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This Writing Life: Levelling Up as a Writer

9 May, 2012

In my last post, I talked about coming to the end of a novel (about 20k words to go now, at last estimate). This particular novel is one that I only started a few months ago – on the 21st of February, to be precise. From the start of the first draft to the end, it will probably have taken me about three months to write. Now, from time to time, you hear about writers finishing books in a month, two weeks, even as little as ten days. Personally though – and I think the same can be said for many writers – I think completing a 120k first draft in three months is pretty damn good.

I’ve been making progress in other areas of my writing, too: more submissions (even if I haven’t sold anything), more finished short stories, more blogging. All in all, 2012 has started out quite well for me, and in many ways I feel as if I’ve ‘levelled up’ as a writer.

This is an analogy I’ve seen used before (I think most recently by Mur Lafferty). It’s a term that comes from gaming, and RPGs in particular (and I assume D&D too, though I’m not sure about that), referring to the player’s character becoming stronger, gaining more skills and abilities. As such, that character is then able to overcome more difficult challenges, continuing to get stronger all the while.

Perhaps it seems a little strange to apply a gaming term to real life, but it maps surprisingly well onto writing. How have I gained the extra experience? By writing more, getting more feedback on my work and constantly pushing myself to improve. What ‘new skills’ have I gained in the process? I’ve certainly become better at submitting my work, at editing, and hopefully at writing in general. And this hasn’t felt like a gradual process, but one that’s happened quite suddenly. Somehow, between finishing one piece of work and starting another, I’ve improved.

In writing, as in any numbers of activities, creative or otherwise, there’s a certain learning curve. Your early progress is often swift, as you develop entirely new skills. Once you have those skills, however, the process of refining them feels much slower – you hit a plateau. It’s something I’ve seen discussed by writers before, and seems to be one of those things you can experience again and again. The idea of ‘levelling up’ comes when you make that sudden, drastic improvement, overcoming the plateau and starting the next upward climb. Whether or not others can see the improvement in your work is almost irrelevant, when it’s something you can feel so decisively yourself.

The tricky thing is that knowing how to improve – how to get over that plateau – is almost as difficult as making the improvement itself. Whilst it’s important to push yourself when learning any creative skill, there are also times when that improvement just seems to come out of nowhere. Perhaps then, somewhere in your dreams, you killed that troll at the end of the cave, gained those last few experience points, and levelled up.


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