I’ve wanted to be a novelist from the age of 16. Unfortunately, I’m also one of those cases where my wants and my abilities didn’t quite match up. Oh, I worked at it. I wrote two novels by the time I was 21. Two unpublished, haphazard, disconnected, rambling, typo-ridden, two-dimensional, sloppy novels. (Hmmmm…detailing the plot and characters of those might be a fun post.)
Looking back (after a few decades) I can see that I had some moderate talent but no focus. I had no idea how to edit. A story would pour out of me and as far as I was concerned, that was that. Check for spelling and it’s done.
It wasn’t until another 10 years later, when I was mid-30s, that I finally said to myself “Self, you gotta get some training. You ain’t no genius.” [Note: I advise myself using a heavy Jersey accent.]
Thus, I went back to college. English Lit was my major and one of my first courses was a fiction writing seminar. This group was fabulous (and is the model I use for every writing group I’ve ever formed).
The turning point for me – the actual time when my writing evolved from so-so to publishable – came during this semester of reading, editing, and critiquing some of the absolute junk that passes for fiction. Of course, now, I know that the “junk” I saw in this seminar was in fact very similar to the junk I churned out in my early 20s. So that allowed me to see value in the new, maturing writer I was becoming.
It was here where I realized that the talent I had was actually quite good. Not great, mind you. But good. I still ain’t no genius. But, by editing other people’s mistakes and bad form, I focus more accurately on my own flaws. I became a better writer because my classmates were worse.
I still edit every chance I get. (see here) Each story I critique makes me improve. It’s a win-win situation.