Good News! Writing Does Get Easier!

When Does Writing Get Easier? The 4 Steps to Mastery

Good News! Writing Does Get Easier!“When does writing get easier?” This is one of the most common questions writers have asked me throughout my career. The bad news is that, all these years, I’ve been giving the wrong answer. The good news is that the right answer is pretty fantastic.

In years past, when people asked me this question, I was as truthful as I knew how to be. I would look at my own struggles, my own doubts, and I would have to tell them:

Sorry, it doesn’t actually ever get any easier. Enjoy that first book, because it only gets harder from there.

Cue stunned silence and wall-eyed stares. (And me shrugging awkwardly and apologetically.)

But here’s the irony. Everybody who has ever asked me that question was asking the wrong person. I was struggling down in the trenches, trying to get my little brain around very big concepts, trying to wrangle the infinity of grand stories and themes into my very finite skill set.

I may have been a little farther down Beginner Road than some of the people who asked me this question, but I was still a Beginner. I didn’t understand story theory or structure. I could only fumble through explanations of what made certain stories work or not.

In short, I didn’t have a clue.

But in the years that have followed, I think I can say I’ve started to get a clue or two, and this year, those clues have culminated in a very interesting new mountain peak. Frankly, it’s a mountain peak I didn’t know existed. No one ever told me it existed (or, if they did, I laughed at the whole idea and promptly forgot about it).

But I’m here to encourage you that it does exist, and it’s name is: The Place Where Writing Gets Easier Because You Actually Get It.

The Myth of the Suffering Writer

Raise your hand if you love quotes about how hard writing is. Here’s one I posted myself a few months ago:

Writers, as a whole, embrace the difficulties of writing with good-natured and self-deprecating irony. We simply love it when it our fellow authors—especially established and acclaimed authors—talk about how hard writing is. It makes us feel better. If it’s hard for even Stephen King and William Faulkner, well, then, we must not be doing so badly ourselves.

  • The wordcraft is hard.
  • The storytelling is hard.
  • The “rules” are hard.
  • The sharing of our deepest selves is hard.

One of my favorite quotes has always been Ernest Hemingway’s:

We are all apprentices in a craft no one ever masters.

Talk about taking off the pressure! If even Papa never felt like he mastered writing, then certainly I don’t have to worry about it. If it’s hard, well then, that’s as it should be. Now, excuse me while I fortify my upper lip, make some more coffee, and go suffer for the next couple decades.

All of these feelings are absolutely, utterly, 100% true. There’s a reason you resonate so strongly with these declarations of difficulty, and that reason is that writing is hard—your writing, my writing, Papa’s writing.

But don’t for one minute believe this is the whole picture.

Just because you will never write a perfect story does not mean you will not consistently attain certain levels of mastery. Just because writing sometimes feels like running blind through a dark forest does not mean someday you the sun won’t rise and your eyes won’t open. Just because writing doesn’t make a lick of sense in the beginning doesn’t mean it won’t make sense in the end. And just because it’s hard as heartbreak right now doesn’t mean it will never get easier.

Writing is only ever hard for one reason: because you don’t yet know what you know.

The 4 Stages of Learning How to Write

An oft-quoted (and misquoted) Arabic proverb shares the following four levels of mastery:

Arabic Proverb

Each of these stages represents a corresponding level of difficulty and mastery. In the early stages, we encounter greater difficulty because we have less mastery. In the later stages, we are able to handle greater technical difficulties with greater ease because we have greater mastery.

In short, being a writer does get easier, not because the writing itself gets easier (it doesn’t), but because your capacity to manage the difficulties grows exponentially—if you’re willing to embrace the possibilities, endure the difficulties while they last, and reject the misconceptions that mastery is impossible.

Let’s take a look at each of the four stages.

Stage #1: You Don’t Know, and You Don’t Know That You Don’t Know

A few months ago, in a post about “The 7 Stages of Being a Writer,” I talked about how the first step many of us take as writers is mistakenly believing we’re “writing geniuses”—when, in all likelihood, we… weren’t. This overestimation of abilities (or sometimes not so much an overestimation as a complacency) also corresponds with first stage of knowledge: not knowing that you don’t know.

Comparatively, this is a pretty blissful stage. A lovely lack of objectivity about your work gives you rose-colored glasses. Your stories are marvelous. Your writing is sublime. Basically, you’re in love. You’ve just discovered writing, and it’s thoroughly amazing. You can’t imagine life without this powerful and endorphic high.

