by Allison Maruska
My son has always been above average on the growth curve. Now, having just turned twelve, he’s caught up to his grandmother. He’s tall. And she’s . . . less than tall…The boy is tall, and the mom is short.
And yet, they’re the same height.
The observations are accurate because the boy is still growing. For his age, he is tall. And he’ll continue along the growth curve, leveling out somewhat, until he reaches his full height. His doctor thinks that will be around 6’1″.
How does this apply to writing? I’m so glad you asked!
Consider how the growth curve looks.
Notice a sharp increase starting in infancy, then a slight leveling out starting around age 2, then a significant leveling out around age 15. No matter where a newborn starts, height-wise, the pattern applies.
There is a growth curve with writing, and I think it would look similar to the physical growth curve, if such a convenient visual representation existed. Everyone starts writing as a brand-new writer. Stephen King wasn’t The Great Stephen King at first. He started at the beginning and had to practice and improve.
After working in a critique group for going on three years, I would say that the most profound growth a writer experiences is at the beginning of their writing life – with a big if (which I’ll get to in a minute). Unless you studied writing in college (and maybe not even then), you just don’t know what you don’t know until someone tells you. And if you’re like me, it’s a lot.
When I started in the critique group, I learned I was making several novice writing mistakes, including but not limited to: filtering, not anchoring the character in the setting, using echoes, being redundant, and overusing dialogue tags.
After I had all that straightened out, I learned other things, like how to show emotion and how to avoid adverbs by using strong verbs.
You could say the number of things I had to learn dropped as I put what was taught to me into practice. Eventually, like the physical growth curve, I leveled off because there isn’t as much to learn. But here’s where the comparison ends – unlike physical growth, which eventually stops, writing growth can potentially always occur, no matter how long you’ve been doing it. The line always slopes slightly upwards.
Now, let’s get back to that big if.
Sometimes, I work with writers who, for lack of a better description, refuse to improve. I’m not sure why they’re in the critique group. Maybe it’s to get their egos stroked. If you saw one of these writers, you’d see how week after week, suggestions, even to obvious errors, aren’t applied.
Now, it could be they’re waiting until all chapters are through the site to make revisions, but sometimes, I get this…
This is how I write. It’s my voice.
Which is when I part ways with said writer. I’m there to improve and to help others improve, not to stroke egos. I’m not interested in working with perfect writers (and for anyone in the critique group with a similar mindset, don’t worry; I’ll never be a member of the perfect writers club.)
So if you’re just starting out and find the curve a bit daunting, take heart – you’re at the beginning of the curve. And if you’re past the initial slope and are starting to level out, realize there is always something new to learn around the next corner.
Guest post contributed by Allison Maruska. Allison likes to post in line with her humor blog roots, but she also includes posts about teaching and writing specifically. Check out her website for more of her work.