February 2nd, 2018

5 Writing Lessons from Groundhog Day

Groundhog DayToday is Groundhog Day, when people all over the United States wait to hear if groundhog Phil’s shadow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is visible.  We’ve been doing this since the 1800’s even though it’s an incredibly weird thing to depend on a rhodent’s shadow to predict when Spring will begin.

Still, when a writer hears about “Groundhog Day,” most of us think of the 1993 movie with Bill Murray. Did he play the best curmudgeon weatherman in that film, or what? For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Bill Murray (Phil) is trapped in the time warp of reliving Groundhog Day over and over again…until his character stops being so sour and self-centered and learns how to love.

People magazine did an article on life lessons from Groundhog Day that inspired me. The movie isn’t just about reliving your days on an endless loop of sameness, it is also chock-full of writing lessons. 

1. Write as authentically as you possibly can.

The movie examines the question: How would you act if there were nothing beyond today?

What if this was the last day you were ever able to write? Would you want to know that you stared at the page, afraid to let out what was in your heart? Wouldn’t it torture you to think that you angsted over those words, instead of spilling them forth with joy and gratitude?

Whatever is inside you, just write it. Stop worrying about how it sounds, if it’s good enough, what your mother/brother/spouse would think of your words. Write the story that only you can write. The world needs our stories.

2. You’ve gotta have a tribe.

At the beginning of the film, Murray’s character doesn’t exactly love other people. Getting trapped in the same spot, with all the same people, forces Phil to get to know all the people he’d otherwise shut out of his little world. 

A lot of writers are introverts, which means that a lot of “people time” wears them out. You don’t have to wade into a crowd to build your tribe. You can find them one-on-one online, or you can join a critique group. There are smaller conferences available if the bigger ones scare the introverted pants off of you. But wade in, even if it scares you, and find your tribe.

Maybe you’ve already found a tribe by hanging out here at WITS, or some other blog…but do you comment and engage? (If that answer has been a resounding “no,” why not change that to a “yes?”)

3. Tell people they’re important to you.

One of the greatest journeys for Murray’s character is realizing what a great person he has in his producer Rita (played by Andie McDowell). But for him to tell her she’s important to him? Fuggedaboutit.

Most people have trouble being vulnerable…but we’re writers. We live our lives vulnerable. That’s why we are amazing Emotional Ninja Warriors. So, if you haven’t told your tribe lately how important they are to you, today is a good day to do that.

4. Ignore stupid rules.

This goes back to Lesson #1. If you are living and writing authentically, you are bringing your entire self to as many of your day’s moments as possible. You are stretching your brain and your emotions and your ability so you can “bring it” to the page. Don’t let the “shoulds” and “can’ts” and “what ifs” block you. 

Ignore them. Those three bozos stop a heck of a lot of writing.

Ignore the inner critic who tells you how bad you suck. Ignore the naysayers who tell you a book can only be done a certain way. It’s not their story, it’s yours. Write it the way it make sense to you and worry about the “shoulds” some other day.

5. Don’t give up.

Groundhog Day examines the life metaphor: “Most of us have at some point been trapped in a situation where no matter what we did, we couldn’t extricate ourselves from some endless cycle of lameness.”

Sometimes it’s tempting to give up this writing gig. If we’re not selling or earning or writing — or whatever it is that’s not working out well — we think about the benefits of spending our time on less frustrating pursuits.

It’s okay to entertain thoughts of doing something else. Go ahead, entertain it for a second. We’ll wait.

[If you liked that giving up fantasy a bit more than you expected, amble over to Colleen Story’s amazing post on the power of giving up.]

Now think about the eternal frustration of having all those characters in your head, with no conduit onto the page. You are the conduit. Something about this crazy writing gig feeds your soul. You were put on this planet to give all those characters a voice, so giving up isn’t really an option, even though we all entertain it on the crappy days.

Finally, a shout out to all of you here at WITS. We appreciate that you walk this writing road with us. It’s a journey that none of us could ever undertake alone. Get ready for our first Pimp and Promote of the year on Monday!

What writing lessons were the hardest for you to learn? What things make you want to quit? Did you watch “Groundhog Day?” What lesson did you take away from the movie?

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm.

33 comments to 5 Writing Lessons from Groundhog Day

  • Oh Jenny, you just inspired the hell out of me, with ‘What if this was the last day you were ever able to write?’

    Why am I wasting time, dithering!!! Going now. Thank you.