If you’ve already moved past this, it can be hard not to just roll your eyes at others who are still enjoying this delusionally delirious phase (which is probably symptomatic of the fact that you inwardly cringe whenever you remember your own naïvety in this stage).

This is actually a very important and extremely healthy phase. If your first experience as a writer was to be overwhelmed by the infinity of everything you don’t know about writing, you probably would never have written that first word.

Instead, you’re given the gift of early ignorance. You get to play, to have fun, to experiment—with absolutely zero pressure to be better than you are. That’s why writing that very first (awful) first draft is often one of the best writing experiences you’ll ever have. That’s why I used to tell people to enjoy that first draft, because once you start to know things, there’s no going back.

Stage #2: You Don’t Know, and You Know That You Don’t Know

Welcome to the Pit of Despair.

In the same way the Second Act is a place of confusion, cognitive dissonance, and great struggle for your protagonist, the middle two stages of writing mastery are the hardest. This is where you start really appreciating it when Hemingway says things like:

There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

At this stage, perhaps after receiving a critique of your writing, you begin to realize maybe you have a thing or two million to learn. At first, you take it in stride. But it can quickly become overwhelming. There’s just so much to learn about writing, and no matter how much you learn, you just never quite seem to be able to juggle it all.

It’s kind of like Barney Fife trying to teach the town drunk Otis Campbell how to stand at attention. Something is always sticking out in the wrong place.

But not to worry. The “suffering” in this stage is largely the result of your very good taste. Your conscious knowledge and your practiced skills aren’t quite up to snuff yet, but you know that. In an interview in the March 2017 Writer, Ruth Ozeki remembered:

Ruth Ozeki

Much of the self-flagellation we inflict on ourselves is the result of just this. We have a deep subconscious understanding of what a story should be, but we lack the conscious understanding to actually make it happen. This is the part where we feel like we’re running blind through the dark forest (whoops—smack!—ran into another tree we didn’t even know was there).

Ursula Le Guin explained:

Ursula Le Guin

This is easily the most difficult of all the writing stages, if only because it can be so difficult to judge your progress. Often, it seems you’re making no headway at all—which can lead you to believe this must be it. Writing is clearly an endlessly masochistic endeavor, and the best we can do is just reconcile ourselves to a lifetime of stumbling around in the woods and hoping we’ll occasionally catch a firefly.

It’s true some writers will never get past this stage, but you do not have to stop here.

Stage #3: You Know, But You Don’t Know That You Know

It isn’t enough to just write and hope you’ll get better (although you undoubtedly will). You must also be constantly studying to expand your understanding. Don’t settle for understanding your stories; seek the greater understanding of Story as a whole.

When you do this, new horizons begin to open before you. Slowly, almost magically, good things start to happen. You don’t know how, but your writing is actually starting to be pretty good. You write one good book, hold your breath for a bit, not daring to believe it could happen again so soon, but it does! Two good books in a row!

Your hard work in Stage #2 is starting to pay off. Your knowledge is growing, and you are slowly beginning to step into a mastery of your craft.

Still, things are rough. You’re experiencing a lot of doubt. Your story seems really good. You believe in it. Most of your readers like it. But… you don’t know it’s good. The most sensible explanation would seem to be you’re regressing to the unobjective delusions of Stage #1. Best not to be too optimistic. Better go look up some more writing quotes from your fellow miserables. Oh, wait, here’s some:

 

Writers Love Misery

Okay, enough wallowing.

You think you’ve reverted to an inability to be objective? Well, you have. But there’s a difference. Instead of being unable to recognize how bad your writing is, now you’re failing to recognize how good it’s becoming.

Your writing still isn’t perfect, by any means. Some of your doubts aren’t delusions at all, but rather signs of your growing story awareness. In fact, the greatest challenge of this stage is a refusal to trust the accuracy of your story senses.

All through Stage #2, you had it drilled into your brain that you didn’t know a thing, that you couldn’t trust your knowledge. Now, it’s time to start unlearning that. This isn’t, however, a conscious choice you make. Make it too soon, and you will revert to Stage #1’s determined ignorance. You will know you are entering this stage, as you feel your power growing (muahahahaha!) and tentatively begin to embrace it.

Stage #4: You Know, and You Know That You Know

Welcome to a brave new world.

This is that land most of us don’t even know exists when we start writing. It’s not a land where writing is easier. Not at all. It’s a land where writing is far more complex than we ever imagined. But it’s also a land where the juggling act of early questions and skills seems easy thanks to our new mastery.

