I’ve spoken many times about our learning curve as writers. Not only can it seem endless—with all the different skills we need to learn—but we can also be skilled at one aspect and unskilled in another aspect.
Just when we start thinking we’re getting pretty good at this writing thing, we might come across another element of writing where we’re a complete newbie. That’s not anything for us to be embarrassed about—that’s just part of writing life. *smile*
I’m always looking out for new information and researching concepts I hadn’t heard of before. It wasn’t that long ago that I (finally) learned about coordinate versus cumulative adjectives. Yep, something I probably should have learned back in school, and I hadn’t had a clue. *grin*
So at what point can we stop thinking of ourselves as beginning writers? When will we be “qualified” for the advanced stuff?
The Many Entrances to the Writing World
We all come to writing with different backgrounds and experiences. So what we know—or what we need to learn—is unique.
Maybe we started writing when we were young, so we’ve already fully developed our voice but lack the knowledge of how to deeply portray three-dimensional characters. Or maybe we have natural storytelling skills but struggle with building emotional arcs behind the plot.
Whatever our background, we can still become successful writers. As I shared before about Christie Craig, a New York Times bestselling author:
“Christie is a dyslexic high-school dropout. She didn’t have writing skills when she started. But she could tell stories, and that’s what really matters. Everything else can be learned.
By studying, we can change our fate. How cool is that?”
I came in to writing with a somewhat instinctive understanding of story structure and beats, but I was obviously lacking in the grammar department (and a lot of other departments). *smile* Those different “entry level” skills mean that it’s hard to define what beginner means.
What Does “Beginner” or “Advanced” Mean Anyway?
Ever wonder why certain skills are labeled as beginner skills while others are labeled advanced skills? I’ve had people ask me to label my posts or the links I share on Twitter as “for beginners” or “advanced tip.”
Occasionally, I’ve included those labels on my tweeted links to others’ posts, but I don’t usually use those labels here on my blog. Why?
Because who’s to say whether information is beginner or advanced?
As I mentioned above, I should have learned about that grammar rule back in school (along with every other grammar rule I never learned). Yet for me, I didn’t learn it until after I started working with professional editors.
What’s basic knowledge for us might be completely unknown to someone else. So if we label a skill as “for beginners,” others might skip over it, assuming the information to be about things they already know.
What “Advanced” Should Mean
For all those reasons above, I don’t usually label my posts here as “for beginners” or “advanced.” One of the exceptions is my Lost Your Pants? workshop, which I specify is more advanced…because it builds on other knowledge about arcs, beats, and beat sheets.
And that’s what “advanced” should mean: Advanced skills are those that require a fair amount of previous knowledge for us to even understand them—much less apply them.
In other words, advanced is when other skills are a prerequisite to learning. But not everyone approaches the labels the same way, so we end up with something labeled advanced just because they didn’t learn it until later in their learning curve.
The Problem with Mislabeling
Once we reach a certain point in our learning curve, it is difficult to find new topics. I no longer seek out writing conferences with the primary purpose of attending workshops, as too many are a waste of my time.
I’ve lost count of how many dozens of blog posts I’ve read along the lines of “12 Advanced Editing Tips!” When I click, those articles are typically full of such no-prerequisite-knowledge-required gems as “Delete filler words like just, only, and very.”
No… Just because editing happens after drafting in our writing journey does not make it “advanced” compared to drafting skills. Whether a skill is applied later in the process or learned later on our learning curve, later doesn’t mean advanced.
I’d rather not label something at all than make the mistake of mislabeling it. As we’ve already covered, when we mislabel something as beginner, we might discourage those who need the information from exploring the idea.
The problem can get even worse if we mislabel something as advanced when it’s really for beginners—and charge for it, like with a class or workshop.
Don’t Assume Advanced Equals New Information
So labels like beginner or advanced don’t necessarily mean much. In addition to potentially discouraging writers who could need the information from sticking around, they have no set definition and can mislead in several ways. With all that, I hope my reluctance to use those labels makes a bit more sense. *smile*
Yet we want to avoid spending time or money on classes, workshops, how-to books, etc. that won’t teach us anything new. If we can’t rely on labels, how can we tell what will be helpful to us?
Regardless of any labeling, before we spend our money, we should look for the details of what a workshop, educational program, or book claims we’ll learn:
- Are their claims filled with vague spam-like promises?
- Or is the list specific enough for us to tell whether the information will actually be new—to us?
As I’ve mentioned before, we can’t buy the secret to success, so we also want to watch out for pitches based on fear or “If You’re Serious, You Need to…” threats. There’s nothing wrong with spending money to improve our writing career, but we just want to make sure that we’re spending that money on a worthy expenditure.
That means we might want to learn to ignore those beginner and advanced labels and instead focus on our strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Even if the advice has gone around the block several times, if it’s new to us, we can still get value out of the information. *smile*
Do you like seeing labels like “beginner” or “advanced” on writing or publishing tips? What do those labels mean to you? Have you ever been disappointed or misled by those labels? Do you disagree with my perspective on why they’re mostly useless? Do you agree with what “advanced” should mean?Pin It