The Writer's Life, Writing tips

The Shiver

It goes by many names. The Tingle. The Aha. The Wow.

I call it The Shiver.

It’s that moment when you know you’ve written something good; something worthy of sharing. The words themselves aren’t anything special. They’re common words, words you’ve used before.

But this time it’s different. The words…they…you have no words to describe it. They. Just. Work.

For half a second you wonder if you actually wrote them. Are there writing elves? No, it was you. Surely not the you who labors over every sentence and struggles to put a thousand words on the page. Could it be the same you who daily considers trading your laptop for a job at McDonald’s?

It has to be some other you – a better you, a more talented you.

This is what it means to be a writer, you think, to put words together in such a way that they become something more.

The Shiver is evidence of beauty, proof of God. It is writerly bliss.

For a sentence or a paragraph or a whole chapter you were brilliant. This isn’t arrogance, it’s the most humbling of  truths. You just created a “third place” with your words – a place where your story breathes on its own, the place readers will someday fall in love with a story and its author.

Do you feel it? No, not the bliss. The other thing. The nasty thing hiding behind it.

The Shiver is writerly panic.

What if you never feel it again? What if this was your only taste of the transcendent? What if you never write another sentence half as beautiful? What if that better you never shows up again? What if…what if…

Stop it. You’re ruining the moment.

Enjoy The Shiver. Bask in it. Parade your Shiver-words in front of all your writer-friends or hold them tight like a secret treasure, whichever makes you happiest. But enjoy this moment. The Shiver is all yours. It doesn’t come from some better version of you – it comes from the same you who labors over every sentence.

Then get back to writing. Get back to work. If you’re lucky, The Shiver will have a long tail. Eventually, though, it will fade and you’ll start to feel the struggle again. The blank page will mock you. You’ll litter your desk with bribes for writing elves. You’ll see McDonald’s every time you pick up your laptop. When this happens, and it will, repeat the following statement: This is what it means to be a writer, to keep putting words together even when they don’t become something more.

A writer who only believes himself a “real” writer when he feels The Shiver is bound for failure. A writer’s gift is acknowledged in The Shiver, but the writer is made by the all writing in between.


Note: There were no Shiver moments in the writing of this post. I’m okay with that.


10 thoughts on “The Shiver

  1. Thank you. This spoke directly to my heart. I thought about two projects I have under my wing, and how I frequently felt The Shiver with the first, but not at all with the second. Oddly enough, I know my writing is better in the second project. It feels like work though, not the transcendant addictive joy of the first book. I don’t mind work – I guess I just got accustomed to Shivering, and it feels a little sad not to have it with this one. Thanks again, great food for thought.

  2. Reading this, I felt like the words were there, the emotions were there but I wasn’t the one speaking. Then where were the words coming from? Surely someone was able to decode my thoughts! It is so true. At times I have felt that wow, Deepa! You can do it! and yet sometimes you crave appreciation from others to assure yourself that yes, I am good. And yes, wholly agree with “The writer is made by all the moments between”.

  3. I loved your Note at the end. It made me laugh. What I’ve never figured out is how I can write something that just flows and something else that I have to “hack out” (as I call it), and somehow they can go together so no one but me knows the difference. 🙂

  4. P.S. I just realized how what I said about your note making me laugh might sound. I was laughing WITH you, but not about what you wrote, which was great, but about how you felt about some things just flowing out and the WRITER thinks how great they are and other times we just don’t feel that special feeling which only comes once in awhile.

  5. You see, this is even true in non-fiction. Yesterday I wrote a book review, which I thought was pretty good…but it didn’t give me a shiver…and it took me literally hours! to write and re-write 300 words. It’s so much fun when it just flows, but I loved your pointing out that we can’t wait for that. I like the picture that if we did, we would be at McDonald’s and not with the laptop along. 🙂

    Okay, I’m going to be quiet now and let someone else make comments. 🙂

  6. Cousin to the Shiver is the Shudder. He’s meaner and fowler and has a much longer memory. The Shudder is the incessant critic you can’t get out of your head who reminds you how terrible your work is. Fortunately, the Shiver, however infrequently it occurs, is still a powerful antidote.

  7. Ah, yes, the Shiver! I haven’t felt it in a long time. Maybe I will in the next chapter… Thanks for reminding me I have to keep writing regardless of that inner fear of not being able to write something absolutely outstanding ever again. I will keep writing. The Shiver moments make it all worth it.

  8. Hi Stephen, I found your site by accident and after reading through all your posts, I just wanted to say I am in love with you…okay, maybe not you, but your writing…man…and your passion for what you do. Its all so inspiring. Thanks for giving up the traditional job to do what you love, its so much more powerful on the collective level.

    Please keep the post coming.

    My very best,


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