Hello, SEers, and welcome to another Mae Day on Story Empire. Let’s chat writer growth.
Last winter, a local newspaper featured me in an article. I was extremely flattered they were interested enough to profile me. What appealed to them was that I hadn’t written one book or two, but ten (along with three novellas and several short stories in anthologies). I remember the interviewer telling me, “That’s an impressive body of work.” It relayed a message that I was in it for the long haul.
Since that interview, I’ve released a collection of short stories and have two finished manuscripts waiting in the wings. It made me realize how long I’ve been doing this. Not just writing, but publishing. I started crafting stories in grade school, wrote my first short at eight, and my first novel at fifteen. But having my work published? That didn’t happen until 2012. It’s now ten years later, and when I look back on my first release it’s with mixed emotions.
I wrote steamy romantic suspense in those days. Two books that got my foot in the door with a small press. I still love both novels—the characters I created, and the mysteries twined throughout the plots—but my writing was not on par with my skillset today. The stories are also not representative of my work, as I’ve switched genres, favoring mystery/suspense with elements of folklore and the supernatural. Someday, I imagine myself reworking my earliest novels, stripping out the steam and building on the legends I included. Someday, when time isn’t a burden but a pleasurable companion that permits plenty of leeway.
In the meantime, I count both bodies of work (and even a few that followed) as part of my learning curve. Every author experiences growth. As creative sorts, it’s not in our nature to be stagnant. We’re constantly honing our craft and evolving, even experimenting as we become more comfortable in our writer skins. Remember how terrified you felt when you sent your first book baby into the world? I’m not saying I don’t still feel apprehension before a release, but the trauma has lessened. I tell myself You’ve done this before. You’ve got this.
And, by no means, am I done growing. I follow several New York Times best-selling authors with long track records. I definitely see a difference between their first/earlier releases and their current works. That didn’t make those first books any less enjoyable, but I have a new appreciation of how far they’ve come. That realization makes me appreciate and recognize my own growth.
In my day job, I hold a professional license regulated by state and national commissions. Because of constant industry changes, I’m required to take mandated continuing education every two years in order for my license to remain active. Writers may not have to do CE, but it’s in our best interest to keep current with changing trends, industry updates, and—most importantly—honing our craft.
Use these suggestions for growth:
Learn from your peers (take critiques and constructive reviews in stride)
Work with critique partners and/or beta readers
Join local writing groups
Join professional writing organizations
Take online craft courses
Purchase craft books
Attend writing conferences/conventions
READ!! (Especially in your chosen genre)
That last one is so important. I’m going to challenge you to look back at some of your earlier work. My guess is that you’re going to see several areas for improvement. That’s not a bad thing. It means you’ve grown as an author. As with any profession, the longer you work in a field, the more adept you become. Regardless of where you are in your writing career—just starting, middle of the road, seasoned pro—there is always room for growth.
One of my earliest writing experiences (decades ago) involved submitting a manuscript for agent representation that I was CERTAIN would be accepted. There was no question in my mind I had written a thoroughly polished and professional manuscript, but just thinking about it now makes me cringe. Saying it was bad is putting it mildly. That foolish young writer still had so much yet to learn. Fortunately, after being rejected more than once, I was smart enough to realize I still had a ton of growing to do.
What about you? Do you believe you’ve grown as an author? Can you look back at earlier work and note improvement? What do you consider the key element in your growth to date? What do you do to keep your craft honed and your writing polished?
Let’s chat about in the comments. Ready, set, go!