To Get Better, First Write Badly: A Brief Retrospective of My Last Eight Years

I sat down today and looked at my writing projects from the time I started to write seriously (Grade 10) till present day (a period of about eight years.) I’d like to share some of the things I discovered about my writing progress with you all.

– I finished eighteen short stories in those eight years. I’m being charitable to myself when I say I finished these stories. In reality they’re mostly first draft efforts, with the odd story that I took the time to revise into a second draft. Its fairly clear from my progression that I’ve gotten a much stronger handle on plot, character, and setting. I was surprised at how much ambition I showed in those early stories, though I lacked the foresight and skills to revise my work.

– I mostly wrote those stories for myself. I was trying to figure out who I was a writer; imitating various authors, trying different narrative styles, and playing with language. These days I’m more focused in my goals. I’ve been setting deadlines for myself, and started submitting my short stories to markets. Compared to my previous efforts, these stories are getting finished faster and I’m learning more from each one.

– I’ve racked up close to 600 pages in free form journal writing. Writing a journal didn’t directly help my fiction writing but it did get me used to the act of writing on a daily basis. In retrospect, it was an invaluable habit for me to develop.

– A lot of my fiction writing was tied up in collaborative storytelling on online forums. An forum story role play (RP for short), for those not familiar with the concept, is basically a shared world story created and written about by a small group of writers in a fairly standard phpBB forum.  I must’ve written reams of fiction in those days, although most of it is now erased from the Internet.  Looking back on it now, forum storytelling was my first real exposure to longer form story with multiple characters and subplots.

Reflecting on progress is helpful, I think, because in the day to day process of writing we don’t perceive those imperceptible leaps in skill where the broken elements fix themselves and the story stands on its own.

In the end, I wrote a lot of fiction in those eight years, most of it bad. But from each story I finished I learned incrementally more about all the elements of story. In the long run, the last eight years have just been a drop in the bucket. Some of my favorite writers like Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss needed twelve unpublished novels and ten years of focused work respectively to get published. Its at once humbling and exhilarating to see how far I’ve come on this journey and how far the road ahead is.

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