Mastery is multi-faceted. It doesn’t mean you write perfect stories. It doesn’t mean words of fire and destiny spark from your fingertips to your keyboard every time you sit down.

What it does mean is that you have reached a place of harmony between your subconscious understanding of story and your conscious understanding. Now, when your imagination says, “This is what I want to do!,” your conscious brain confidently agrees, “And this is how we’re going to do it!”

You’re still walking through the forest, dodging trees. But not only has the sun risen over the horizon, you’ve also opened your eyes. The forest holds many surprises yet—many glens and streams you’ve never explored, many creatures you’ve never met. But like an experienced woodsman, you’re now confident in your ability to meet what comes.

You’re not suffering anymore. You’re centered. You’re at peace. The difficulties still come, but now they are challenges to be enjoyed because you no longer fear they may overwhelm your inadequate skill set. You’ve fought your battles, you’ve earned your laurels, you’ve come of age.

You were always a writer. Now you’re an author.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What do you currently find most difficult about writing? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. This reminds me of the graph illustrations of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is a concept I enjoy, as uncomfortable as it is to realize that confidence may be the the result if incompetence. The idea is exactly what you’ve explained here — that beginners are too incompetence to adequately judge their incompetence, and as a result have an inflated sense of their own skill. The most competent people slightly underestimate their skill, while those in the middle drastically underestimate their skill — you do reach a point in the curve where you have enough competence to know that you have some, but the trough is the middle.

    It’s very interesting, because I see it in real life all the time (in myself, of course!), and it corresponds perfectly with what you’ve written here. And it has some science to back it up. I find it encouraging, because even having the ability to criticize one’s work means having a level of competence to judge what is and isn’t good. Which means, you’re already better than you think. (One hopes!)

    I used to help teach beginning band students. One of the big challenges is helping kids learn to hear what sounds good and what sounds bad — otherwise they don’t know what they’re aiming for. There’s an enormous gap between being able to listen to a classical recording and understand (in part) why it sounds so good, and being able to play like that, but you can’t even start to close the gap until you learn to hear it. And, of course, as your playing skill improves, you also get better and better at listening, which results in further progress — a class virtuous circle. (I was never a great musician, but music education sure is excellent material for life lessons and analogies.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I like the illustration you’ve made about your band students needing to learn “what sounds good.” This is what so much of writing is about. I would argue we all have a certain instinctive understanding of what sounds good, simply because we know which stories we resonate with and which we don’t. But we have to harmonize this subconscious understanding with an explicit conscious understanding. Until we reach that point of harmony, our uneducated conscious brains can often talk us out of our own good story sense.

      • I VERY strongly agree with what you are saying. We have an innate sense of beauty, but it can and should be refined and educated (a little like our innate sense of morality). If it weren’t an innate response to something real (and even transcendent), it would hardly be worth doing to begin with!

        The music analogy works better than I realized — even the completely untrained ear can tell when something sounds pleasant or not. But it’s VERY difficult to hear and assess the sound coming out of your own instrument when you’ve only just learned how to hold your mouth, how to breathe correctly, where to put your fingers, etc., and when the whole process is physically a little uncomfortable. And my experience with writing is just the same. It’s a lot easier to rely on innate understanding when you’re hearing or reading someone else. When it’s your own playing or writing, all the technical issues can stand in the way. Which is not an argument against applying technical rules — it’s an argument for mastering technical rules so that technique happens more or less automatically. That’s when the real artistry begins. And that takes a great deal of practice and learning.

        But, writing does have the advantage of being able to go back and edit as many times as needed! So you don’t always have to think of everything all at the same time. 🙂

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yeah, it’s kinda like when I’m singing in the shower and think I sound *amazing*–even though whenever I hear anyone else through the door, I know objectively that they sound horrible. :p

          • Joe Long says:

            I sing driving down the highway, sometimes for hours, with the volume cranked to max

  2. Yes.

  3. Jason Hinz says:

    SO good! Thanks for putting a name to these different stages.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I like conscious iterations, as you can probably gather. 😉

    • Yeah, I remember writing things and thinking they were so awesome. Then I look back on them years later, and they’re not THAT impressive. In fact, sometimes I cringe like what you mentioned in the article.
      I do know my writing style has improved, though. Between practice, reading articles about writing, and having Pro Writing Aid point out my many flaws, my writing style is more refined than it was two or three years ago.
      I still have areas to improve on, though. I sometimes feel I don’t describe things well enough, such as setting. I also need to concentrate on actually mentioning the world-building I’ve done, so it’s in the story and not just my head.

