Editorial: Discovering Not Improving

Controversial take:

The idea that we have to keep learning and improving in our craft as writers is counterproductive and flawed as a concept. The idea that we are somewhere along some sort of stair step journey from beginners to experts, also, needs to die. 

It keeps authors striving towards an unattainable goal of perfection in a craft where perfection doesn’t exist because a reliable way to judge it has never been (and never will be) created. It causes us to question our natural voices and nurtures impostor syndrome. 

If there were a perfect way to write, then everyone would write the same way. Yes, there are little craft things you can learn, rules that are tools you can use to sharpen your voice, to cut away distractions that would take a reader momentarily out of your story … but most good writers will learn how to internalize those rules, then pick and choose where to use them rather than apply them to every aspect of their writing. 

I’m sure there are some writing types who have honed a voice that is reliant on following the rules (or “some rules” … honestly if you were to put all the writing “rules” together in a room, you’d find some directly contradict each other when taken to their logical extremes), but again, if this was the only way to write, then all writing would sound the same, and there wouldn’t be a need for new voices. We’d write the perfect books. Those perfect books would exist because they were written following the proven rules, and we’d be done. 

That’s obviously not what readers–or writers–should want. 

But then why do we need to learn at all? Isn’t what we start at, untouched and raw, the most natural “us” voice and any editing, learning, improving is all a perversion of this? So why do we try to get better?

I think if we reframed it in terms of discovery. Compare it to a cook who starts out following a recipe, but then discovers a new ingredient that improves the flavor of their original dish … and like in cooking there are rules for a reason. If you cook the thing too long or too high, it’ll be burnt or tough, too short or too low, could still be raw in the center.

But even then occasionally you get an exception where maybe you WANT something to have a burnt flavor (anyone had wood fired pizza where there’s an intentional char? Or ignored that “seafood and cheese” rule to have a lobster mac & cheese?) .

And the changes we go through as a person might deepen and change our writing, but that doesn’t mean the old writing was necessarily bad. It was just from another place, another time, and it might’ve been just what it needed to be for that time.

So one one hand, you never stop changing because you should never stop discovering. There’s not a place you should reach where you’re “done” anymore than a chef is done coming up with ways to make food. There’s always a new ingredient to try, a new technique to play with … 

But that doesn’t mean what you have now isn’t exactly what it should be or needs improvement or that you aren’t enough. 

Discovery should challenge and excite us and make us feel happy about moving forward. It should not talk us down and make us feel like we’re not enough. 


So never stop discovering, but also stop striving to find something that doesn’t exist

H. L. Burke is an indie fantasy author, Fellowship of Fantasy founder, and author mentor with Sparkly Writer Princess Author Services.
You can find out more on her website at: https://www.hlburkeauthor.com/sparkly-writer-princess-author-serv

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