Your ability to improve as a writer is dependent on how invested you are in your own learning.
If you want to get better than you need to be actively engaging with your creative practice. We’ve all heard the cliche, ‘practice makes perfect’ and the updated version, ‘perfect practice makes perfect.’ Fortunately/unfortunately, this principle also applies to writing.
It is unlikely that you’ll finish your manuscript if you only write when you feel inspired.
It is unlikely that you will write an excellent book–that could stand out in the market, that people would want to read, and that is un-put-downable–on the first draft (or the second or third).
It is unlikely that you will improve as a writer if you don’t reflect on your weaknesses and then actively try to improve them.
The participants and students who do well in writing programs (online and in real life) do so because they are invested in their writing.
They show up and they read the set modules and recommended readings. They think about what they have read and they ask questions about the work.
They consider how that content relates to their own writing practice and what that might mean for them. For example, they may reconsider their hardened stance that pantsing is the only way to write or that literary fiction is boring or that efficiency is what we should be striving for–how to write a good book in as few steps as possible!
Like, I guess you could adopt that viewpoint if you wanted to take the wide, exploratory, juicy quality of writing and submit it to the systematized processes demanded of hustle culture and productivity… up to you.
Being invested in your development as a writer can mean many things from the simple, learning how to use semicolons correctly, to the elaborate, completing a PhD.
It can mean studying how other writers approach their craft by listening to podcast interviews, reading critical reviews of their work, or following them on social media to see what their writing life looks like (albeit a controlled and curated version).
Being invested in your writing might look like consuming a ton of ‘how to’ writing books and then putting that advice to practise.
It could be reading a wide variety of literature and analysing each book to see how the author constructed it; what literary devices are present and what did you love or loathe about the book?
It’s learning to self-edit beyond the line level. It isn’t enough to remove the typos, you need to be critically evaluating the content of your book. Does the plot work? Are the characters round or flat? Is the structure interesting or unique? How might you tell this story differently? Is there enough conflict or tension? What is this book saying and what do you want it to say — and do those two match up?
All that might sound daunting and not much fun. It might sound like a lot of work. And sometimes writing is work, but it can also be playful and joyous.
Play is present as you are working with your imagination and joy is built in because you are engaged in the act of making. And there is so much satisfaction in pushing yourself beyond your limits and achieving something you’d previously considered impossible.
Every writer writes for a different reason:
Because it’s how they process the world
because it’s the only way to make the pretend voices in their head feel useful
because they feel better when they do
because it’s fun
because it’s stimulating
because it’s entertaining, interesting … better than folding laundry
You don’t have to be invested in your writing.
You can write however you want to, but if you want to get better at writing and if there are particular creative goals you want to hit, then being invested in your own learning is how you are going to get there.
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