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What I Learned (Or Relearned) About Writing in 2022

I’m always learning new things, and I’m starting to believe one of the best ways to keep using what I’ve learned is to write it all down. Otherwise I’ll forget, and life will have to re-hammer that lesson home again when I most need it.

In order to avoid a re-hammering, I drafted this list at the end of 2022 and have been mulling it over and adding things as I identify them. Originally this list was just for me, but as I’m digging further into my first draft of this new YA project, I’ve been thinking more about what this project has taught me so far, and how I can use that to help me keep momentum up, and it seemed like these lessons might be useful to other writers as well.

Writing new projects helps me become a better writer overall.

We really do learn by writing new projects. You’ve probably heard the now-debunked theory that practicing for ten-thousand hours will make you an expert, and you may have heard others refute that theory with the argument that unless you’re actively learning, from a teacher or mentor or other expert, you’re only reinforcing the same bad habits. It’s my experience that the truth falls somewhere in the middle. If I keep working on the same manuscript, revising it over and over, after a certain point, I’m not making it better. I need to get input from others, to hone my craft and to see where my blind spots are. But an additional way to learn new things is to write new things.

When I write something new, with new characters and setting and story, I’m looking at everything with fresh eyes. This can give me a new perspective on my older work as well––it can shine a light on an old problem in a new way, which can help me to figure out how to fix it. I’ve seen this happen with previous work, and in critiquing work for others, but I definitely needed a reminder. Writing the beginning of this new manuscript, and stumbling over it as I always do, grasping for the just the right spot to get the foothold that would carry me through the story, helped me to see what I was missing in the beginning of the manuscript I shelved in 2021. I now have some great notes on what to do to re-write that beginning and how the rest of the book will flow from it.

Trust in the process, be patient, and move on.

It can take a long time to figure out why something isn’t working and how to fix it. I’ve heard it said that if someone tells you something isn’t working, they’re probably right, but if they tell you how to fix it, they’re probably wrong. That’s been my experience as well. Someone can show me the problem but none of the suggested solutions feel right, so figuring out how to fix it is completely up to me. Too often the fix eludes me, and the more I push at it, the more discouraged I become. That’s where I was with that 2021 manuscript––I knew it wasn’t working, but I was too in the weeds to be able to see what needed to change, and too stubborn to let it go. Eventually I had to, and in hindsight, I wish I’d done it sooner. Writing something new gave me the distance to see new possibilities.

Going forward, I need to trust in the process. Stepping away doesn’t mean I’m giving up. And it might be the best way not to.

I will probably never be the kind of writer that outlines an entire story scene by scene.

I’ve always been a plantser, splitting the difference between planner and a pantser, but I’ve also always seen myself as more of a planner. I’m a business consultant––I make project plans and work with my team to execute those plans, and we’re generally successful. So I know from decades of experience that planning works, as long as you’re open to surprises coming up and build a plan flexible enough to accommodate them. Why should my writing be any different?

The obvious answer is that writing is a creative pursuit, but I think it’s more that the writing is coming from my subconscious, and my subconscious is a free spirit that doesn’t work on a schedule and gets a bit contrarian when confronted with one. The part of my brain where the characters live isn’t the same part where my planning self lives.

The characters don’t care about my timeline, they need to experience the story to be able to make decisions about what they’ll do when confronted with each other and the resulting conflicts and situations. I can totally relate to that––of course I can, these characters are coming out of my brain and I don’t like to be hurried either! I need to put them into the situations to see what they’ll decide to do, and then go from there.

It’s okay that I don’t know the scene order, or all the events. I have my tent posts––plot points 1 and 2, the reversal, the dark night of the soul, and the final conflict––the rest will play out however it does, and I can fix it later.

I really can fix it later. So be less precious now.

I wrote previously about how I was being too precious with my drafting and it was slowing me down and even blocking me from writing new words. I need to allow my drafts to be as good or bad as they are because “workable” is all that matters. I really can fix it later, and I will keep saying it until it sinks in. If I want to write a lot of words this year, I need to accept that they won’t all be the right words, but writing the wrong words can help me find the right ones. For me, at least, there isn’t a better, faster, more efficient way to get there.

My mood matters.

The main character in this new manuscript has a very particular voice and way of looking at the world. She has an energy about her that younger-me relates to in a big way, though she says things I wasn’t bold enough to voice at that age. But current-me gets tired and out of sorts and loses that spunk, and that impacts how I write her. If my mood is wrong, the words that end up on the page are wrong too.

This doesn’t mean I have to wait to be in the right mood to write this manuscript. I just need to put rituals in place so that I’m in the right headspace when I sit down to write.

Everything is malleable.

Sometimes when I make a change to a story, especially something I’ve revised a number of times, it feels all wrong. I’ll re-read the scene and stumble at the place where I removed words, like I’m falling into a hole left behind in their absence. But often, the reason it feels wrong is because I’m used to the old way. Change is hard, even for someone like me who has had a lot of it and likes new things. So I need to write the change and then let it sit, and revisit it a few times until it feels comfortable. If I can make it better, I should. And if I can’t get used to the new way, I can try out the old way again––it’s a great way to find out the new way really is better.

Everything is malleable, no matter how old, or hastily written, or how badly I wanted to get it right the first time. I did not become a worse writer since I wrote that draft. I will always be capable of making a change or fixing a problem or writing a better scene next time. I don’t need to have a plan that I follow to spec; its a book not a house, though there are excellent house/book analogies that DO apply, such as having a good foundation. I need to trust in the process, and most of all, I need to trust myself.

This is what 2022 has taught me. As I’m going to be finishing this first draft, revising it, and hopefully going back to that 2021 manuscript as well, I’m sure there will be a lot of writing lessons to come for me in 2023.

What has your writing taught you?

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