  4. Love this article. Yep, those first stories/drafts I wrote were exactly what you describe–a euphoric high during which I was convinced I was a goddess of writing. I’m smack in stage 2 right now, and yes, it’s hard.
    So encouraging to read that there is more ahead than the place I am now.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Keep at it! The stage you’re in right now is one of the most crucial. It’s tough. Sometimes it’s bewildering. But it’s where all the best growth is happening.

  5. Ms. Albina says:

    K.M, You have great articles. Is there a good way to write about the palace grounds besides it being 14 square miles long?

    In one of your books do you have a palace in it and if so how many acres does it have?

    I am putting the palace grounds together. In the palace grounds has a castle or palace with maybe 30 rooms, swimming pools, cottages, a open field , statue of the mother goddess, long drive way to semi circle drive way, gardens, healing heaven and also places for classes and so on.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Many of my books have palaces, but I don’t generally worry about indicating the specific size.

      • Ms. Albina says:

        Thank you. The kingdom of the enchanted gardens is 14 square fields. Do you have any kingdoms in your books?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yes, my fantasy and medieval novels have kingdoms.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            Thank you what about how many miles it is?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Never figured it out.

          • Ms. Albina says:

            Okay, Can kingdoms or queendoms be small or large of human and mer-folk?

            I am writing my novella that I want to be published. Do novellas have to be 40,000 or less?

            What movie or fantasy book to you like to read that you get your inspiration from?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            It’s your book. You kingdoms can be whatever size you want them to be. 🙂

            Novellas are usually considered to be 17,500 to 39,999 words. Any higher than that is considered a novel.

            Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, and Lois McMaster-Bujold are some of my favorite fantasy authors.

  6. Skyline says:

    Objectively it never gets easier. However, and I have observed this in multiple occasions outside of writing too, it gets easier to invest more of yourself into something harder once you have made the initial contact and learned the most painful lessons.

    Let’s illustrate it with something I do for a living but has little to do with writing. My job is coding/programming. At first you write the most horrendous code and it takes you ages to do so while it only does very simple things. The basics are not deep within your memory and ready to be used. You still have to search for the tiniest commands and functions you use at least ten times a day as a senior developer.

    Then one day (mostly on a brand new project) you realize that you are doing things differently. Without even thinking you have your routines set up and don’t think about little formalities which you know so well, you forget how to explain it. (Try to explain to me how your foot moves while braking in a car! You can’t unless you imagine a situation and observe it, right?) That’s when it all becomes “easier”.

    Truth be told: my projects became really really complex and my job definitely didn’t get easier since I started. However it still FEELS easier to me. Why? Because now I get to do the fun stuff where you barely notice you are doing hard work.

    Same goes for writing. Once you got all those basics in you you can explore the actually fun parts. Conveying emotions to just the right nuance while not becoming cheesy is objectively much harder than following a three act structure or such, but it feels much easier, because it’s one of the things we actually write for. Following rules that you haven’t memorized yet is tedious. Knowing them and therefore knowing when breaking them is absolutely good (and necessary sometimes) is much easier.

    Long story short: While the tasks become harder, the more fun they are, the less we notice. That gives us a FEELING of easy work while we actually do much more. So far my experience.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s true. The basics are often the hardest part, even though, “objectively,” they’re the easiest part. You know you’ve reached a certain level of mastery when it takes you a minute to even remember the basics enough to explain them to someone else who’s starting out. :p

    • Joe Long says:

      I was going to write nearly the same thing. I code as well. Five years ago, when I was starting into my current programming language (Python) I had to look up nearly everything. Little came naturally. I was always questioning myself and sometimes anxious that I wouldn’t be able to complete the task.

      As time went on things came more naturally as the process became internalized. It isn’t necessarily easier – but now I can do so much more! I can sit down in a day and do what used to take ten times, but now I can do ten times as much.

      Fiction writing wise, I believe I’m on step 3. I realize I’m so much better than I was a few years ago, and give a fist pump every time my story gets a 10 rating – but don’t want to think yet that I’m really good at it. It does really touch me when K.M. throws a compliment my way.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Yeah, see, I never got past the basics of PHP. For me, coding was always incredibly hard. :p

        • Joe Long says:

          I started into a PHP tutorial recently and it all looked very familiar given that I already know SQL for databases and Python for programming.

          You can do a lot with some very simple Python. I start off with assumption that the language can do anything.