  • Those are good life lessons for writers and everyone else. #1 and #5 reminded me of a book I’m reading — Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, by David J. Rogers. Believe or not, it’s motivating me to commit to my writing and overcome all those inner voices of self-doubt. Your blog post today reinforces that. Thanks!

  • I’ve gotta say, I hate any story with a Groundhog Day premise. They grate on my bones. But I LOVE what you did with it here, Jenny, turning it into writing lessons! They’re all great, but as someone who is motivated to write by the notion of leaving a legacy, #1 really speaks to me today. I shall go forth and make it so!

    • I can’t say that the Brigadoon premise is the first type of movie I’m going to watch. However, Bill Murray rocks. I like so many of his movies for so many different reasons. Thanks, Kathryn. I’m a fan of the notion of legacy too.

  • Never would have thought of getting lessons out of Groundhog. Thanks for this positive post!

  • Writing is for the strong. Or the insanely persistent. I might fall in the latter category! Thanks for the encouragement, Jenny.

  • I was living in that #5 for much of 2017 — I probably said, “I quit!” as many times as Phil Connors tried to kill himself in the movie. BUT, just like him, I woke up the next day alive and with all the stories still in my head wanting to be written. Hmmm. Guess I’m supposed to be a writer after all! Guess that’s why this inspiring sentence in your post hit me hardest: “Wouldn’t it torture you to think that you angsted over those words, instead of spilling them forth with joy and gratitude?” Yes, I think I would much rather tap into all the joy I’ve gotten from writing, which is quite a lot.

  • Celia Lewis

    Ah yes… who is holding me back from writing my 2nd and 3rd and… drafts-? Right – only me, moi, and mich! The music is turned on, the muse is fortified with coffee, and today is the only day I have to do this. [well, there’s always tomorrow, but we’re not even going to look]. Cheers, Jenny.

  • You know you are in my tribe. Writers need each other. No one else understands the life.

  • Gill

    Wonderful post. You are the second person this week to remind me that my characters need me to finish their stories, that only I can do it. I have been ruminating over the last couple of weeks about what ‘ real people’ do instead of writing (what, there are actually people who don’t write/want to write?). I was even making lists of all the fun things I could do if I weren’t trying to write or feeling I ought to write. A writing friend once asked me: Why do you want to write? I told her I did not feel complete if I was not writing. And that was my answer. Tomorrow, okay?

  • What a fabulous post, Jenny! Groundhog Day is one of my favourite movies (I’m from the UK – hence the spelling difference :-)) – so your post really resonated for me. #1 is just brilliant advice – I’m going to print it out and stick it somewhere to remind me 🙂 And #2 inspired me to post this!
    Thank you so much – I’m off to go and write like there’s no tomorrow!!

    • Becky, I love to get comments from across the pond – we need a bit of UK colour here at WITS as often as we can have it. 🙂 I’m delighted you liked the post…and even happier that you stepped up and engaged. Brava to you!!!

  • Fae Rowen

    Alexandra Sokoloff gave a great talk while we watched Groundhog Day at the West Texas Writers Academy. She would stop the film to point out what the writers did and how they did it. Here’s the link to her screenwriter’s tips take: http://www.screenwritingtricks.com . It was such a powerful presentation (I hadn’t thought much of the movie before that) that I bought her book: Stealing Hollywood. Thanks for the reminder, Jenny!

  • I think of writing as an escape from the groundhog day of a day job. Every job working for others seems to be the same work every day. Writing takes us away from that. We can change what we write whenever we want. Thanks for the article.

  • I’ll be honest – I needed this post today. Funny story – Last week, I asked myself why I beat myself up to write and market and write and worry about everything and had so little income to show for all the struggle. This week, I found myself yearning to sit down to the computer once more and write. The ideas started to accumulate in my brain and I craved getting them on the page again. Your post settled some of the demons. Thank you.

  • I’m going to get Emotion Ninja Warrior printed on a mug. Love it.

    I do think about giving up, mainly because I would like to contribute more financially to my family and going back to teaching would allow me to do that. But then, I remember the days I got home and sobbed because teaching is a hard job – all jobs are hard jobs, with things we hate doing and frustrate us – and I take a deep breath, hug my hubby who’s my biggest fan and get back to it.

  • […] http://writersinthestormblog.com/2018/02/5-writing-lessons-from-groundhog-day/ “Peoplemagazine did an article on life lessons from Groundhog Day that inspired me. The movie isn’t just about reliving your days on an endless loop of sameness, it is also chock-full of writing lessons.” Very good advice! […]

  • Good message to lift one’s spirits when those rejection notices arrive.

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