Can Karma Help You Become a Better Writer?

by Jami Gold on April 5, 2011

in Random Musings

Arrows in a circle

Yesterday, author Jody Hedlund had a blog post about why most writers are blind to their own faults.  The first reason she mentioned really resonated with me: We naturally view our work through our maturity level.

When we first start any new project, writing or otherwise, we don’t know what all we don’t know.  This limitation can be frustrating.

We don’t know the right questions to ask to learn more, and we overestimate our skills because we don’t know all the pieces we’re missing.  It’s a classic case of not being able to step back and see the big picture.

I’ve lost count of all the times I thought I finally knew what I was doing only to discover more holes in my knowledge.  I’ve often wished for a way to zoom out and see where I am on that learning curve so I know how much further I have to go.  I’m like a little kid asking, “Are we there yet?”

How can we see beyond our maturity?

Can we get glimpses of what we have left to learn?  Yes.  But we first have to assume that we don’t know everything there is to know about something, and then we have to enlist the help of karma.

Karma?  Really? Yep, stick with me and I’ll show you what I mean.

These ideas work with any project or skill, but I’m going to specifically discuss them in regards to writing.

  • Studying: Seeking information to learn from books or websites.

When I first became serious about becoming a published author, I checked out 30 books about writing from the library.  No, I’m not exaggerating.  Perfectionist, remember?  Grammar, craft, business, and industry—I inhaled them all.  I found blogs like Edittorrent and storyfix, and I went through all the archives to learn more about advanced techniques and story structure.

  • Observing: Watching how others do it.

Writers should read books, lots of them, both within and outside of their genre.  Pay attention to how other authors create emotion, insert foreshadowing, and surprise us with twists.  I’ve also recommended that writers should volunteer to judge writing contests.  Not only is it easier to identify issues in other people’s work, but we’ll also start to see the bigger picture by noticing how our writing compares to others.

  • Mentoring: Working with others, both more and less experienced.

Find others to work with—even if they’re less knowledgeable than we are.  And here’s where karma comes in…

How Can Karma Help Us Become Better Writers?

We need people more experienced than us to learn the advanced techniques.  And we need to find a way to make them want to help little ol’ us.

The key is believing that what goes around comes around.  If we’re the type of people who are willing to help those just starting out, we’re more likely to receive help from those above us on the ladder.

The mechanics behind how karma works don’t matter.  In fact, rather than a ladder, I picture karma as a big circle, with writers all helping each other to become better no matter our skill set.  Even the greenest writer can help us as a beta reader, chiming in with their impression of the story and characters.

So I try to never look down or dismiss those who haven’t yet learned everything I have.  They can still provide feedback to us, and as we help them, we’re ensuring that karmic circle remains unbroken.  If we all work together, we’ll always have more experienced authors to help us.

What do you think of my theory?  Do you agree or do you think I’ve crossed over to the Pollyanna dark side?  *grin*  Has karma worked for you, and if so, how?  Should we have a new motto: Have you helped another writer today?

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42 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Shain Brown April 5, 2011 at 5:40 am

Once again, simply put with a lot of good information. Thanks for the suggestions.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 8:15 am

Hi Shain,

Well, to follow my own suggestions, I try to be helpful. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Michele Shaw April 5, 2011 at 5:45 am

I totally agree…Pollyanna aside 😉 What we put out into the world comes back to us. Usually when we least expect it, and that goes for good and bad. I’m so appreciative when someone who knows more makes time to help me, and while I don’t feel experienced enough to offer much, if someone asks, I do everything I can to help. Great post, Jami!

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 8:18 am

Hi Michele,

Great point about how even though we often feel like we don’t have much to offer, we should still try. Like I mentioned in the article, it doesn’t take an expert to form an opinion about how a reader would interpret something because we are all readers. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Susan Bischoff April 5, 2011 at 5:45 am

Liked this post, Jami. I do try to think this way and try to consciously pay it forward on regular basis. I partly blame this on watching Magnificent Obsession like a million times a child. Too many people go through life keeping score. That’s an awful lot of effort. Larry Brooks (Storyfix) is a good example of someone who helped me immeasurably without demanding payment.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 8:20 am

Hi Susan,

Exactly. I just don’t want to expend the time or energy to keep score or hold grudges. I trust that it will all wash out in the end. 🙂 “Magnificent Obsession”? I’m going to have to check that out. Thanks for the comment!

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Pamela Mason April 5, 2011 at 6:14 am

You’ve written the exact words I wrote in a thank you to a published author for a critique! “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” And I didn’t know until now, thank you Jami and Jody Hedlund, that it was from viewing my own work through my own maturity level.
And I’ve been thinking that at my age it’s time to be a grown up.
Karma is a blessing for those of us who are blind to our own shortcomings. Guidance, both gentle and the whack over the head, is appreciated. After the sting subsides, even criticism is appreciated.
Being on the receiving end maybe too often, I better get on the giving side and pay forward. Thanks for the eye opener today!

