I have been plagued by this question every day for a month now. This obstinate nasal voice droning in my ear, twanging with awful regularity, "Are you getting better? Are you improving? Are you? Are you? ARE YOU??" It's enough to drive one nuts, and I wonder if those who have been at this for a decade (compared to my meager 2+ years) can enlighten me on the stages of writer's development. If there is such a thing. I'm sure something like this exists. I can roughly map my steps, thorned and barbed and plagued with creepers, in the dark narrow tunnel of this wild adventure called I WANT TO BE A FUCKING WRITER AND I WILL BE.
They really should put a sign at the entrance, you know, warning of all the blood and torn out hair and broken bones, the hazards of embarking on the path of "let me become a pro at lying on paper and collecting money for it, too."
The shit I went through so far looks like this:
- I can write a book! Look! I wrote a book! I wrote the 1st draft in 6 weeks, too! Oh, it's too long. Oh, I could really cut out a bunch of purple prose. Oh, the dialogue could really use some work. Oh, this is not good at all. Oh, well, shit.
- I get how to write the opening of the book! It's all about the first sentence and the first paragraph! Great! But the rest of my book is really floundering and whopping and gibbering aimlessly, and there is no real plot. Darn.
- Ohh, I get what writing is about. It's not about plotting and keeping the reader on the edge of their seat, it's about explaining everything in exhaustive detail! I get it, I get it, I...no, I don't get it. Okay. This is horrible.
- Wait, writing is all about routine, I understand it now. I will stick to it and in 1 year collect the riches, because I will get famous quickly. Hmm, 1 year has gone by and I'm still not famous...
- Hold on, that thing about explaining things, that's not what I thought it was. What's important is experience. I have to really experience what I'm writing. So if I'm writing about woods, I will physically go into woods and stomp around. Wheee! Okay, that didn't help much...
- Aha! I understand what dialogue is about. It's not what the characters say, it's what they don't say. How did I not get it before? Great. Now I want to rewrite all my books.
- How curious. I understood something else. No matter how many drafts I write, my story is right the first time. The seed is there, it's only the matter of uncovering it! But how do I do it, exactly?
- OMG! Long winding descriptions are dangerous! Writing is really not about experiencing things, it's about experiencing emotions! And research doesn't matter! Word count doesn't matter either, the story will stop itself when it needs to! Wow, wow!!! Wait..
- Well, it turns out that everything I know need to get unknown. There is no rule for writing a novel. All these rules I learned I need to defenestrate. Fuck this shit.
- I KNOW MY PROBLEM. I'M SIMPLY SCARED TO WRITE WELL.
If you are still here, miraculously, I just did a quick romp back in time across my blog to trace my "development" and link back to selected posts. Skim through them, if you want to. This July my blog will be 3 years old and this May 15th it will be 3 years since I have started writing full time. Hemingway said something like this: "Write for 3 years. If at the end of 3 years nobody pays you, quit and find a job." I took it to heart and prepped for 3 years without money. I have gotten paid for my writing only 1 year into it, and am getting paid more and more, so I'm staying for the long haul, peeps. But recently, recently, I have felt that I'm up against a wall.
Something is happening. There is something I have to break through, to get to the next level, and I can't quite tell what it is. I have noticed that my vocabulary has grown, I'm making fewer grammatical mistakes. I understand that story is about well-drawn characters stemming from my strongest emotional experiences in life, and the rest is air and mist and gravy and tensile sticky putty of this bizarre thing called "storytelling" that has no rules, except one:
WRITE EVERY DAY.
I have been doing what Stephen King says to do, write at least 2K words every day, read every day for at least several hours. I used to take weekends off. Not anymore. I am writing through the weekends now. I did what Hemingway said, and it seems like I'm on my way to making a living at writing. I have survived these years on my own, money-wise, so far, although in the early times it was partially savings from my job, partially unemployment, some sales, lots of donations, and then money from my ghostwriting project. So I'm not making enough yet from just selling books or accepting donations for them. I did start a Patreon, and so far have over $50 pledged from readers monthly. To survive where I am right now, with all the kiddie expenses, I need $2K per month. Getting there, with combined money from all the sources.
But, money aside, I'm up against some solid slab of the next obstacle or hurdle or whatever. The next big step on my way to getting better, as a writer. And I can't quite tell what it is, only this nagging feeling won't let me go.
HOW FAST ARE WRITERS SUPPOSED TO GROW?
AM I GROWING FAST ENOUGH??
Is there a time table that can tell us what to expect at 1 year of full time writing? 3 years? 5? 10? What is too slow, what is too fast? I can't help it but to read brilliant books and feel how utterly inferior my own command of English is. Yes, it's not my first language, but how fucking long will it take me to master it? What else can I do, to speed up the process? I have so many books to write! I want to write them well! I want to write stellar stuff that blows people's minds. Why the hell doEs it take so long???
There is Malcolm Gladwell, of course, with his 10,000 hours rule. He argues in Outliers that to get good at anything you have to practice it for this amount of time. If you write for about 8 hours a day and take weekends off, as if you were working in an office, it will be about 2,000 hours in a year, so it will take you 5 years of full time writing to become any good. But then researchers pointed out, after Outliers was published, that it might not be necessarily true. Let's assume, there is truth to this statement. ThIS means, I have 2.5 years more to go to get to the level of being "good", and perhaps a lifetime after that to get even better.
But what is this that's been plaguing me now? I can't put my finger on it. These minnows of doubt are burrowing holes in my hard-won confidence. I'm on a cusp of something. What? It's like I'm about to break through a locked door. Whatever it is, I don't know. If any of you are enlightened regarding this, chime in.
In the meantime, I will continue stubbornly doing what I was doing all alone: write, read, repeat.