There’s a theory among therapists that revolves around people’s willingness to change their behavior for the better. Today, it's not just for therapists and clients! Today I’m going to apply it to writing, because that’s what writers do —we take what we know and twist the words around around so our life experiences mean something else entirely.
A little over two years ago when I decided to go from fan fiction writer to original fiction writer (Pre-Contemplation - I decided to become a Writer), I thought Good Writing was comprised of pretty lines that loosely composed a narrative. Since then, I’ve worked with several new writers who thought the same thing. They were all very very good at composing pretty lines that made a narrative, so if this is what writing was, we're all amazing.
But we aren't.
I read a lot of writing advice blogs, industry books, and have gone to writing workshops, conferences, and panels. In the beginning, everything was new. Every book, every blog post, every panel bombarded me with information I had never heard before. I want to say I soaked it up and wrote my heart out, but that’s not what happened. I had this idea of what writing was, and while I listened and took notes, saved the blog posts to my Reading List, and dog eared the book pages, I had this opinion -- that the bloggers were wrong, the books were bad, and I knew what I was doing.
So why hadn’t I sold anything yet?
(Welcome to Contemplation guys - Something’s wrong, but it can’t possibly be me. Silly woman.)
Some months into my career, I showed a new story I'd written to another writer and she said, “I don’t have much to say about this. It’s such a good story.” At the time, I thought it was the way she said it, but I have another theory. See, I'd finally reached the Preparation stage, where my ideas of what writing was were now less concrete, and I was open minded enough to apply what I'd learned.
Not every writer is as obstinate as I was, and I thought I was one of the open minded ones. I mean, I’d grown up taking art classes. I was no stranger to critique, even really harsh critique. So I thought I had this thing nailed — I had to be doing all the right things, doing the research, seeking critique, making the changes (after some furious pacing/monologuing), taking notes at the panels/conferences/workshops. After all, I was me, and I did things right.
I had to be at the particular stage of my writing evolution, at the right Stage of Change, to realize the first rule: Writing Is Not Pretty Lines Creating A Narrative, Writing Is A Story With Pretty Lines In It. If you’re good at pretty lines, the pretty lines will go where they’re supposed to go in any story you write.
I'm happy to say I've progressed a little bit since then.
The piece that got me to the Preparation stage? It sold. It got 11 rejections to eventually become my first publication. I didn’t stop there though, I kept working on the story aspect, and then further bits of advice kicked in - things I’d heard about tension, about character, about world building. About surprise, delight, and mastery. I've since sold four more pieces, and I'm immersed in the Action stage. I still read industry books, blog posts, and go to conferences and attend webinars (easier for my disability).
We have monsoon seasons, and we have dry seasons, and through it all, all we can do is work on one thing at a time until we get to the next EUREKA moment of what comes next. Whether it's how to create a livable, breathable world or how to create characters as complex as people, we get there and keep going. There's no rules to how this hits anyone, it comes to writers organically, as long as they work at it.
Allow yourself to become YOU the writer. Let yourself go through the Stages as you will naturally. It'll happen, all you need is time, practice, a willingness to change, and maybe a little bit of an open mind.
PS: I’ve hit Relapse a couple times it sucks. Sometimes I write a story that’s so so bad, it’s unsalvageable. But I have to remind myself that it’s okay, cause hey, I spent that time writing. Oh, and it takes a lot of convincing to tell myself I wasn't wasting my time.