By Jeff B Miller


I skied for three days last week in Colorado. I was excited to do this, because when I was 18 I skied three days in Colorado and grew exponentially in my ability. That was 33 years ago, and since then, I have only ever been on one-day ski trips. I was excited to ski again for three days and maybe go to the next Olympics (said deadpan).

I skied twice a day for three days this time and I did not get better. At all. The only times I fell were on the last day, and not because I was doing something hard.

Why did this happen? Is it because I am 50, not 18? Maybe, but I doubt that’s the main reason.

I believe the main reason is that I did not challenge myself this time to the same degree. When I was 18, it was basically my first time. I was terrible. I fell 50 times the first day. I kept going. All of it was challenging. By the third day, I didn’t fall at all, and I was attempting (poorly) black diamonds. I had grown from zero to not zero. What Changed?

Failure to Challenge Myself

This time, in order for me to have challenged myself to the same degree, I would have had to put myself in situations more dangerous than I had the heart for. I started where I last left off and stayed there for three days. At the end of it, I was right where I started on Tuesday.

Will I ever go back and try again to improve by challenging myself? No, it’s not worth it to risk getting hurt.

However, this lesson learned skiing can be universally applied. If you want to grow, you have to challenge yourself. If in anything you are doing you are stagnating, it is most likely because you are not stretching yourself.

And here is the cool thing about writing: you can challenge yourself to the max and never once have to worry about breaking your neck or falling off a mountainside.

In that case, what would keep you and me from testing our limits? Nothing! Well, nothing except for one thing: it’s easy to know how to push yourself on skis, but how would you push yourself in writing?

Pushing it in Your Writing

If you Google it, you get: “Read more, write more, get feedback.” Those are good to do, but I don’t think they are enough. Then I remembered Natalie Goldberg’s great book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. I recalled there was some profound stuff in that book, and I also remembered that I hadn’t finished reading it yet. Why? Because most of what she recommended was hard. Yes! This is what we’re looking for!

In order to shortcut the process for myself, I went to Google again for “lessons learned from Writing Down the Bones.” I found this article by Neera Mahojon on the front page. She distilled the book into 10 lessons:

  1. Write as if your life depends on it. Approach your writing with a sense of urgency and importance, as if it’s a matter of life and death.

  2. Don’t worry about writing well or making sense. Let go of the pressure to write perfectly. The goal is to free your mind to explore new ideas and techniques.

  3. Keep your hand moving. Keep your hands moving across the page, no matter what. This helps to keep the momentum going and prevents you from getting stuck in your thoughts.

  4. Don’t cross out or edit while writing. Embrace the idea that writing is a process and that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s about trusting the process and letting the words flow without worrying about making mistakes.

  5. Write for a set amount of time. Set a timer and write for a specific amount of time, without stopping. It will keep you focused and encourage you to keep writing, even if you aren’t sure where your writing is going.

  6. Be specific. Write concrete, specific details rather than vague, abstract ideas. It will bring your writing to life and make it more interesting and engaging for the reader.

  7. Use your five senses. To make your writing immersive, memorable, and a vivid experience for readers, use all five senses.

  8. Write about what is right in front of you. Write about what is happening in the present moment, rather than what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. This helps to keep the writing focused and grounded in reality.

  9. Don’t write what you think you should write. Write what you want to write, rather than what you think you should write. The goal is to free the writer’s mind from the expectations of others and to allow them to explore their own unique voice.

  10. Trust the process. Writing is a journey and the process of writing is just as important as the end product. The process will lead to growth and discovery, even if the end result isn’t what you had initially envisioned.

These are good and I recommend taking all ten of these seriously, but we need a concrete exercise similar to plunging over a peak into a black-diamond run.

I found one in Golberg’s book in a chapter called, “The Action of a Sentence.”

Here is the exercise copied from an article by Tim Creighton:

The Action of a Sentence

  1. Fold a sheet of paper in half.

  2. On the left fold, students write ten or more nouns.

  3. On the right fold, students create a list of 10 or more verbs from a specific occupation. Goldberg says “Think of an occupation; for example a carpenter, a doctor, a flight attendant,”

  4. Unfold the list and create interesting combinations and sentences.

Here is Goldberg’s example:

Left Side:











Right Side:











Whip Stir

Here are some of the interesting images she came up with:

  • Dinosaurs marinate the earth

  • The lilacs sliced the sky into purple

  • The fiddles broiled the air with their music

Now you. Try this exercise. Think about it, and make it hard on yourself. This is the kind of exercise that will help you grow quickly. Show me some of your results in a reply or a comment.

P.S. If you have read my book, Heart To Page: A Short Book on Writing Your Christian Book it would mean the world to me if you would go and review it at Amazon. Reviews help a lot.


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