It took me three start-overs and at least twenty pass-throughs to finish my last blog (about voice) and it was only two pages long. Using that as a measure of success, my year of learning looks like a bust.
It wasn’t. I now think of “better” words (usually by the second draft), write “better” sentences (usually by the third draft) and my paragraphs are remarkably simpler and more effective than before (usually by the final draft); I use fewer words and say more.
I experienced writing a long adult book, experienced what a professional editor does for a writer, experienced the costs of a professional editor, and lived with the creation, revision, editing, and publishing of a single book for almost exactly a year. That’s no trivial accomplishment, but it sounds more impressive than it was at the time.
I read a lot of novels, a lot of how-to books, improved my craft, learned to hear dialogue from the readers’ perspective, and developed a significantly better personal process for writing novels. I learned how to stop thrashing.
Some major improvements were unexpected. Tempering my ego makes me write more effectively. I listen to experienced writers more. I produced enough words that I can now better judge the presence of voice in my work. I have a better feeling for plotting characters and how to make them endure through an entire novel.
I learned that I am, by nature, an iterative person and have to be patient with myself when I do more rewrites than I think real writers would do. Throw in tendencies toward perfectionism and it’s amazing that I ever finish anything.
Overall, I probably discovered what other writers already know, but, as with other parts of my life, it took the struggle to make it my own. Am I as good a writer as I’m going to be? No. But I’m as good as I can be now.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.