Dangerous as it sounds, sometimes I feel as if I’ve been through it all as a writer.
I say “dangerous” because such a feeling is the surest way to stop learning and reach a plateau. Which is to say it’s the surest way to death as a writer.
When we reach a plateau, a flattening-out of the attempt to keep learning, little things we’ve learned but haven’t yet tried tend to sift down through the holes and cracks in our knowledge. Without having practiced them, we forget them and have to be reminded.
That’s the biggest reason to keep learning and to keep practicing, by which I mean keep putting new words on the page and releasing new stories to the world.
When we stop learning or re-learning and reach that plateau, that’s when we’re most susceptible to doing other things we find pleasurable. It’s the easiest time to stop writing.
Usually the stoppage first manifests as a waning of interest. After all, we’ve learned and applied everything we believe possible. The writing becomes boring so that it also becomes easier and easier to set aside.
In fiction writing, there’s an old saw: When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun. (Raymond Chandler)
There ought to be another one: When boredom starts to creep in, when every story feels like the previous one, learn something new.
Fortunately, having “been through it all” as a writer includes having been across a plateau and down the other side. It means having been through feeling my stories are flagging and finding a way to dress them up.
In every case, dressing-up my stories means finding something I’ve never applied or haven’t applied in awhile and applying it.
And that means continuing to learn and practice.
I learn by reading or listening to almost anything: Raymond Chandler (or other writers’) quotes; other novels and short stories in the genres that interest me; notes from lecturs and workshops I’ve taken in the past; other professional writers’ blogs; or taking notes as I listen to new lectures or workshops, and so on.
I practice by showing up (almost) every day, sitting at my writing desk, putting my fingers on the keyboard, and writing the first (or next) sentence.
And that’s what it all boils down to if you want to avoid death as a writer. Either the death that manifests as wandering across an endless plateau or the one that manifests as abandoning writing altogether:
1. You must continue to learn.
2. You must continue to practice.
And on that note, yet another quote from Raymond Chandler:
“Shakespeare would have done well in any generation because he would have refused to die in a corner; … If some people called some his work cheap (which some of it was), he wouldn’t have cared a rap, because he would know that without some vulgarity there is no complete man. He would have hated refinement, as such, because it is always a withdrawal, and he was too tough to shrink from anything.” ― Raymond Chandler, Raymond Chandler Speaking
And one more:
“That’s the difference between a champ and a knife thrower. The champ may have lost his stuff temporarily or permanently, he can’t be sure. But when he can no longer throw the high hard one, he throws his heart instead. He throws something. He doesn’t just walk off the mound and weep.” ― Raymond Chandler, The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Nonfiction 1909-1959
To help you continue learning, I humbly submit a recommendation to check out my Daily Journal, where I share the ins and outs of living the writerly life, including valuable links in the “Of Interest” section. To view and possibly subscribe to that free blog, visit http://hestanbrough.com.
‘Til next time, happy writing!
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