog. Submit a short story to a competition. You learn and grow when you stretch yourself.
  • Read about writing. This isn’t a substitute for doing the writing, but it’s a great way to develop new skills and come up with new ideas. You’re already reading Men with Pens, so you’ve got a head start here. Other great writing blogs include Copyblogger, Write to Done, and Daily Writing Tips.
  • Consider a course. You might want to study for a degree, or take a less formal course – an evening class or an online one.

Pick up your sword. Use it. Sharpen it. And keep fighting. There’s a lot more adventure still to come.

About the Author: For a sharper sword and a toolbox crammed with creative tools, check out Ali Hale’s Creativity Toolbox, a joint venture with Thursday Brahm. You’ll be swinging the steel in no time.

We'd be remiss if we didn't recommend one of the most highly acclaimed books for creative writers, The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron.

It paves the path to glorious writer confidence through a comprehensive 12-week program that lets you swing your sword through blocks like limiting beliefs, fear, and self-sabotage… so you can get back in the adventure of writing.

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. That’s exactly the idea behind (S)word, my writing blog.

  2. Ali, you’ve shown us some great ideas for sharpening our swords, er, learning our craft. Thanks.

  3. Sometimes I think if I spent even half the time I spent reading, in writing, I would write loads. What can I do, I am insatiable when it comes to reading, learning – trying to improve the craft. All for the love of words ..

    • It’s a problem a lot of writers have (I wrote an article for a UK writing magazine telling people how to “stop reading and start writing” a while back).

      In a few words: make time each day to write. You’ll never quite feel ready, and there’ll always be more to learn – but all the learning in the world won’t mean anything if you never put pen to paper.

      Or, to put it another way, you’ll never be a sword-fighter if you spend hours practising your swing, but never face an enemy…

  4. I do a lot of writing on may blog about writing, because its valuable to making your readers stay. It’ s always your style of writing that is judged by your readership.

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  5. Hey Ali

    You are a great writer, agreed. I love the way you story flowed while sticking closely to the topic.
    It also inspired me to go deeper into developing my writing skill. Thanks

    &, James thank you for sharing.


  6. Yeah, it’s funny how easy it is to get over it once I just sit down and start typing. Sometimes I get so busy with everything else involved with my business and family that I create a self imposed writers block. Once I finally smack myself upside the head and just sit down and do it, I’m good.

    It’s that “just do it” thing that’s the hard part sometimes, but that’s why we have great stuff like this to read, right? It’s like a polite little smack upside the head πŸ™‚

    Thank you ma’am.

    • Cheers, Andy! Yeah, “just do it” is tough (and we all need a firm prod in the right direction once in a while).

      I’ve NEVER met a writer who said that writing was easy, effortless or something which they always looked forwards to. Never. There’s always going to be some inner demons to conquer – doubt, resistance, fear – but the rewards are more than worth the effort.

  7. A big thanks to James (and all of you lovely commenters) for a warm welcome back πŸ™‚

    I’ll be sticking around now, like it or not…

  8. Re: “Whatever stage you’re at with your writing, you need to keep honing your craft.”

    I did this a month or so ago by submitting myself to a blog post (at least) a day challenge. It was a good exercise. It got me to focus on getting the creative writing process down ya know. Grow it into a habit. It was good practice for me anyway.

    The next step I think is to tackle a few guests posts (I’ve put this part off long enough)… πŸ™‚

    • Great challenge, Ricardo. And totally do some guest posting — I find it pushes me to work that bit harder, plus it’s a great way to get your writing in front of a new audience. πŸ™‚

  9. Ali, I do believe your sword might be as sharp as anyone’s on the blogosphere….thanks for being totally freaking awesome πŸ™‚

    And congrats on the new name!

  10. This is a great reminder to not become complacent! Like you, I know that I can write well, but I have challenged myself recently to push outside my comfort zone because I do want to continue to get better and better. I am fortunate to have access to a literary center here in MN (called The Loft) and this reminds me that it has been forever since I’ve taken a class to further hone my skills. I am signing up for a class today- thank you for the nudge!

  11. I always like thinking of great writing as casting one’s mind to the universe…and seeing how the universe responds.

    You can get some awesome posts that way….

  12. @Ali,

    And don’t forget to tell them you are choosing the words for Monday’s Creative Copy Challenge! πŸ˜‰

    Nothing says challenge better than that. Can’t wait for your words, and I’m sure James will stop by, even though I doubt her sword is sharp enough. #Ducks-RunsAway

  13. Ali, thank you. I do a lot of nonfiction writing for work and play, but I recently took up again the novel that has slumbered for a couple of years. I’m realizing, as you specify here, that the one writing mindset extends, enhances and challenges the other. Working the craft of the fictional world makes the tug and tussle with language more interesting in nonfiction land, and vise versa. Here’s to a plate filled with writing appetizers, entrees and desserts!

    • Cheers, Tom! Glad that you find the same thing — while some degree of specialisation is good, the cross-fertilisation of ideas, techniques, etc can really help rejuvenate writing. πŸ™‚

  14. Hi James, thanks for the kind intro to Ali’s absence – I feel so bad that I saw her at Blogworld but did not get a chance to meet her – thanks to my utter ignorance of not knowing who she was at the time πŸ™ ! Now I do and she is an amazing writer …. Loved this post Ali, and it resonated a bit too well after I recently finished watching (for the first time) the entire Lord of the Rings series (and now reading Tolkien!) – thank you for the “sword” tips!!!

    • I’m sad I didn’t get to meet you too, Farnoosh πŸ™ Keep hearing people talk about how awesome you are. SXSW, maybe? πŸ™‚

      My family went en masse to see LotR when the films first came out – and both my mum and my husband rewatch the extended editions from time to time. Can you tell we’re all geeks? πŸ˜‰

  15. Great post Ali, writing is like a sword that needs to be sharpened…or a tree that needs to be watered.

  16. Ali, I could not agree more. Even a disused and rusty sword can be sharpened and polished again as long as it was a well made weapon to begin with. Great post!

  17. This is a great post – I like the creative analogy between a writer and a knight. Dont stay away too long Ali.

  18. Writing is really my passion but I’m not a good writer I admit that, I can’t handle editing, but I can write. It’s really difficult to write if you don’t take time to read something, you will just realize that there are no words that pops up on your head. Reading can help you discover new words and new techniques how to improve your writing competent as well as you can explore more world through reading.


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