Eight years ago I dropped out of writing classes and signed up on a whim for ballet and modern dance lessons instead.

The writing classes, it seemed, were going nowhere.  The questions were always the same, the answers were as elusive as ever and the feedback had gotten pretty stale.  Besides, as one of those fidgety types who hates sitting still, I’d simply had enough of spending my rare free time in a chair.

Already an avid runner, cycler and swimmer addicted to movement, I was also craving a way to channel this physical energy into something more purposeful and expressive.

After just a few classes, dance had taken root in my system.  I found myself practicing leaps and chassées while running.  Rond de jambes and fan kicks made their way into my dreams.  Perhaps, I thought as time marched on, my writing days had come to an end.  I’d found a new love I’d rather be with — one I was willing to sneak off and spend time with several mornings a week during the same two-hour window I’d jumped through all sorts of hoops to reserve for writing over the years.

But even as I tackled the uncomfortable challenge of thinking without words, of allowing muscle memory to take the place of prose, I found myself growing as a writer.  Because dance, it turns out, like many of the arts, has far more in common with writing than meets the eye.

As with writing, the final product of years of hard work dancing appears neat and simple at first blush.  It tells a story with beauty, grace and impact.  Its many parts seem like a single entity with a life of its own.

Yet its inner workings are infinitely complex.  To master them, dancers have to pull together a multitude of disparate and often contradicting pieces.  They have to bend into positions they never imagined possible and stretch themselves.  Far.  They must listen, observe, synchronize, respect conventions and self-critique, their mind’s eye constantly scanning their work, taking stock of how it looks from the outside and how it’s functioning within.

Dance also offers priceless lessons for writers.  Ultimately, it was in these lessons that I found the guidance I felt were missing in writers’ workshops, and the inspiration I needed to get back to my WIP.  Here are just a few:

1. Learn to stretch.

Flexibility is key to creative expression, and goes hand-in-hand with strength.  So challenge yourself to stretch, body and mind, a little at a time.  Always try to go a notch beyond your comfort zone.

2. Use your core.

Find those innermost muscles, squeeze them and don’t let go!  Stay connected to them.  Centered.  It’s the equivalent of digging deep and writing from the heart.

3. Visualize.  Believe.

Conjure up an image of the result you’re striving for and hold it firmly in your mind until you get there.  Believe in it.  Harness the adrenaline rush this brings, and use it, too.

4. Observe yourself both closely and from a distance.

Scan your work constantly with your mind’s eye.  Take note of how it looks from the outside and how it’s functioning within.  Be as aware of every muscle, every twitch — or every word and every syllable — as you are of the bigger picture they create together.

5. Hear the music, respect the beat.

They will guide your work’s flow.

6. Work regularly, with discipline.

Each day of work lays the foundation for the next, building muscle and brain power that need continual nurturing to thrive.  Regular work at predictable intervals keeps you primed and ready to perform — and to surpass your own expectations when the time is right.

7. Every brilliant moment must be earned.

Beautiful, polished results — the ones the world will see — come only after countless unsuccessful attempts.   And they can’t be reproduced.  To get there again you have to start afresh and practice, practice, practice.  Write, edit, repeat.


About Sharon Bially

Sharon Bially (@SharonBially) is the founder and president of BookSavvy PR, a public relations firm devoted to authors and books. Author of the novel Veronica’s Nap, she’s an active member of Grub Street, Inc., the nation’s 2nd largest independent writing center, and writes for the Grub Street Daily.