Every once in a while, I think about my early days, and how I got to where I am now. I find it gives me perspective, especially when things aren’t going well, or I feel in over my head. Looking back helps me see the ups and downs I’ve navigated and leaves me feeling more capable of handling the road ahead.
We all had a ‘first step’ in our writing journey. In my case, I signed up for a mail-in writing course (yes, “mail-in.” This was a long time ago.). They paired me with a mentor; I would turn in assignments to him, and he’d offer suggestions for improvement and words of encouragement.
When I completed the course and got my certificate, I was SURE my author career was about to launch. All I had to do was find out how to submit these ‘wonderful’ stories I’d written during the course…how hard could it be?
Since I knew nothing about publishing, I joined a few writing forums. I discovered publishing was competitive, and many writers would use critique partners to help them get their stories as strong as they could be before submitting. So, I joined the Critique Circle. Soon after, I met Becca – we clicked right away, and worked to help each other improve. We decided to study writing craft together and as you know, eventually went on to publish the Emotion Thesaurus.
But between joining the Critique Circle and creating one of the most-loved guides out there, I almost quit.
It was the learning curve. It seemed like no matter how much I knew, it was never enough. There was always more.
Joining the Critique Circle showed me I had a long way to go. And that was okay; I was ready to put the work in. I did, too – studying, critiquing others, and writing more stories. I grew my skills over time.
Eventually I queried, got an agent, left them after a time, got another, went to acquisitions. And repeat, repeat, repeat. I became stuck in a close-but-not-quite loop, and it did a number on my head. I started to doubt myself. I felt like despite all my hard work to become a stronger writer, something was wrong with me–I wasn’t smart enough, or creative enough. Maybe this writing thing wasn’t meant to be.
(I’m guessing some of you can relate to my story.)
Thankfully, today the landscape is different. We have more than one path to publishing, and a successful career is more in the hands of the writer than gatekeepers. But one thing that remains the same then to now is the learning curve. A compelling story has a lot of moving parts, and there’s a lot to know. It’s easy to get frustrated when we hit a gap after gap in our knowledge.
At some point, the weight of what we’re trying to do hits us, and it can be soul crushing to realize just how much we DON’T know about storytelling. At that point in the learning curve, some writers flirt with giving up. Others do.
But the rest? They soldier on, because they can see the forest for the trees.
Storytelling is an art. It takes time to be good at it.
All careers have a learning curve. No one expects to walk out of med school after a year ready to do brain surgery. Yet as writers, our expectations are sky-high. We irrationally can feel like if we don’t master everything quickly and see success, something is wrong, and we’re the problem. No wonder rejections can hit so hard.
This mindset, that we’re only worthy if we succeed quickly, master the curve quickly, etc. can do a lot of damage, and it’s why I almost quit. I hadn’t yet learned the most important lesson: writing, like all creative careers, means ongoing education. There will always be more to learn, new ways to grow our insight and skills. And that’s a GOOD THING. It means we’ll never peak. We’ll always have a better story ahead. And that’s pretty exciting, don’t you think?
What’s the best shortcut for the learning curve?
So…there are no shortcuts. We must all learn what we need to, and it will take as long as it takes. However, there are ways to “shorten” the learning curve! Investing in the right help and seeking out the best sources of information can keep us focused and on task. Thankfully there are many great books, resources, mentors, tools, and more out there. One of the best all-round places to start would be this page.
I mentioned earlier that shortly after we met, Becca and I began studying writing craft together. We actually took a year off from writing fiction to tandem study the best writing guides out there, and it gave us a terrific foundation of knowledge. Since then, we’ve continued to be students of the craft, reading and experimenting. We’ve also taught and mentored, passing on the best lessons we’ve learned to others.
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