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 8:21 am

Hi Pamela,

Oh no! 🙂 Well, I’m glad that we were able to clear that up. I feel like an idiot on a regular basis – join the club. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Jill Kemerer April 5, 2011 at 6:21 am

This sums up how I feel. I love to help people new to blogging or writing because I know how hard it is when we don’t have the knowledge. And I’ve been blessed by writers further along than me, too. Great post!

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 8:28 am

Hi Jill,

Yes, there was a great post by Deborah Burns last week: “The Type of Author I Want to Be”. And she talked about remembering our roots–what we felt like when we were first starting–for inspiration to help others. Thanks for the comment!

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Suzi McGowen April 5, 2011 at 6:37 am

Oh yes, I’m a big believer in “what goes around, comes around”. One of the first sites I found when I started writing was Forward Motion. It was started with the “pay it forward” mentality, and it’s a great example of writers helping writers.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 8:30 am

Hi Suzi,

Great tip! Here’s the link if anyone is interested: Forward Motion. I’ll have to check them out. Thanks for the comment!

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Mary Elizabeth April 5, 2011 at 6:57 am

“I picture karma as a big circle, with writers all helping each other to become better no matter our skill set.”

I absolutely agree with everything you said here. I’m continually learning new things from authors (both published and aspiring to be published), and I wouldn’t be as far along as I am today without the help of those other authors. And I love talking about writing, so whatever information I’ve gleaned over the years, I’m more than happy to pass along. I love the writing community for how completely supportive and illuminating it has been for me over the years. Thanks for pointing it out in this terrific post!

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 8:33 am

Hi Mary Elizabeth,

Yes, I love that about the writing community too. 🙂 We don’t have the typical competition aspect of many other industries because we’re often “fans” of each other’s work and it’s not a zero sum game. Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee April 5, 2011 at 7:01 am

I don’t believe in karma, but I do believe in treating others how I want to be treated.

I have one friend in particular who I don’t think has ever finished a novel, but she’s still a fantastic beta for me. We both write fantasy + romance works, with me heavier on the fantasy and she heavier on the romance, so we balance each other out.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 8:35 am

Hi Carradee,

Honestly, I don’t believe in karma as some sort of cosmic force, but I have experienced enough in my life to see that things usually work out in the end. And you’re right, my personal conviction to treat others how I want to be treated is even stronger than that idea. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Murphy April 5, 2011 at 9:03 am

Hi Jami:

Great post. For me, this resonates in every aspect of business and life. If you don’t keep yourself open to new possibilities you’ll stop growing. And, if you’re too busy picking and choosing where the possibilities are going to come from (such as a more experienced writer over a lesser one) you’ll stagnate. Growth comes in many forms – as my dad used to say: ‘I’ve forgotten things you haven’t even learned yet.’ Who are we to judge what a person has to offer if we never take them up on it in the first place?

Murphy

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 9:08 am

Hi Murphy,

[A]s my dad used to say: ‘I’ve forgotten things you haven’t even learned yet.’” LOL! Love that! 🙂 And it’s so true. I know that helping or teaching others often makes the knowledge seat itself deeper in my mind. It’s almost like I’m re-teaching myself the lesson as I’m repeating it to someone else. Thanks for the comment!

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PW Creighton April 5, 2011 at 10:45 am

Very well said. Karma is not the manifestation of belief rather what goes around comes around at it’s basest root. We enhance our knowledge by learning and teaching. Sure, we write our genre because we have extensive knowledge of that genre but there will always be something more to learn. We learn more every day and better ourselves by it.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 11:24 am

Hi PW,

Yes, learning never ends. So I always look out for what I could learn from or teach (and thus learn better) others. Thanks for the comment!

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Pam Asberry April 5, 2011 at 3:56 pm

I am new to your blog, and I am so glad I found it! I am a big believer in karma (named my dog Karma, as a matter of fact) and I love your picture of writers as a big circle of friends helping each other. That has been precisely my experience; there is room for ALL of us to be successful and absolutely NO reason to be isolated and withholding. I am working on the revision of my first novel, and while I am far from an expert on the craft of writing, I try to encourage others by simply sharing my of my journey and sending them to resources and sites that I find useful. Now I have another one to add to the list! If you have a minute, stop by my blog and say hello sometime. In the meantime, I am your newest follower, and I look forward to keeping up with you right here

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Hi Pam,

Aww, thanks! You’re right. We’re so blessed to live now when it’s so easy to reach out to others for support. There’s no reason to feel isolated. And I love your dog’s name. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Donna Galanti April 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Great article! We need a reminder sometimes of “how to do it” . I am new here and to the writing community and have found such a camaraderie – we do all need to learn from one another and keep improving our craft! We cant do it alone.

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Hi Donna,

Welcome! I hope your experience with the writing community continues to be positive. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Jami's Tech Guy April 5, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Great article as always Jami. So much of what you write carries over beyond writing.

In a past life when I was trying to climb the corporate ladder, I realized that I should always be good to the people that I passed on the way up because those same people would be the ones that would either prevent or let me fall when I eventually slipped.

There are few things better than getting notes from friends you’ve helped years later thanking you for the help you gave them when they first started out. I cherish those letters more than I do the mementos of my own success.

I so love hanging out with those in writer community that I’ve gotten to know. They’re so amazingly supportive of each other. It’s so awesome!

