Tips for Writers: Learn to Love the Burn


The key to building muscles, oddly enough, is to regularly and repeatedly expose yourself to pain. Not too much, not too little. Too much—torn muscles, tendonitis, bone spurs—is bad news. Too little is no news at all. Muscles grow when they’re stressed just enough to create micro-tears, producing those “feel the burn” moments that stimulate the body to execute repairs. Result? New tissue forms in the stressed areas, resulting in stronger, thicker muscles. But you have to stress the muscles over and over again for the gains to add up to a permanently changed body, a new you.

Writing is the same. It’s the repeated creative discomfort, the micro-tears, that cause you to grow as a writer. “Wimpy Self (whining loudly): But it hurts!” Writer Self: “Good! It needs to.” The stages of pain look something like this:

  • Pre-Writing Angst: Wimpy Self: “What if I write crap?” Writer Self: “So write crap—at least you’ll have written something. Now get to it. And embrace the burn, baby!”
  • Writing Badly: Wimpy Self: “I don’t like what I’m writing!” Writer Self: “So what? This is the vomit draft, remember? Heave, baby!”
  • Re-Writing: Wimpy Self: “Ew! I hate what I wrote!” Writer Self: “So fix it. It can only get better. Push those edits! Give me one more rep, two more reps—feel the burn!

Months later… Wimpy Self: “It doesn’t hurt as much now, and the other day someone at my gym (writers group) actually said, “Hey, nice body (manuscript)!” Writer Self: “Told you so! But you still don’t have six-pack abs (brilliant character development) or massive pecs (strong narrative drive). You might turn out to be a real writer yet. But for now, it’s back to the gym, baby!”

Professional lifters never stop lifting. They live in the discomfort zone and learn to love it. Because they know it’s the key to building their muscles. Professional writers are the same. They live in the literary discomfort zone where they never stop building their creative muscles.

They learn to love the burn! 

        “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”     ~Ernest Hemingway

“What doesn’t kill us gives us something new to write about.” ~Julie Wright

“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.” ~Neil Gaiman

   “Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got.” ~Philip José Farmer

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Story Power, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

56 Responses to Tips for Writers: Learn to Love the Burn

  1. revruss1220 says:

    Such deep and painful truth spoken here! Or as another mentor (and yes, I put you in that category, Mitch) of mine once said, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Advice that makes no rational sense, yet is bursting with truth. Thanks (I guess) for this reminder.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Very insightful, Mitch. I wish I could live in your brain for one day. Somehow, I know I would become a better everything from having done so.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I particularly like the Julie Wright quote.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hmm, very timely. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Don White says:

    I’m fairly new to writing and your post made me realize that I am a lazy writer. I’ve been relying on inspiration rather than work. Thank you, Mitch.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi, Mitch. Just wanted to let you know you always seem to move me where I am. Are you in my space by osmosis? Just asking. Love the post.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Rhonda says:

    I’m so glad to have read this today, Mitch. It’s inspiring to me. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Victoria says:

    This line cracked me up: “This is the vomit draft, remember? Heave, baby!” And the quip from Gaiman…blank paper (or screen) winning? Yes…but your encouragement to keep at it? Good stuff, Mitch! 😎

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Vera Day says:

    I’m “heave, baby” -ing a mystery novel!😂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I’m lost in the metaphor, Mitch… Am I required to regurgitate the vomit draft? Or do I feed on fresh inspiration that will bring health and growth? 😂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Wonderful encouragement, Mitch, for those of us who have a love/hate relationship with writing. (That just might be the circumstance for every writer.) I’ll be copying some of those quotes in my journal–good stuff. Here’s another quote about the craft of writing which I appreciate: “Time spent discovering the right word or phrase that gives voice to your heart-cry is time never wasted” (Richard Faoster, from his book Coming Home).

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Pam Webb says:

    Consider how often you post, Mitch, you should be considered the Arnold S. of bloggers! Feeling that blog burn😉

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Yup, you got to work them muscles.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. joyroses13 says:

    Thanks for this inspiring post, perfect timing! I have always liked Hemingway’s quote and enjoy the new ones as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Mike says:

    Good post. Yes, you never stop practicing, you never stop improving your craft. I think of basketball players before a game. These are guys who’ve been playing since they were kids, but they still practice free shots.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Love this – especially the Julie Wright quote. 👍 How boring is the pain-free life?

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Ana Daksina says:

    “If you want to be a writer ~ write!” ~ Ursula K. LeGuin

    Liked by 2 people

  18. jenidriscoll says:

    Oh wow, this is so true, love it!Thanks for the motivation. Starting a new piece is the hardest part for me. Nice to connect with you Mitch! Thanks for the follow 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Great post Mitch. Writing becomes more meaningful the more we do it and the longer and more consistently we apply ourselves to the task. It constantly amazes me.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Love this, Mitch. I can sooo relate to “wimpy self” xx

    Liked by 2 people

  21. gpavants says:


    No pain, no gain for sure. We have to stick it out day-by-day. Hope all is good.

    In Christ, Gary

    Liked by 1 person

  22. kounselling says:

    Really like this, because it made me think, what a good analogy, for healing from mental health issues, too. It is the same – tears to be repaired and we grow stronger and we evolve… really we do, imperceptibly little of course, but we contribute to it…

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Katherine says:

    What if I write Crap? So write Crap!
    (Fun fact, Carp fish translates into Romanian as Crap 😅)

    Good push, Mitch! We should write even when we don’t feel like it; we must exercise that muscle and improve day by day.

    Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. This is wonderful and motivating advice!! Thank you Mitch!!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Karen :) says:

    This is so true, dear Mitch. Thank you for the encouragement.

    One special gift on Mother’s Day was a “lecture” from my son, telling me that I needed to stop agonizing and send my book draft to him for a first reading. 😉♥️

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Great advice, Mitch. I can seriously relate to the “vomit draft!”

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Pingback: Tips for Writers: Learn to Love the Burn – Life is an Adventure

  28. What a beautiful article. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Great advice. Thank you! And I love the quote that imagination is a muscle!

    Liked by 1 person

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