  7. Megan Brummer says:

    Wow I love this post. You’ve got just enough wallowing in there to be cathartic and then a good kick in the pants.

    I’m off to write now. *salute*

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The wallowing part was just the worm to get you to swallow the hook. 😉 Happy writing!

  8. Bam! What a post. Those last few lines especially drove it home.
    Even the look of this one is a bit different, a very clean style. I dig it.

    From now on, I’m referring to Hemingway as “Pop-Pop”

    “Just because writing sometimes feels like running blind through a dark forest does not mean someday you the sun won’t rise and your eyes won’t open.”
    Because, after all, The Sun Also Rises, amiright? 😉

    And I absolutely love that Thomas Mann quote. It’s both humbling and uplifting at the same time.

    Since I just watched Doctor Strange, I can’t help but think of his own journey from not knowing what he doesn’t know to, well, at least in some part, knowing what he knows. I’m glad your own attitude toward writing master and its difficulty has changed as I imagine mine will in due time.

  9. It does keep getting harder, that’s for sure. Remember when you first started writing and you could just…go. It was fun.

    Then years pass, and y0u write a lot more and you learn a lot more. Now instead of it being fun, you’re constantly trying to apply all of the things you’ve learned that you should do, while simultaneously trying to avoid all the the things you learned you shouldn’t do.

    But it is all worth it. Keep writing 🙂 Great post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think this is why some writers resent outlining. In the early days, when we didn’t have to restrain our writing in an effort to improve it, there was no need for patience or technique. It’s only once we realize how much our writing stinks that we’re willing to really buckle down and do the hard work!

  10. I actually find writing fairly easy, but that’s because I’m a fool, not because I’m good at it. 😉

    Really, though, I guess I just don’t consider writing to be as … as painful as other writers seem to. Maybe that’s because I’m such a newbie that I don’t even know what real writing is. I don’t know but I think I know … I was so sure I’d made it to I don’t know and I know I don’t know stage! *glares at self*

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Or maybe you’re just such a centered person that you’re willing to take the journey as it comes instead of being upset at yourself for not being farther along than you’re capable of being yet. 🙂

  11. You’re right about it getting harder. My naivety with my first book seems bliss. However, my obsession with not to repeat the mistakes of that book on my second one made writing a much more difficult task. Now the third book is in the works and OMG. This post has come at a most welcome time.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I don’t think there’s necessarily a consistent measuring rod for *when* writing starts to get easier for individual writers, but I will say that I wrote eight (and a half) books that were pretty much torture. :p

  12. M.L. Bull says:

    Thanks for this post! 🙂 I loved the analogy of the writing process and Barney Fife trying to teach Otis Campbell to stand at attention. Lol. As far as writing, it does get harder but I think it also can depend on the concept of a story. Some stories are easier to write than others and vice versa, but all of them take time.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The Andy Griffith Show has been steeped into my psyche since childhood. I think I could probably come up with an appropriate illustration from that show for just about anything. 😉

  13. Roberto says:

    Thank you, very interesting post. Obviously writing is not only craft, but art too. I think you are right in what you said, but I noticed a parallel with meditation: every step you take is important, and you don’t have to try to reach illumination. It will come working at your best day by day. So I think is writing: you’ll reach all the steps, but if you try to force your progress you’ll stop; it will come if you make your best. Every step is important, and it is good to be at the beginning too.
    I writed this because many writers, I too sometimes, think they are nothing, that their writing is bad. We try aways to be the best, only the best, and if we are not the best we are bad.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s a balance between being open to the experiences and working hard to be in the right place to receive them.

  14. This might be my favorite of all your articles to date…maybe because I just submitted my 4th MS to my publisher and it was the most difficult book I’ve written to date, as well as the most mentally draining work I’ve ever done. Thank you for this insight and perspective. Really great and invaluable stuff!!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Mentally draining is good. It’s like when your muscles are sore after working out–you’re growing new muscles. Now you just need to give yourself a little break while everything heals. 🙂

  15. A practical approach, Katie!
    I agree with Skyline—using writing code and medicine as comparisons—the fact that you become a “master,”, or specialist in your field, enable you to solve more complex scenarios and situations. But easier? Often not. Although, experience (and experience we gain from making poor decisions) enables one to “ride out a storm better,” with less or no “loss of life,” you still have to suffer through the tropical storm. (Perhaps that is part of the fun.) However, as you become wiser, you learn how to survive and eventually to flourish and continue growing.
    Yes, as far as the basics of writing go, such as plot and characterization and conflict, that gets easier, but to write strong, captivating and vulnerable prose, I’ll agree with “Papa” Hemingway—it demands some bleeding.
    So yes, many aspects of writing become easier, but to tell beginner writers “becoming a successful author is easy” can create false expectations.
    It’s a little bit like preparing to climb Mt. Everest and then eventually climb it, and get back down to tell about it, just to get back up again.
    It will remain a glorious mix of routine, excitement, expectation, perseverance, amazement, gratefulness and satisfaction.
    Thanks for the insights, Katie!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great thoughts. I like to say that you only gain experience by experiencing it.

