• Writing is an ever-learning process.
• Even masters have masters. We’re in this for the long haul, so sit back and be ready to always be learning and mastering new skills.
• Enjoy the journey by making the choice to.
Finishing the first draft of a novel was a monumental event. I had made a lot of false starts before but never got this far. I shared the news with some friends and happily whooped and applauded my efforts. It felt great, like I was really on the way to fulfilling my dream of becoming a successful author.
Then I started sharing the book with others. Turns out, my first draft needed some work. Scratch that, it needed A LOT of work. Some people were kind with their criticisms; others were blunt (my thick skin was hardly developed then). Writing the book hadn’t been the end. It was just the beginning.
So began the process of ever-learning. Each time I succeeded in a goal, there was more to learn. When I finished up my initial revising I learned about the importance of beta readers. When they came back telling me I had to fix my romance, I had to learn how to write better romance. Then I had to revise more and submit it to more readers. I had to learn how to get and work with an editor. Then I had the odd idea that it’d be fun to hire an artist to help worldbuild my novel and set it apart. That was a learning experience. When I started querying, I realized that was a whole separate world and I’ve been stumbling my way through it ever since. Then there’s social media, marketing, blogging, podcasts, contests, outreach, book signings, and everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink many of which I haven’t even reached yet.
The point is, at each new junction in my writing, I’ve realized there’s a million more things to learn. This can be utterly depressing, or it can be motivating.
The Principle of Ever-Learning Even masters have masters
I learned this principle from the book Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams (it’s worth several reads for quick/great life advice). The book is about how Zen fits in with martial arts, both of which I’ve been interested in since I was a child. The chapter, entitled “Even Masters Have Masters,” showcases a bunch of martial art masters, including Bruce Lee, who still looked up to their teachers and felt they had a long way to go to become like them. Their admiration wasn’t some sort of diminishing returns where the students are always less than the teachers until we get to a poor set of masters. It’s about respect and knowing how much there is to learn in any field. The same is applicable in sports. Michael Phelps has personal trainers and coaches. LeBron James reportedly spends $2 million dollars a year for his training, which includes everything from physical trainers, to chefs, to sleep science, and everything in between. Doctors and many professionals have continuing education classes because of how much there is to learn.
What professional athletes, martial artists, and professionals know is that we are constantly learning, and constantly need to practice and strengthen our skills. The same applies to us as writers. The first time I heard about a professional author going to a conference to learn to write better, I chuckled. I pridefully thought, “Surely, he must already know everything.” The joke was me on. Even though this writer is so much more advanced than I am, he knew he still had much to learn and improve on. And that’ll make him a much better writer in the long term, just as it’ll make me a better writer if I adopt the same mindset.
Embracing the Journey Finding joy on the path
It can be depressing to realize how much more we have to learn to become professional authors. But we can choose to find joy in the journey as we go along. How? Primarily it’s a choice, one we need to make over and over. Instead of focusing on the end result, whatever we want that to be, we can firmly fix our view on what we need to learn now, whether it’s how to query, how to write better action scene, or just how to finish a book. The nice thing here is that we have infinite progressive potential in bettering ourselves. That doesn’t mean we’re going to become super god-like authors, but it does mean we can always improve as long as we’re willing to.
It’s something I learned elsewhere (500-50-5), that focusing on the end-goal rather than the process can sometimes be damaging. But it can be useful to look back at what we’ve learned and how far we’ve come. I’m amazed at how hard I thought writing a first draft was. Now, I can do them fairly quickly without too much trouble. I’m still amazed at how difficult revisions can be. In the future, I hope to make this process much easier. It’ll still be difficult (even Brandon Sanderson still hates revising), but I’ll be much stronger and have a better time with it.
The same is true with all my writing. I’ll never be “done” learning any aspect of it. There’ll always be room to improve everything from how I do my first drafts, to how I write love scenes, etc.
So what about you? Does the weight of how much there is to learn bear down on you like it does on me at times? What have you done to help alleviate the stress of having to know everything before making it? Who do you look up as being a master in their field, and what masters do they have?