Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Writing Levels

A couple of months ago, I posted a throwaway comment on Twitter:

I've been thinking about that comment a lot since I posted it, though, and talked about it with my "writing buddy." (Writing buddies are an informal pairing within my writing group. We're supposed to help keep the other person on track and check in. We don't, really, so it's something of a running gag to ask if we've checked in with our writing buddies, or if our writing buddy helped with a recent slump, or whatever. Yes, we all happen to be sarcastic. Maybe it's a writer thing?)

Anyway, I've realized since then that, though we wouldn't know how to go about quantifying such a thing, all of us in the writing group are on different levels in our writing. You can't quantify writing levels, because it's as nebulous as defining good writing or bad movies. For some, level one is where they pour ideas out onto a page, full speed ahead. For others, level one is finishing a short story. My posts are targeted to early-level writers who are just starting out, because that's when I wish I'd had the most guidance.

I won't say who in our writing group is on a higher level than who, because I'd probably be wrong. I wouldn't put myself at the highest level, because I'm not. We've all progressed since joining the group (at least, if the critique pieces are any indication), but some have progressed faster than others.

Leveling up one's writing is an ongoing process. You never stop learning and leveling up, and lessons come from all over. You might read a book about writing, or read a book that uses a technique you think you can integrate, or you might notice something about another writer that bothers you that you don't want to emulate. Wherever it comes from, it will make your job harder. You'll find yourself thinking about the words more deliberately, at least until you integrate the new skill. But to integrate, first you need to practice, and use it, and find how to make it work.

I can't tell you what your process will look like, though. Writing is not like a video game. There is no set, pre-programmed path where you build up XP and automatically gain points to spend on your writing skills. Nor is there a trophy at the end. If you're published, there will be other writers on the bestseller list. If you're on the bestseller list, someone else will be higher. If you're number one, someone else will have been at the top longer. If you break the record at the top, you'll still never be as successful as Stephen King. (My husband wondered, as I shared this post with him, who Stephen King compares himself to.)

Lest this post seem too useless, there is one thing you can take away from all this blathering about levels, and that's how you find a useful person who can critique your writing. Yeah, it's useful to have a writing group who can help you, but, if they're anything like mine, they're busy writing their own stuff and can't critique your entire novel, line-by-line. What is useful is to find someone near your level, perhaps a level higher, and ask that person if he or she will look over your stuff to give useful feedback. Obviously, it has to be someone you can trust, and who can be gentle or rough enough for your needs. And you can't hate that person's writing, because it's only fair you return the favor.

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