When you first started writing, did you realize how much work it would take? Or were you like most of us, thinking that you’d written your share of emails, essays, or Christmas letters and that writing a whole story wouldn’t be—couldn’t be—that much harder?
But at some point—maybe it’s when we struggle to make the story on the page match the one in our head, or when we receive a beta reader’s feedback or an agent’s rejection or poor reviews—we’re faced with the fact that good writing is hard.
The learning curve for new writers is steep and seems to never end. Grammar, sentence structure, passive writing, showing not telling, plot, characterization, subplots, etc., etc. It all has to be acknowledged, learned, and conquered.
That doesn’t even count learning about the business of writing or the publishing industry. Unless we came from a publishing background and a strong literary education, we likely didn’t have a clue what all was involved with our new venture.
I’m sure many aspiring writers reach the point of recognizing for the first time that heap of knowledge they didn’t know they needed and give up simply for being overwhelmed. Others probably give up because they’d started writing as a lark, and if it wasn’t easy, they weren’t interested. But the rest of us looked that list of “must learns” in the eye and decided to get to work.
I started thinking about the mental switch most of us have to go through in our writing career after Nathan left a great comment at my post about what we “owe” new authors:
“I think the biggest hurdles for all of us early writers is not grammar, style, story arch or character development. I think one of the main things we need to be mentored in is attitude. Your article is a good approach to giving us a gentle nudge towards being less stubborn or sensitive. Thanks for mentoring us in a better attitude towards criticism.”
Nathan makes a great point. Our learning curve isn’t just about things we have to learn, but also about recognizing the fact that we don’t know everything—and that’s okay.
We can’t learn if we don’t first make that attitude adjustment. Only after we acknowledge that we have gaps in our knowledge will we see the road of learning ahead of us. And only after we decide the hard work necessary to fill those gaps is worth it will we reach a point of wanting to learn. And only then are we teachable.
Admitting we don’t know things is never easy. It’s a weakness, a vulnerability, a point where we could fall into the comparison trap of thinking our writing isn’t good enough. That we aren’t good enough.
So for new writers, or for those not-so-new authors who recognize that we’ll never be done learning (*raises hand*), let’s share some encouragement. Do you remember when you discovered how much you didn’t know?
My first novel-length story was Harry Potter fan fiction, and yes, I wrote it as a lark to pass the time before the sixth book came out. I didn’t have a clue about grammar or deep point of view. I didn’t know anything about plot structure or voice. I’d never heard “show don’t tell.”
I wrote that story just for fun. And then I was bitten by the writing bug, and that developed into a dream of being published. I spent several months going through a computer class on “How to Write a Novel” and thought I was ready to dig in to my own characters, world, and story.
I wrote the first draft in about three months and then polished that turd with all kinds of surface-level “edits,” tweaking a word choice here and rearranging a sentence there. I went online to track down information about the next step.
Oh, a query letter. I felt like a genius. This was the magic ticket that would get me published, a query letter. Ah-ha!
Somehow, during my searches for how to write a query letter, I came across the Edittorrent blog. Editors Theresa Stevens and Alicia Rasley run their blog with a great mix of posts for newbies and analyses of advanced concepts that make my head hurt. At the time, they were running a blog series where you could send in a couple of paragraphs you had a question about and they’d give advice.
Hoo boy, did they ever. I sent in a couple of paragraphs, and they almost ignored my question with their earnest listing of all the other problems in my writing. I remember thinking that if those paragraphs—which I’d gone over umpteen times, as this was the opening of my story and had been “polished” to an extra shiny level—had that many problems, what did that say about the rest of my story?
It was a humbling experience, let me tell you.
Some of those who commented in my post about what we “owe” new writers would probably say Theresa and Alicia overstepped by pointing out issues beyond my question. And if I was feeling too defensive to listen to their feedback, I might have felt the same.
Instead, once I dragged myself out of the “I suck” pit of despair, I was extremely grateful. That was my first taste that “hey, a stint as a copyeditor does not a grammar expert make, and a decade of technical writing doesn’t lend itself to showing emotions or having an engaging voice.” In short, that was my first clue that I was at the bottom of the learning curve and not the top.
I needed that. I needed that slap upside the head so I’d start learning rather than thinking I knew it all already. I needed that insight before I could be teachable.
So when you’re down about ever getting to the “good enough” point, know that we’ve all been there. We know what you’re going through. We remember what it feels like to make that mental leap. And we know that when we’re really smart, we never let go of that positive attitude towared learning. *smile*
Encourage others and share your story in the comments. When and how did you first realize how much you had to learn? How did it initially make you feel—did you deny it or accept it? How did you make the mental leap to being teachable? Do you have any tips to share?
P.S. Don’t forget to enter my Blogiversary contest, where you can win me! Wait…what? Check it out for the full story. *smile*Pin It