  16. Saja bo storm says:

    I’ve progressed from not knowing to now knowing. As an avid reader, I often compare my writing with others to gauge how I can improve on my craft. When I read something I’ve written from years ago, I always recognize things I could have improved upon. The more I read and write, the more my writing improves. I love that we have the power to use 26 letters and create our own personal pieces of art. Thank you for providing much needed clarity for all writers, those who don’t know that they don’t know etcetera. Ignorance is definitely not very blissful.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Being able to identify how you could have written previous stories in a better way is a sure sign of growth! I look back on stories that outright flopped and realize that if I knew then what I know now, I could have saved them.

  17. J.M Barlow says:

    I find this at work all the time, in carpentry. There’s people on the crew who suck but don’t know it, so they pump their own tires, which is annoying. There’s people suck and know it and ask questions, which is good. There’s people who ask questions but don’t actually need to, and just need some damn confidence (me), and there is the people teaching us all. Then, there are the people who think they should be teaching, but they’re actually wrong (old school salts) and ignorant and won’t get with the new and improved program – and they’ve gone around to Step 1.

    As for writing, I’m not really sure which stage I’m at. I wish I knew someone in my community who could analyze the way I work and tell me, hands on. Part of the problem is I don’t really assemble anything because I either know it’s bad, or I don’t know it’s good. So I kind of keep planning and world-building… I also have a hard time picking a project sometimes… I’m back on my graphic novel, which I didn’t want to step away from (partner isn’t doing anything… if he doesn’t soon he’s getting the boot and I’m doing it all myself).

    Katie, do you have any tips on self-evaluation? Do you think I’m at the stage to just push something out there for people to critique? Knowledge is so arbitrary.

    • J.M Barlow says:

      And actually, I might add that this applies to my artwork as well, which is part of the graphic novel. I’m somewhere in between knowing that I don’t know and not knowing that I do know… or something.

      Artwork is more visual though, at least.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I tend to think constructive criticism is a vital part of improving as a writer, simply because it’s so hard for writers to be objective about their own stuff. However, you’re right to realize that just because someone is able to give you advice doesn’t mean it’s *good* advice.

      Still, every person’s reaction to a story–whether they know how to fix its problems or not–is legit, since it’s rooted in an authentic *emotional* reaction. The trick is learning to harmonize the emotional reactions (and the logical advice) of your beta readers with your own emotional reactions.

      For example, my rule of thumb in accepting suggestions is that “two people have to agree.” One of those people can be me: if I immediately resonate with what the critiquer is saying, of course, I know they’re right and will make changes. However, even if I don’t immediately agree with a comment, if I hear that same comment from a second reader, I know I need to take another look.

  18. Thanks for this Katie; it’s really encouraging. I was actually surprised (and pleased 😛 ) to find myself in the third category. I guess I’ve come farther than I thought. 😉

  19. Couldn’t agree more with this!! The only problem is when writers in Stage 1 hit “publish” when they shouldn’t. They use that “I’ve read a ton of novels so that means I can write one” excuse and then they don’t hire an editor or do due diligence on the work because they think they know what they’re doing.

    I’m saying this because I almost made that mistake. I was working with a writing coach in 2008 who insisted I start my own publishing house and publish my own books, and meanwhile I had no idea I didn’t know how to write a novel, because I believed since I’d read so many I knew what I was doing.

    Thankfully I did hire an editor and when I got her feedback and tried to revise I discovered that I didn’t know what I was doing and finally went and learned craft.

    From my experience, I came up with three stages for the novel-writing journey:

    Stage 1: The Oblivious Dream— you have no clue what you’re doing and you don’t know and you don’t care.

    Stage 2: The Back-Track— now that you are finally aware that you don’t have a clue, you can back-track and learn what you should have learned from day 1.

    Stage 3: Now We’re Getting Somewhere–this is when you’ve learned enough craft and practiced enough to actually be able to implement on your own story and have it work.

