Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Writing and Deliberate Practice

As we head into NaNoWriMo season, I find myself once again trying to figure out this writing as a possible career stuff. Frankly, while other things, as always, figure in, I just don't feel like I've gotten to be a good enough, steady enough writer to make a career right this moment. I can write decently. I can tell a good story. But I'm not a consistent writer, nor an outstanding one.

Unsurprisingly, the key to becoming a consistent, excellent writer is practice. Not just any practice, but dedicated, directed practice. Practice on things that I need to improve. Practice with feedback, so that I can tell what I need to improve. And lots of it.

And that's where things get a little tricky. Because quality feedback is hard to come by. Submitting stories and novels gets one sort of feedback, but generally until you clear the minimum bar of acceptability, you don't get feedback beyond "This isn't for us." You don't know if an editor liked your plot, but the characterization was wooden until the story is good enough to warrant more than a form letter rejection. For people (like me) who tend to think and write in novel-length plots, the rate of feedback to effort from just writing and submitting is huge, and not particularly helpful.

So, if I want to become the writer I think I can become, I need to figure out how to do a few things. I need to find ways to work on specific aspects of novel craft during daily writing - so that my daily writing becomes working for improvement, not just words flung onto computer screen. I need to find quality feedback for those same aspects of my writing, so that I have some measure for improvement. And I need to leap the Dunning-Kruger gap, and find ways to learn what it is I don't know about novel writing, so I can set about learning it. Right now, an awful lot of what I "know" about structure, pacing, and the technical scaffolding of a novel is subconscious - something gleaned by the immense amounts of reading I've done my whole life. It gives me a pretty good feel for when something is working right, but few ideas of what's going wrong when something isn't working, and even fewer ideas of how to fix it. That's all knowledge that needs to become conscious and explicit if I'm to become consistently better at this writing stuff.

I can crank out a B+ college paper pretty much as fast as I can lay the words down on the page, but that's not the skills I need now, nor the kind of writing I want to do. Time to set out and find what else I need to do.

Expect to see a lot of speculation, exploration of these things, particularly through NaNoWriMo, as I try to finish the re-boot of The Flayed Queen (discussion of that later), because by the time NaNo is over, I want to have some plan of action in place, so that I don't lapse into post-novel ennui. If you haven't run into NaNoWriMo, go look it up. It's a lot of fun, even if you don't want to become a writer forever.

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