We all make mistakes. We’re pretty good at it, actually. Over time, we train ourselves to learn from our errors, correct what we’ve been doing wrong and do our best to avoid repeating the same mistake again another day.
We become masters of figuring out our weaknesses, and how to grow stronger.
But sometimes, something weird happens. We check our stats and realize they’re climbing. We note more positive responses to our work. Even when we don’t succeed, we’re very aware of the fact that we came close to doing so this time – closer than we ever have before.
We’re doing something right. It’s working. Change is happening.
And we have no idea what, or why, or how.
Writers, especially those newer to the trade, have the wrong idea about feedback. What people are really looking for is a person who will tell them they are doing a good job – they need someone else to validate their efforts. We’ve ALL been there. And we’ve all experienced those moments when it felt like someone took our work, threw it on the ground and stomped on it.
When people aren’t told what they want to hear, the reality of how this whole writing thing works at last settles in. This is not a middle school classroom, with a teacher whose job it is to critique our essays and grade us on our ability (or lack thereof) to follow directions. No – this is a series of attempts and failures, of doing something over and over again until something works.
The problem is, you don’t always realize what’s working until change has already gradually, but widely, taken effect.
So then what? How do you figure out what the heck you’re doing that’s proving so darn effective?
To say you should just keep doing what you’re doing would be a shallow and lazy response (you know me better than that, I hope?). You might just be sitting there trying one thing after the other, admittedly desperate for something to finally click. So you have to do the one thing I already know you don’t want to do. Go ahead, start kicking and screaming now – get it all out of your system.
You’re going to have to go back through your writing and analyze it yourself.
I know, I know. There isn’t a writer out there who enjoys going back through anything they’ve previously written. It’s horrible. Even that thing you wrote yesterday is already cringe-worthy. It’s not because you’re bad at this – clearly, you’re doing SOMETHING well enough. It’s because reading your own words, there’s still that illusion that you can (and therefore should) change them at any time. This would have sounded better. That would have seemed more clever. I can’t believe I wrote THAT.
But you need to know why Factor X is working. Because you need to keep doing it. You need to start expanding upon it. Things move fast on the internet. You need to get ahead of your own creativity and start building up from it, or you’re going to be left behind. Others are going to catch up and catch on, figure out what you’re doing that’s working, and figure out how to do it better.
Don’t let them.
Because realizing you’re doing something right means you’re on the right track. By no means should you assume you’ve unlocked all the secrets. You’ve found the first clue – you’re still far off from solving all the mysteries that come with success. Don’t stop now. Start running. Fast.
It’s OK to rely on others, sometimes, to help you figure this out. But above all, you must be able to first rely on yourself. Trust your instincts. Trust your gut. If you have a good feeling about what you’re writing, go with it. Race it to the finish line. Start doubting yourself less. Build up a resistance to those who are going to come along and try to knock you down. Don’t be ashamed to be proud. Let your pride fuel your passion, in a good way. When you know you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, there is no stopping you. Use your powers for good. Keep moving forward. And enjoy it. This is where the fun begins.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.