Writing is a weird thing to do. When you’re writing, you never feel like you’re getting the point across. Your words are clumsy and this grand idea you had in your head seems incommunicable. Though, you find weird moments where someone reads something you’ve written and it resonates with them. There isn’t a list of steps for how to grow as a writer. But there are some experiences you’ll definitely have.
Forgive me this brief descent into the non-concrete advice. (She said, as if she ever gave concrete advice in the first place.) I would gladly give you a post that listed all the things you already know about becoming a better writer. But you probably don’t need any reminders to read more books or to write often.
And honestly, sometimes you don’t have the mental capacity to do those things. So, this post will talk about the other stuff you can do.
There is No Formula for Creative Writing
What works for one writer won’t work for you. Or maybe it will. Or maybe it will only work for a little while. That’s why there’s no one path for how to grow as a writer.
The writer you are today is probably not the writer you were last month. Sure, you may be working on the same project, but there have been imperceptible shifts in you.
They start small. It’s little choices you make as you work. It’s the way you approach one character. Sometimes, there’s just a mindset shift around how you’re doing your work that shifts everything else.
I can’t really explain it. No one can.
But creative writing is a series of choices you make in your work and around how you work. Both matter. And when it comes to how to grow as a writer, the choices you make around how you work are the game changers.
There is no formula for creative writing simply because what one story requires of you, another will not. The energy you need to complete one project will change for another. What works today won’t work tomorrow.
And your mental state will always require different things on different days.
So don’t look for formulas. Instead, focus on the tools you need.
A Fool-Proof Creative Writing Tool
I could list a million tools here. But what you need will depend on where you’re at. So instead of making a cute little listicle of things you can do to improve, I’m going to share a few things that will help you on the long haul of being a writer.
- Self-Compassion, for when you hate what you’ve written and worry you’re never getting enough done.
- A growth mindset, for when you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing and will never be good enough to do it. (I have this post on developing a growth mindset as a writer, in case you need it.)
- Grace, for your past self because what you used to think was super good is clearly not that great anymore, but you shouldn’t feel shame for being proud of it then.
- Blinders, for when you see what others are doing and worry you’re too far behind.
- Quiet, for when other writers try to be helpful, but give you too much information for you to work with it.
- Alone time, for making deep work a priority in expansive ways.
Take what you need. If it stops serving you, come back and grab something new.
Most importantly, I would encourage you to find space. Whatever it means to you is fine. To me, it means the space to create, to think, to wiggle when I need wiggle room. It’s literal and metaphorical, and it’s the only place I can find quiet between Zoom calls and incessant text messages. It’s probably what you crave most too, if you let yourself think on it long enough.
But How Does One Make Space?
This is a great question. You have to fight for it.
You may find yourself changing your whole schedule to give yourself some quiet alone time. I’ve heard of writers setting up their laptops in their closets at 4 AM so they could write alone before their kids woke up.
Sometimes I uninstall the text messaging app on my phone so I can’t see it. Even without badge notifications on the app, I still find myself mindlessly checking it. So, uninstalling is a great way for me to get away from it while also being able to use my phone to listen to music.
Finding space can be as simple as taking a look at your to do list and moving things around to make space for the thing you really care about — writing.
There is no right answer here. Do what works for you.
How to Grow as a Writer
Okay. Now it’s time for the list. But trust me. I won’t make this the sort of list that makes you roll your eyes. There will be no “study the greats” advice on my how to grow as a writer advice list.
001: Start with a growth mindset about every project.
When you start a new project, you’re a baby writer all over again. You’re new here. You have no idea what’s going on.
Sure, you know how to write. But the new stages of a project are overwhelming. So remind yourself that you can grow to learn what this project needs.
002: Make space.
Give yourself the gift of time and quiet. Let yourself have space to think about the ideas for your projects without sharing them with someone else.
Writing friends and writing groups can be attractive, but you don’t always need them at first. Let your ideas breathe. They get to be yours and yours alone for as long as you let them.
003: Let the project take the time it needs to take.
Writing a book in a month sounds so attractive. Some books will go that quickly. Others will not.
Let the project set the tempo. Sure, it may not seem like the wild productivity you crave, but that just means you get to savor the project.
How Have I Grown as a Writer?
I wish I could say that I always give myself grace or that I’m great at self-compassion. Sometimes I am. Mostly, I’m not.
I do think that growing as a writer is a constant evolution, one that I’m allowing myself to experience.
There are things I no longer do. There are things I still do.
The big difference now is that I give myself some distance from advice, people, and trends. I let my own brain decide what I like. I work through my thoughts before coming to others.
I take my space firmly and hold on, and I let myself expand into it to do the work I want to do.