‘Scary’ is just another word for ‘challenge’

I’m back! Or trying to be. Since my last post, we welcomed our second kid and as always this is a rough transition. Anyway, the post…

Ok. Ignore that these are different parts of speech and let me run with this.

***Quick disclaimer: this is all my personal experience and your mileage may vary. It also probably applies more to early career writers.***

We can probably all agree that challenges make us grow. Facing them, accepting them whether we succeed or not (whatever the metric of success). Challenges are the branchings, some of the major choice points in the choose-your-own-adventure novel of life. The ones that have to do with character arc. That growth can be positive or negative–in the sense of with or against social mores and strictures, closer or further from the person you want to be, etc–but I’m focusing on positive growth along the what-you-want-out-of-life axis.

There’s an exhilaration that comes after conquering a challenge. I felt it the first time I flew by myself, or navigated New York City alone. It was one of the big reasons that my first day job after college was retail: interacting with people like that intimidated and overwhelmed me and I wanted to change that. Why I put a continent between me and my safety net, moving from Maine to Seattle sight unseen to crash on a friend’s couch until I could get my feet under me (though the privileges that allowed me to do that safely and succeed are a mile long).

Fear is something each of these things had in common. Those things all scared me. Intimidated me. Each time I faced and tackled them put me closer to being the person I wanted to be.

I may have given myself a sort of complex with all this. Now, just realizing something scares me makes me want to race headlong at it. Or maybe that’s my lacking sense of self-preservation…

The point to all this?

I’m discovering this same idea applies to writing.

That story idea I don’t think I’m good enough to pull off yet? That style or genre that doesn’t come naturally to me? That form I’ve wasted years conveniently parroting, “I don’t write that”? Any time I’ve said to hell with it and done these things anyway, my skill and ability as a writer has grown by leaps and bounds. That first attempt doesn’t have to be good; it just has to exist.

This happened when I started writing short stories in direct contravention of my up-to-that-point I-don’t-write-short-stories mantra, and again when I let myself try poetry. It happened when I attempted a romance novel and every single time I finally tackled one of those stories rattling around designated for some vague ‘later’ when I reached an undefined metric of ‘better.’ Suddenly, my storytelling ability leveled up. Every. Time.

The ways to improve the writing game are many: write, try out different prompts and exercises, read widely, write, participate in a decent writing workshop, critique others’ work and have our own critiqued, write. But not just write! Not all writing is created equal. That would be too easy.

Any writing will work towards you becoming a better writer, but finishing drafts–of any length!–will teach you so much more. Make that draft one you were scared of doing, one that offered a significant challenge (beyond, you know, the usual) and that sudden jump in skill feels like a catapult.

I think most of us will do this unconsciously, but you can also control the directions of growth. What you read, the exercises and techniques you try, the stories you choose to write all inform that development. Once upon a time, I was terribly at description. I focused on improving that and now it’s a matter of course. I’m still horrible at writing romance plots, but I’m working at it. Wordsmithing has become another more recent interest that I generally think is going well.

It’s taken me far too long to realize the stories that intimidate me are the ones I most need to be working on. So I guess it’s a good thing I’m focusing on short stories because they’ll let me play with a broader range of elements in a shorter period. Because I’m just that impatient.

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