When we step onto the writing path, we know there will be a lot to learn. We see the mountain ahead and sure, it’s intimidating. But hey, we’re head over heels for story, in love with the author’s dream, and we want that future to be ours. So we adjust our pack, yank out some beef jerky to gnaw on, and start the climb.
What we don’t realize until we’re in the thick of it is that there is no end to our education. In fact when we crest the mountain, instead of being handed a certificate, trophy, or even a celebratory cheesecake from someone shouting, “You did it! You’re finally good enough!” we see another mountain waiting. And another after that. A range of them, actually.
At this point, one of three things tends to happen…
Some writers quit, deciding what’s ahead is too daunting and will take too much. They move on to other things, forgoing this dream.
Others choose to stay at that first summit. Their writing plateaus. The knowledge they have acquired might be enough to achieve their individual publishing goals depending on what those are. Or it might not.
The third group (after a mental tug-of-war that may include chocolate bingeing, ugly crying, alcohol, and various other grief stage coping mechanisms) decide to keep going.
Sure, they see the way ahead won’t be easy but they’ve realized something: a big part of the joy of writing is the learning itself.
They look back and remember who they were at the start of the journey and who they are now. They see how the layers of hard-won knowledge have stretched them, challenged their ideas of what is possible, and pushed them to be the very best version of themselves.
Do you remember your first summit? I do.
I felt proud of how I’d grown. Terrified at the mountain range ahead as I knew enough to grasp just how much I didn’t yet know. And, as is true for so many of us, doubt was there, too–doubt that I could ever learn enough about writing craft to succeed.
But I wanted that knowledge. I craved it. So screw doubt. I decided to focus on the journey, not the goal, and become a Learner of Craft. (Many of you have done this same thing, adopting the Learner’s mindset, and that’s why you’re here, reading this post!)
One of the best parts of opening myself to learning are the writing epiphanies that come along: those missing cogs of knowledge that slide into place and it…all…suddenly…CLICKS. My eyes go wide and bright because holy batman, that one small lesson just transformed how I see story!
Many of these moments can be credited back to specific sources so I thought I’d share a few in hopes that you might find new helpful resources as well.
1) This book and this video series. Thank you universe for helping me find Michael Hauge, because through him I began to grasp inner conflict, character arc, and most importantly, realize the influence an emotional wound has on the human psyche and how we can use it in fiction. (If it weren’t for Michael sparking our interest in this whole area of story, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus might never have been written.)
2) Katie Weiland. She has incredible insight into writing craft, has an amazing site, writes great books and is one of the best human beings I know. There are too many aha moments to count here, so just trust me and go find her online to fill your knowledge well.
3) When story structure baffled me, I found Save The Cat. Between that and Screenplays that Sell, my knowledge took another big leap forward.
Hurray for Beat Sheets!
4) I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention several other books that helped me very early on: Description (Monica Wood), Self-Editing For Fiction Writers (Renni Brown & Dave King), and Writing the Breakout Novel (Don Maass).
(Through our work on the blog and our books, Becca and I have a gained a bit of a reputation for being experts in description, particularly “show and tell.” So, how ironic is it that what drew me to wanting to understand them at depth was the fact that I was terrible at both? Thank goodness for Description as it started the ball rolling.)
The Breakout Novel book taught me about tension (hmm, kind of important–who knew?) and Self-Editing gave me the basics of editing when I really disliked that end of things, showing me the beauty behind the process of working something until its true essence could shine through.
5) The Critique Circle. This online critique site endured some of my early work (sorry, CC members) and I learned valuable lessons on giving feedback with diplomacy, accepting feedback with grace, and divorcing emotion from the process so I could take what was given and improve. Great site–go visit. It’s free to join, and guess what? That’s where Becca and I met!
For me, this love of learning turned into a love of teaching.
I travel the world to teach and absolutely love writing our signature Description Thesaurus books and helping writers in that way. A few years ago Becca and I embarked on another journey with Lee Powell of Scrivener, creating One Stop for Writers. Lee has since moved on to other adventures, but Becca and I continue to create tools that are changing the face of storytelling. It is so satisfying to create things we KNOW writers really need.
Resources To Check Out
Becca and I also try to give back as much as we can so we urge you to check out these free resources to broaden your knowledge. First, the Writers Helping Writers Tools Page. There’s a mother-lode of downloadables here that will help you in many areas of writing craft and beyond.
Second, visit this massive page of Tip Sheets and Checklists at One Stop for Writers. You don’t have to be a member to get these so head over, save them to your computer, and share them with others on social media if you like. If you do want to take a closer look at One Stop for Writers we have a Free Trial, too.
What people, books, or websites helped your writing skills leap forward? Let me know in the comments!