Last month, I attended a fabulous seminar at the National Gallery of Art on how to truly open our eyes so that we see and absorb more. Afterwards, I found in the museum gift shop this terrific magnet that now adorns my fridge and that I read every single day:
When the September Sisters in Crime newsletter came out, asking us to blog about (among other things) what the best part of the writing process is for each of us, that is exactly what I thought of.
The best part of writing is that I am still learning.
I’m learning patience, because even though my professional career has centered around writing and editing for more years than I care to admit, I am still learning the craft of writing because now I’m writing fiction and not non-fiction. Don’t misunderstand me: the skills I’ve built on the job are a definite plus and help enormously. But writing fiction is different—oh, so very different! And it isn’t something that’s mastered in a day or a week or a month or a year. I’ve learned to extend the timeline of my expectations.
I’m learning openness, because being a writer also means understanding social media and how to reach out, from Facebook to blogging to Twitter and more. For an introvert who happily lived a quiet and anonymous life, being a writer means realizing that sometimes we have to set aside our quiet lives and be open to others in a way that stretches our comfort zones. It was hard at first—no doubt about that! But without openness, there is no possibility of connection with others.
I’m learning humility (well, re-learning it, perhaps), because there is so much to the craft of fiction writing that I simply don’t know. I’ve taken several online writing courses that have been both sobering and electrifying. Sobering, because I realize how much I have to learn. Electrifying, because I know it’s possible to learn what others have to teach me and then to build on that so that one day I’ll write a novel that others will want to read. Until and unless we truly know ourselves, we can never really grow.
I’m (re-)learning toughness, because improvement is impossible without constructive criticism. As anyone who’s gotten a performance review at work knows, “constructive” really means “here, let me tell you something about yourself that you don’t do well.” But it’s like spinach or broccoli: it really is good for us. I’m in a small critique group, three of us who meet each month for lunch (to explore new restaurants and catch up on each others’ lives) and for critiques (to share chapters with each other). Hearing that a passage or a character or a chapter doesn’t work is sometimes tough, but necessary in order to learn and improve. I’m fortunate to have these friends who can deliver tough messages constructively.
Finally, I’m learning the importance of community, because it all comes down to having others around us who are there for moral support and encouragement and advice and, well, learning. I had the chance to meet a number of SinC members at two conferences earlier this year, Killer Nashville and the Writers Police Academy (check out H.S. Stavrapolous’s fabulous photos of the latter!) and came away humbled and heartened and delighted to have this new community of writing friends.
In all this, I can’t help thinking of vineyards and grapes (perhaps from my alter ego, the author who writes and blogs about Virginia wines and wineries). The best grapes and the best wines come not from the vines that have plenty of space and water and light but rather from the vines that are stressed, that are tested, that are challenged to grow against all odds. They are the ones that produce the sweetest and richest fruit, and ultimately the most exquisite wine. And so, perhaps, it is with writing, that we only learn how much we can truly accomplish by being challenged and tested along the way.
And that’s the best part of writing for me.