Monday, January 31, 2011

The learning never stops

The bloggers' exchange continues! Today's guest post is by Becky Levine, who visited the blog previously to talk about revising from critique.  I always enjoy Becky's smart, sensible, inspiring posts about the "writing path," and her topic today is:

I’m Pretty Sure the Learning Never Stops
by Becky Levine

Years ago, I submitted some short stories to magazines. Redbook. Cosmopolitan. Good Housekeeping. In return, I received some very simple, standard rejection notes.

I was twelve.

Honestly, I don’t blame the editors.

One thing I know for sure is that I am a (much!) better writer today than I was all those decades ago. I am a better writer than I was one decade ago, five years ago, one year ago. I can list several reasons this fact is true.

• My critique group, all members of which are the height of awesomeness
• Writing books by people like James Scott Bell, Donald Maass & Les Edgerton, who all set off light-bulb moments in my brain
• Various workshops and conferences I’ve gone to, where I’ve learned scattered bits & pieces of the writing craft

But...reason number one that I believe I am a better writer than before is [...drum roll...] I have kept writing.

I know—obvious. Here’s the thing, though. Every time I work through a new stage of a book, or start one of those stages all over again on another project, I can see it happening. The things I learned earlier have stuck, and they’re with me as I write—reminding me, encouraging me, pushing me.

We talk a lot about the evil editor—the one who tells us we can’t do something: we can’t write an interesting setting; we can’t draw a believable antagonist; we can’t create strong dialogue. What we don’t hear as much about is the good editor, the one who sits on our other shoulder. That’s the editor who has stored all our experience, all our understanding, and is offering it to us on a beautiful, silver platter (with chocolate on the side) as we write. It’s this editor who tells us what we can do: we can start this scene further into the action; we can pull the point of view in closer to the hero; we can write dialogue funny enough to make our readers laugh out loud. In public.

This belief that, every day I write, I am adding to my ability—to my toolbox, as Jenn said in her guest post the other day—is one of the things that keeps me going. I may or may not be “good enough” today, but I have a chance to be that tomorrow. Or the next day. And even then, I’m guessing there’ll be plenty more to learn.

As long as I keep writing.

Becky Levine is the author of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, as well as a speaker & freelance editor. Becky writes fiction for children and teens and is currently working on a historical novel set in 1912 Chicago. She blogs at

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