Vision: A Resource for Writers

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Learning Curve

By Erin M. Hartshorn
Copyright 2009 by Erin M. Hartshorn, All Rights Reserved

I've been a member of Forward Motion for a bit over five years, and in that time I've learned from pros and from people who just signed on to the forum a month before. I've learned how to give and receive crits, learned that a rejection of my story is not a rejection of me, learned how to stretch myself in new directions, and learned that even I can't do everything.

Mostly what I've learned is how to listen. When I started at the site, I was the epitome of the brash young (or moderately young, anyway) writer who was sure her prose was the next best thing to perfect and the editors would rue the day they turned down the opportunity to publish her work. I even committed the solecism of telling a published author that she was wrong about how the publishing world works. (I was going to insert my callow comment here to demonstrate how much I've grown, but because of the cap on search results retrievable at FM, that post is currently lost to me, which may in fact be for the best. Who wants their idiocies haunting them forever?)

Yeah, I was that person.

Then I got some crits that made me want to throw things at the wall. "Didn't they read what I wrote?" After I calmed down, I looked at where the misunderstandings were and tried to address those issues. It wasn't easy; sometimes the advice I got was based on what people thought I was trying to do, which had no relation to what was actually supposed to be happening in the story.

Having realized I needed to improve, I looked around the forums to see if people were talking about the things I needed to learn. I started to read the advice that people were giving, and I practiced those techniques in my writing. And I got better. Still not good enough for publication most of the time, but better.

Some of that advice came in the 2YN (Two Year Novel) class. We were all learning together, but it was a great place to learn what wasn't clear to readers and why. And my classmates often had ideas about new things to try to clarify what I had written.

As time went on, I realized that not every technique I read about would work for me -- but that I should be willing to try new ones because only by stretching could I improve. If I heard the same thing from many trusted sources -- whether about my writing or the field in general -- I started to look at it more closely. (Trusted sources are important because there are a lot of PublishAmerica authors out there who say that's the way to go. Their numbers don't make them right.) I heard nuggets of wisdom from tyros and from people with over a dozen books to their credit, and I saw that I had to be open to learning from everyone.

Sometimes it takes me a while to put it all together. Last month, I had an epiphany about characterization. In retrospect, I realize editors, in their rejections, have been trying to tell me where my characters are lacking for a couple of years. It took two personal comments on different stories from the same editor to make me examine characterization and motivation and character arcs -- and then everything that I'd been hearing clicked together.

I had to be open to learning. I had to be humble enough to admit I need to improve even while being confident that what I have to say is worth reading.

I learned how to learn, all over again, and I am a better writer for it.