Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The 7 Stages of Being a Writer

Here’s a post by KM Weiland: The 7 Stages of Being a Writer (How Many Have You Experienced?)

Catchy! Let’s check those out.

Okay, first, it looks these aren’t stages-stages, like infancy-childhood-adulthood-old age. No. These are stages that mark obstacles. I would have chosen a different title so as not to be a touch misleading, but okay. Obstacles. Seven of them.

1. I am a writing genius!

Okay, yep, I can see that attitude would be a problem. I wonder how many writers have this feeling? I think the Impostor Syndrome types of feelings are probably more common. You do see agents and editors write posts about how they can’t or won’t work with people who feel it’s an imposition to be asked to change a word of their deathless prose. That would be this feeling, but I bet it is rare. Weiland puts a more positive spin on this mindset, suggesting that although it had better not last, the optimism it encompasses is a good thing.

Next:

2. I Feel Guilty for Taking Time to Write (and Then I Feel Guilty for Not Taking Time to Write)

I imagine this is for parents. I get only a pale, attenuated version of this when I write instead of taking some of the dogs hiking, or vice versa. Actually I see Weiland refers to horses here, so I guess it’s the same for her. Except she sets up a firm schedule. I don’t, really. Unless I have a dire deadline, I let weather rule my decision making about this, since hitting the hiking trails or going to the park is out of the question if it is too wet, too cold, or too hot. I guess it’s good I live in MO where one of the three conditions often applies. I would get less writing done if it were balmy and beautiful year round.

3. Maybe Writing Really Isn’t Worth It and I Should Quit

I haven’t had enough of a dry period to encounter a full-blown version of this. I can see how it would happen, especially if life events interrupt your writing career.

I do think this attitude: I believe this is an important question for every artist to ask themselves at some point in their journey. Creating is about sticking your fist down deep in your soul, ruthlessly clawing at whatever you can find, and then dragging out to be shared in the shocking light of day.

Is a little overblown. Seriously, I don’t know that most of us need to take ourselves or our writing quite that seriously.

4. I Can’t Read Other Writers Because They’ll Influence My Voice

Ooh, ooh, yes, I hit that one. It was very specific writers with particularly invasive styles that did not go well with what I was trying to write. Even today, I tend to read books in a style similar to what I’m working on. And I still do a lot of reading when I’m *not* working on something of my own. But that is mostly due, today, to time constraints rather than invasiveness of an author’s voice.

I do agree with Weiland here basically: The problem here is that reading other writers is, in fact, the single most valuable way to find our voices, to absorb the rhythms of great storytelling, and to learn by example from the best of the best.

The problem comes when you know you are reading something that does not suit your personal style and the work you’re reading is invasive. By which I mean, you find yourself thinking with that author’s cadences, emphasis, word choices, etc. For me CJ Cherryh’s style is very invasive.

5. I Must Religiously Follow All the Rules (Except That’s Too Hard, So, You Know What?, the Rules Are Obviously Formulaic Cockamamie Created by Talentless Hacks, So I’ll Just Ignore Them, Phew!)

I never went either way here. Fortunately.

6. Other Writers Are Getting All the Breaks—And It Makes Me Sad/Depressed/Jealous/Angry

This one is a constant struggle. The best antidote is to (a) celebrate other writers’ successes, cheer each new title they produce, and push their books on all your friends. Also to (b) rationally notice that other writers don’t really get all the breaks and that you’re not necessarily being passed over for everything yourself, but rationality alone won’t do it, so I recommend investing heavily in option (a) unless you’re keen on living in misery and bitterness.

Weiland sums this item up this way: Don’t worry about what others are doing. It truly has nothing to do with you or the possibilities for your future.

Good advice.

And here’s the last one:

7. I’ll Never Be a Good Writer

I don’t care much for this comment: We don’t need any help doubting ourselves—but we get plenty of help anyway. Brutally-honest critique partners and editors leave us sitting dazed and wounded, staring at the litter of Track Changes in our manuscripts.

Honestly, if that’s your experience, I think either your critique partners and possibly your editors are being a little too brutal; OR you are being a little too sensitive.

As far as I can tell, Editing For Dummies cautions as rule one: Say something nice and sound really sincere about it before you get into what isn’t working. I think it’s important for the writer to then believe the nice part and possibly re-read that bit a couple of times before tackling the revision. That should help with this issue.

As far as bad reviews go, it helps to specifically notice how reviews of your own and other books totally disagree with each other. Take any book you like and read the reviews and you will find: Style too literary and flowery . . . style too plain and boring . . . style elegant and beautiful. Pacing super fast and exciting . . . pacing so slow I almost died of boredom. I fell in love with the beautifully drawn characters . . . the characters are so flat and one-dimensional they might as well have been drawn on paper.

And so on.

So, seven stages, not really. Seven obstacles, could be, but lots of people aren’t going to encounter most of them. A take on one author’s experience of writing, definitely.

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3 Comments The 7 Stages of Being a Writer

  1. Craig

    Any other obstacles that aren’t a problem for her but which spring to mind as issues for your own writing or in other writers you talk to?

  2. Irina

    I have 2 (in spades) (still, though I’m no longer working full-time or bringing up kids), 3 (though I keep coming back to writing because I don’t seem to be able to live without it), and as for 4, there was a period that I could only read Diana Wynne Jones and Caroline Stevermer because my brain was perpetually in edit mode and I saw flaws in everybody’s writing because I was primed by the flaws in my own. Yes, they do influence my voice. No, I don’t care one bit.

  3. Rachel

    Irina, I’ve heard other writers comment about a similar effect. I’m glad I am not generally in hyper-critical mode when I’m reading other people’s fiction. I open a new book hoping and expecting to enjoy it, and usually I do … of course, I mostly get new books based on recommendations from people whose taste is similar to mine!

    Craig, I will have to think about that.

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