I’ve been doing this awhile. For like, decades. For some writers, that’s not even that long. For others, it can seem like geological time. But the plain truth of the matter is that this is a profession where the overnight successes take fifteen years. And in that time, you’re not guaranteed any success at all. But one thing you can never do, is stop learning.

Writing is a lot like an artisanal trade craft. You don’t just learn in the schoolroom, you learn by doing, and even when you’ve developed competency, you are still far away from mastercraft. Now for a jeweler or a plumber or a blacksmith, competency might be all you need for the day-to-day tasks. And yes, even in writing, competency can take you far. But it’s never to a place where you rest on your laurels. If you’re not always pursuing mastercraft–striving to learn something new or be the best you can–you’re missing out.

5 Writing Areas Where You Can Strengthen Your Craft At Any Level

Character – There’s never a bad time to learn more about character. Learning about character is learning about people. How do you approach character? Do your characters come to you whole-cloth, and seem to have depth and humanity and spark? That’s great for you! Now ask why. Take them apart. What gives your characters spark? Which ones did you especially love? Did you hate any of them? Why?

Pacing – Do your stories leisurely meander along like a winding, lazy river? Or do they rush through rapids and over falls without leaving your hapless kayakers readers time to catch their breaths or even right their craft? Ask why. Are you missing opportunities for story development by your frenetic pace? Could your mesmerizingly slow and deep story pace benefit from an occasional kick into higher gear? Why do you enjoy a fast-paced (or slow and thoughtful) story? And why haven’t you tried writing the other way yet?

Antagonist – Are you comfortable writing characters people love to hate? Push yourself to make your antagonists more antagonistic. Make them real D-bags. Do they still resonate with you? And if you have no trouble coming up with valedictorians from Evil Medical School, challenge yourself to make an antagonist that people might kind of like. Can you make an antagonist that’s a half-decent person? Can you make a villain who’s the hero of his own story?

Language and Word Choice – The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that there are a quarter of a million words in the English language. At least. Are the ones you’re using really the best ones to use for that passage? We all have favorite words and phrases. Do yours show up too much? It’s worth it to hunt down that perfect word. Have you made the effort lately?

Theme – Do you find you write the same story over and over again (hint: many of us do, at the atmospheric level). What are your favorite themes? You know, the ones that keep showing up in your work no matter the genre or characters. Why are they your favorites? Your go-to messages? Have you been able to articulate these themes in a way that expresses a truth in the human condition? Have you tried writing something that expresses the opposite of that theme? Or something that expresses that theme, but in distortion? Have you tried exploring different genres and iterations of that theme? If not, why not?

You’re never too old to learn, and you never know enough to not keep on learning. You’re never too accomplished to go back and revisit the basics, either. Dialogue, structure, narrative pacing, conflict–there’s always something new to be learned about these building blocks of story, even if you’ve been there and done that.

My short contemporary romantic comedy, Forever Material, is out now! Please check it out!

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She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…

He’s absolutely sure she’s right…

But he’s still going to prove her wrong.

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