Writer's Evolution

Writing is evolution. Individual works evolve as a story grows from a germ of an idea to an outline, then a first draft, second draft, etc. etc., to final copy. (And then, if it is accepted for publication, continues to evolve until it is in its truly final stage on the newsstand or bookstore shelf.)

Evolution also takes place within a writer's larger body of work—in everything that a writer has created throughout his or her career.

A friend of mine noted that writer’s block is, itself, a form of evolution. (Or, again, revolution). It is our mind pushing us to that next level of writing… to push us beyond the cliché, the usual phrasing, the voice that flows so naturally from our fingertips, to create something truly wonderful and unique.

We all fall into ruts as writers. We grow to love certain words, phrases, rhythms. We adopt them. They become part of our repertoire. Then they become second nature. Writer’s block is, quite often, our minds telling us that we can do better than the instinctive writing that tends to pour out during first drafts.

When Rachel, over at That Which Deranges the Senses, and I were discussing the evolutionary stages of writers, we decided that you can gauge the stages of evolution by noting when you started creating work that doesn’t make you cringe when you re-read it. (This is also, probably, a good way to determine a final draft—when nothing makes you cringe! Although, we may want to aim higher than that. Say, no cringing, along with a few “oohs” and “ahhs.”)

The other day, putting together clips to post, I pulled out two old magazines, from 2000 and 2001. I re-read two of my favorite stories—stories I had re-read over and over when they came out, marveling at my journalism skills, my wit, the flow, the layout. (Yeah, really. Every so often, you hit a winner like that).

Blah and Bah Humbug! My work was stilted. It needed tightening. It sounded forced. I could barely stand to read anything in the magazine except my editorial, which was written in my journal-ing voice. That particular style (what you’ll see on my blogs and in forums) hasn’t changed much.

I have noticed a more recent evolution, too. After teaching an online writing course for paintball writers, re-iterating the principles of good writing to my students-- I became more conscientious of these principles in my own work. Work I wrote just last week bothers me in some way or another.

I’d like to hear others’ ideas on their evolution as writers. Have you ever noticed yourself going through stages? (“Ah, that was my ‘make sure I include all five senses in every scene’ stage or, “Oh, my ‘use everyone’s height in their description’ stage.”)

How new does a piece of work have to be that it doesn’t make you cringe when you re-read it? Do you notice evolutions you’ve already gone through in other, less experienced writers? Has an evolution ever snuck up on you, like it did to me just recently? Is my friend’s theory on writer’s block true? Have you noticed a significant difference in the quality of your work after you’ve successfully battled a bout of Writer’s Block?