    Very similar to what you’ve outlined. It’s good to know that I’m not alone in my journey to where I am today 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Excellent stuff! Isn’t it awesome how the same patterns are recognizable by different names throughout life–just like in fiction! 😀

  20. I loved the forest imagery–it will help me remember these lessons better.
    Can I say I’m in Stage 2 with the experience to see it, having been all the way to Stage 4 as a writing teacher for a decade in another life?
    Another kind of writing. It’s been 40 years this summer since starting to write my first novel; all the euphoria of pre-adolescence to drive the bliss.
    But English-majoring crushed my creative writing, and post-grad school real world stuff led to an outright hiatus.
    I found NaNo and feel like a little kid again! Where fiction-writing is concerned, I’m right at home with these shining-eyed younger folk, ready to hunker down and actually dissect this business. If only we’d had all this online writing community support when I was younger.
    I guess it’s okay; had more time for other adventures.
    Thanks for the cautionary advice encouragements.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Very interesting. I’ve been mulling on what the *next* stage might look like, and I think this is it: the same cycle all over again in a new area, but, as you say, with the patience and foresight of past experiences.

  21. Ms. Albina says:

    K.M, Do you put a size or how big kingdoms or queendoms are? Like the size of an island or not or a realm let say.

    Writing or queendoms or kingdoms is hard work besides putting stuff where you would like to put it and if it fits that curtain place.

    I mean for fairies or Mer-folk.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Nope, it just depends on the needs of the story.

      • Ms. Albina says:

        Okay, thank you I will call it a realm which means kingdom. I also have in my novella that I am writing about Leilani, Undina’s mother had a vision that she saw her daughter Undina becoming evil by the evil sea deity so she can her daughter to the people at a village. She does cry in the scene as in crying tears but she gives her daughter and a letter and a pearl/seashell to communicate with if Undina wants to talk to her mom.

        • Ms. Albina says:

          K.M. Next week is my birthday also so I hope my novella book gets published this summer.

          I did watch the Flash but the future barry being Savitar is weird.

          Can you recommend any good fantasy books with mermaids I would like to read?

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Happy birthday! I don’t know that I’ve ever read a mermaid book, so I’m afraid I’m not much help there.

  22. Joe Long says:

    Also – I read others when I have the time which includes keeping up with three serials. When I read I find myself analyzing the style and manner in which the story was written. I see the author’s voice and how all those things differ from my own.

    Comparing my writing to others, I know where I’m strong and weak. Some can write inner thoughts and turmoil in a compelling way but I struggle not to be overwrite and be melodramatic. So often I avoid trying, finding other ways to express the events. I then tend to be heavy on dialogue, but I don’t have 5000 word conversations. I also won’t hold the reader’s hand. The bread crumbs are dropped and I move on.

    In all these things and others, I’ve found my voice. It’s my style of writing and so far I think it works. (I could also use a good beta reader to give me an honest independent appraisal)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I love being able to look under the hood of other authors’ stories. I know some authors find it counter-productive to an enjoyable reading or movie-watching experience. But for me, it just enhances a good story. A bad story was gonna be bad anyway, so I might as well learn something useful about *why* it was bad. :p

      • Joe Long says:

        In addition to that, I study how others write things that I may struggle with. I’m still not comfortable expressing the first person narrator’s thoughts, but I’ve learned to limit my “telling” to what the narrator senses and thinks in “real time” as opposed to dumping past events (backstory) on the reader, which I can save for dialogue without someone not named Bob.

      • Joe Long says:

        Last season’s ending of “Arrow” was so bad. Again the city was threatened with destruction, and the stakes were raised to national or even global level. The heroes pulled victories out of their behinds.

        This year they’ve again had a season long villain, but this antagonist is deeper and the conflict has become much more personal. It’s forced Oliver Queen to look inwards. The writers have done a very good job of examining the characterizations and motivations of all of Team Arrow. Much better drama.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yeah, I kinda gave up on Arrow after the second season. But I’m very much enjoying The Flash.

          • Joe Long says:

            But I was using that as an example of my point that now I’m equipped to analyze why a story does or doesn’t work.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            So you’re saying I should force myself to watch Arrow? :p

          • Joe Long says:

            Not necessarily, but this year has been an improvement (for the reasons I stated above!)

            I even jotted down some quotes that highlight the theme

            “The people closest to you will pay for your sins. You are paying for your father’s. Who will pay for yours?”

            “Stop living for your father and start living for yourself.”

            “You need to live your own life.”

