Meghan Von Bergen had a splendid article today about how long it takes to become a good writer. She writes:
“The truth is, becoming a better writer is not something that happens overnight. We expect it to, deluded by a society which offers 10-week fitness plans and pizza on delivery into thinking that the things we want should come quickly and easily. But learning a new skill is not that easy.
For me, becoming a good writer took years. Indeed, I am still becoming a better writer…”
And, paradoxically, I think those of us who feel we are good writers probably have the most to learn, while those who admit we’re still learning are probably better than most. At least, we know our weaknesses and are on the lookout to fix them…which is half the battle.
Ms. Von Bergen, as a teacher, has to give writers the “bad news” on a regular basis, telling students through their grades that they still have work to do before they’ve “arrived.”
And, as I’ve mentioned before, I think most writers need this kind of help, even more than students. We can get so caught up in the story and the beauty of it, as we see it, that we don’t always realize the reality is very different than what we see in our heads. What we think we’ve written, and what others read, can be two very different things, and we need someone to bring us back to the reality of the letters on the page instead of our glorious, artistic vision.
It’s one of the things that seems to set traditionally published books apart from most of the indie, self-published and even hybrid-published books I’ve encountered. With a more sizeable publisher and the process of traditional publishing, a writer seems to encounter more people who don’t care about his or her book and the artistry behind it. And this is a good thing.
When you have to submit your work to “gatekeepers” like agents and editors, you encounter people who care about their business, their jobs, and maybe even their paychecks, more than your art. They’ll probably have the courage (or lack of heart, depending on your point of view) to set aside our feelings and tells us the hard truth.
And we need someone who gives us the “bad grades,” whether it comes from agents, beta readers, editors, or book reviewers.
But we need more than just the bad grade. We need to listen to it–to take it in and process whatever validity there may be in that response to our work. Sure, we may be “ahead of our times;” we might be sensitive souls whose works of genius can’t be appreciated by our peers–or we may have written something that truly isn’t that good yet.
All art is like this. If we only care about our own point of view, it isn’t art. It might be “private reflection,” or a hobby, but as soon as we say something is art, we’re saying that it does something for or to others. Painters, sculptors, actors, musicians…all artists want someone else to enjoy our work, to learn from it or be inspired or horrified. To react…and to listen. But if we want “others” to listen to us, we need to listen to them.
We may have the makings of a masterpiece, but if we think we’re done, we might give up on a great deal of beautiful potential. We might settle for an early draft instead of pressing on to something that becomes a classic. It isn’t easy, working on your craft when it seems to go nowhere, but as Ms. Von Bergen said in her post, “Don’t give up. Learning to write may be a long process, but it is so very worth it. ”
Copyright 2015 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by Nosha, Creative Commons