We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
“Constant repetition carries conviction.” Robert Collier
Repetition often gets a bad rap: People think it’s boring or deadening, or they associate it with building physical strength instead of reinforcing mental agility and creativity. And yet, a single-minded devotion to our calling, whether it’s simply writing every day or, more specifically, constantly working to improve one aspect of your writing, say dialogue, is one of the most powerful tools in our writer’s kitbag.
In my own writing life, I’ve found that there is enormous value in using repetition in a variety of ways. Far from finding it limiting, I find it freeing: Like a sonnet, which has a predetermined pattern but harbors the potential for endless creativity within its confines, I find that repetition can be a springboard for invention. With this in mind, here are a few ideas for inducing repetition to yield its fruits:
Reading inspiring passages: I know of at least one author who reads a few pages from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn every day before he begins his own writing. He is a great admirer of Mark Twain’s humor and humanity and he finds that immersing himself in Twain’s words inspires him to reach higher as he chooses his own. I like to begin my day by reading from several books that uplift and comfort me. Doing this daily “primes my pump” and helps get me going — it anchors me and helps launch my day.
Focusing for four: This is a simple strategy I’ve developed for myself that I’ve found very helpful when I am working on something tricky, for example, a paragraph or even a short poem: I commit to rewriting it four times. Just knowing that I can tap this approach makes me relax and focus because I always feel confident that if I rework a tricky paragraph over again and again, something better is bound to emerge. And you know what? It always does. I find this very empowering: It “carries conviction” — the very act of tackling something not once or twice, but four times is energizing. “Three strikes and you’re out” is the name of the game in baseball, but I find going back that fourth time pushes me beyond my comfort zone. When I go the “extra mile,” hat fourth time, often some sort of magic happens.
Copying a beloved poem or passage: When you are committed to improving your craft, there’s so much to learn from authors you admire. One way to help “internalize” their work and absorb their rhythms is to copy a few passages or a poem that you love by long hand
not once, but several times. When you do this, you begin to understand an author’s word choices and sentence patterns more fully.
“Constant repetition carries conviction” — something to ponder and apply as we all write on!
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