-TG
@jaytechdad

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Jami Gold April 5, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Hi Tech Guy,

Thanks! And I love hearing input from outside the writer community. 🙂 Yes, you’re right about how we’ll eventually need help or support from others, and we’re more likely to receive that support if we’ve been helpful along the way. Thanks for the comment!

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Laura Pauling April 6, 2011 at 3:37 am

I try to whenever can or when they ask for help. I probably have a harder time asking for help but I don’t like to impose on people. But if I ask I always offer in return. Blogging and social media is about giving. And I use all your methods of learning too!

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Jami Gold April 6, 2011 at 8:17 am

Hi Laura,

Very true. I hate asking for help even more than I hate having to say “no.” 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Kerry Meacham April 6, 2011 at 3:49 am

I attended a conference not long ago, and the speacker was talking about learning and teaching. He said that for someone to really learn and retain something, they have to go back to it 4-6 times. To be able to teach that same concept you need to spend 10-20 times that much time in study. So what you’re saying makes perfect sense. If we have tha heart of a teacher, we will by necessity have to spend more time on a subject (writing, dialogue, structure, grammar…yes I said it Jami ;-)) in order to teach or mentor someone. That will only make us beter. Thanks for all you do to help us newbies out as we go along trying to figure out what we don’t know.

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Jami Gold April 6, 2011 at 8:19 am

Hi Kerry,

Yes, that’s very true about how you have to understand something much better than usual to be able to teach it. And I like what you said about if someone has the heart of a teacher, they’ll be in that mode of learning automatically to pass on the knowledge. Very insightful observation. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Susan Sipal April 6, 2011 at 7:54 am

I absolutely love this post. You have so many truths in here. You don’t realize at first how much you don’t know…because you don’t know! (And I still don’t comprehend what I don’t know!) I’d love to be able to stand back and see where I am on that curve, just as you suggest.

And I totally agree with you on the karma thing (or, the Golden Rule, or the Wiccan Three-fold Rule, all the same). What you put out into the world will come back at you, sometimes much later than you would like, unfortunately, but oftentimes in the most surprising ways!

Thanks for the lovely post!

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Jami Gold April 6, 2011 at 8:25 am

Hi Susan,

Maybe we need a forest/trees machine to be able to get that big picture. LOL! Yes, we don’t always get to choose how and when things come back around, but in my experience, they do. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Marvin April 6, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Hi Jami,
I was turned on to your blog just today. Great post. I like your statement “When we first start any new project, writing or otherwise, we don’t know what all we don’t know. This limitation can be frustrating.” Therefor, it is imperative that we all share our knowledge. Perhaps a fresh writer can show things in a perspective the seasoned writer hasn’t thought about. And, of course, what we newbies can learn from established writers in unparallelled.

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Jami Gold April 6, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Hi Marvin,

You’re absolutely right. The greenest writer still has the things I’ve found most valuable: fresh, virgin eyes that haven’t seen my work yet. 🙂 We get only chance with each beta reader to receive their initial impression of our characters and story, and sometimes that knowledge is just as important as all the craft stuff. Thanks for the comment!

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Sonia M. April 6, 2011 at 9:16 pm

So excellent! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

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Jami Gold April 6, 2011 at 9:20 pm

🙂 You’re welcome!

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Gene Lempp April 7, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Strange that I am reading this late because I have been driving myself through books on writing, Brooks, Bell, Bickham, Mayer, Kress, etc…not at 30 yet but I’ll be there soon. Also subscribe to the sites you mentioned, plus Who Dares Wins Publishing, Kristen Lamb, and, of course this cool paranormal writer named Jami Gold 🙂
Working 60 hour “day job” weeks has not been helpful but I know if I keep putting in the effort things will change. Partly due to the effort and partly due to having picked excellent mentors to watch and learn from.
Jami, I think you are dead on. While I don’t believe in the traditional view of Karma, I do believe in “what comes around goes around” and that dedicated individual effort both in our work and in our relationships pays large dividends in the long run.
Have I paid back what I have learned, yes. I have several friends that also write and I’ve spent time reading their work, editing, critiquing, sharing the gems of knowledge I am able to glean from everything I read and learn. And I plan to always do this. I never assume that I know everything which is the fuel that drive the perfectionist side of me.
Thanks for another wonderful post, really helps today to hear that I am doing the right things 🙂

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Jami Gold April 7, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Hi Gene,

Well, other than that Jami chick who sounds kind of sketchy, it seems like you’re doing a great job. LOL!

Yes, people who follow me on Twitter see that I post a lot of writing-related tweets. It’s not so much that that’s my “thing,” but it’s more that I search out informative blog posts so that I can always be learning and improving. And I figure that if it’s interesting to me, it might be interesting to others. So that idea you mentioned of “sharing the gems of knowledge” is really what I’m doing, both here and on Twitter. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Marilag Lubag April 8, 2011 at 1:20 am

Yes! Totally agree. It also feels good to do good things to people.

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Jami Gold April 8, 2011 at 8:54 am

Hi Marilag,

Yes, it does. And I’m a sucker for that good feeling. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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