I’m not sure how to open this post. I thought about playing the simile card and saying something about how becoming a better writer is a lot like becoming a better other thing – a better architect, a better juggler, a better OPI color namer, a better human. That would have been entirely true. And entirely boring.
I also considered manufacturing a conversation between a beginning writer and a seasoned writer that could foreshadow the post’s inevitable wisdom. I probably would have included an exchange like this:
Seasoned Writer: I’m told you want to know how I got to be me.
Beginning Writer: Yes. Tell me what to do, oh wise sage.
Seasoned Writer: Was that sarcasm?
Beginning Writer: Sarcasm? I’m not sure what you mean.
Seasoned Writer: Never mind. You want to know how to grow as a writer.
Beginning Writer: Yes, master.
Seasoned Writer: First of all, stop attributing wisdom to someone just because he’s older. Secondly, learn sarcasm. But most of all, read a lot and write a lot.
Beginning Writer: That’s it?
Seasoned Writer: Yup.
Beginning Writer: It’s that simple?
Seasoned Writer: Who said anything about it being simple? If it were simple, writers wouldn’t feel compelled to add one more thing to this list.
Beginning Writer: One more thing? There’s another thing to do? Tell me. I want to do it. What is it?
Seasoned Writer: Drink a lot.
But that sort of opening would have a 70 percent chance of inviting the eye-roll twins of obviousness and pretentiousness.
So instead, I’ll skip the meaningless drivel and get right to a list of things that answers the question posed by the post title. Here, then, is some meaningful drivel. I mean here are some clues that let you know you’re growing as a writer.
- You are finally beginning to understand why some of your writer-friends enter a meditative state of humble reverence whenever the name Marilynne Robinson is mentioned.
- You recognize your progression from careless adverb abuser to adamant adverb hater to champion of whatever word works best even if it’s an adverb.
- You remove the pins from the voodoo doll that bears a striking resemblance to your editor and start dressing it in only mildly embarrassing outfits borrowed from your daughter’s Barbie collection.
- You know when you’ve written a brilliant sentence and this knowledge brings a moment of pure pleasure that quickly morphs into something resembling abject terror.
- Your mother/husband/bff unintentionally reveals what she/he thought about all your previous writing when commenting with unchecked surprise about your newest work, “You wrote this? Really?”
- You’re reading fewer “how to write” books and blogs, not because you exhausted them all (you tried) but because you find that these days you’re learning more simply by reading great fiction.
- You thought about starting a writing blog because you want to help other fledgling authors but then scrapped the idea because you’d rather be writing your novel and, really, how much time is there in a day?
- You notice beginner mistakes in published works and, after a moment to decry the sorry state of traditional publishing, find yourself wondering if “smugness” is really so terrible a thing to feel after all.
- You embrace the revision process not because you read somewhere that you’re supposed to but because you know it’s necessary.
- You’ve gained ten pounds and can rightly blame five of those on the siren’s call of your laptop. (Feel free to blame the other five on the donuts.)
- You’ve traveled from “truly inspired by” through “totally depressed by” to “often challenged by” another author’s brilliant writing.
- You have a love/hate relationship with everything you write and welcome this as the necessary push and pull of critical thinking.
- You look back at your early writing and convulse in laughter.
- You look at your current writing and know that someday you’ll look back on it and not convulse in laughter so much as smile a knowing smile.
- You have no idea where your thesaurus went and you don’t care.
- You’ve stopped saying “I want to be a writer.”