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Arrow definitely has its good parts (namely, Felicity and Dig). I guess I mostly gave up on it just because Oliver drove me nuts. :p

  23. Great post! Also, my brother and I are lying in my bed laughing hysterically because of the Andy Griffith clip–great way to start our morning!

  24. CATaylor says:

    Personally I don’t find the writing hard – I find the part about what to do with it once it written ‘damn near impossible’. I write in several genres, and I have done so for most of my 62 years – but to date – I have yet been able to let go and ‘actually’ publish them. Several have won awards in small (and not so small) writing groups, sites and courses, but to get them onto Amazon – I just freeze up and can’t seem to ‘let them fly’. This is currently where my struggle is at. Hopefully I wont be stuck here much longer. I KNOW all (or at least MOST) of the steps to publishing on Kindle – have my own Kindle account etc. but still not a published book in sight. I have studied under some really GREAT writers, and have paid $$$ BIG Money for courses and still – not a published book in sight. and I have about 15 of them – that I KNOW are 100% ready to be published!!!
    I guess what I am asking is – How do I get out of this rut?
    BTW I have completed several published works for other people and corporations in the Fiction, Non-Fiction and Instructional fields…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think the answer to this is basically the same as that for writer’s block.

      The good news is there is *always* a solution because there is always a *reason* for the block.

      In my experience, writer’s block is usually caused by one of two things. Either it’s personal, or it has something to do with the story itself.

      It sounds as if you’ve eliminated the possibility of any logical story reason holding you back–which would seem to indicate it’s something more personal, fear perhaps. The answer might be just to pull the trigger and make yourself publish. But I’d take a long hard look at figuring out the true motive behind your reluctance.

  25. Garrett says:

    Truth be told, writing is like any other career path with its ups and downs and constant learning. If you look at professional athletes and read their biographies, they struggle with the same inadequacies of themselves; their own inner voice of doubt at their skills and abilities. Like any profession, the harder you work and apply yourself, the more you learn, the better you become. This all seems obvious, but when you’re in the ‘trenches’ it’s hard to be objective! I really enjoyed this post K.M. It’s not very often we get encouragement in this field of work and it’s important to hear 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I agree. We see the same patterns over and over again in so many areas of life. It brings great validation to the worthwhileness of keeping at our goals.

  26. Damien Absher says:

    Very good article. I’ve learned a lot by reading your blogs. I think I’m in stage 2 but my wife insists that I’m on stage 3. I’ve submitted a short short story to a competition, too bad I won’t know the results until October. My editor liked it. Most of the people who read my work like it. I’ve only received one really negative comment on writing. Thank you for your advice on outlining, characters arches and tips on do’s and don’ts. I’ve not red all of your articles but I’ve def read enough to have learned a thing or two.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      At the end of the day, which “stage” you’re in is really just academic. The practicalities are the same no matter what: just keep writing. 🙂

  27. Dave Ryan says:

    Another very enlightening and high-quality post that doesn’t pull punches. I feel so lucky to have found your blog a year ago to make my journey just a little wiser! Thank you for what you do!

  28. Max Woldhek says:

    I’d say I’m firmly in stage 2 at the moment. I’ve written two books now (just got done with the second draft of the second book), and there’s an ever-increasing list of things I realize I need to get better at. It does help, I’ve found, when stressing over How The Heck Am I Supposed To Learn All This, to remind oneself of the progress one has made, of the accomplishments even the Goblin of Discouragement, nasty little blighter that he is, can’t make you forget. I know now that I can write first drafts, stories of almost a hundred thousand words, and then rewrite them, sometimes drastically so (the second draft of my second book shares maybe 10.000 words with the first draft – everything else was written from scratch).

    When I look back to September 2015, when I first sat down to begin the first draft of my first book, knowing nothing of outlining, structuring or character development, I can say to myself, “damn, I’ve learned a lot.” And not even that blasted goblin can take that away from me.

    Ps. I suppose a literal answer to the question would be: when you’ve written enough.
    No, really. When writing the second draft of my second book, I suddenly realized I’d gotten much faster at typing. 😛

  29. I would say I am at Stage 2, I definitely know I still have a lot to learn and these posts certainly help! I always used to get what seemed like a really great idea and dive in only to end up hitting a wall and giving up on the story. Now I have another idea but this time I’m outlining it. Still in the ‘what if’ ing stage as I call it. I think I’m driving my husband crazy, or he thinks I’ve gone crazy, when I spend a lot of time wandering around muttering to myself.

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