where the writers are
The Writing Progression

I read a Rachel Gardner post today about cave writers, those writers who work in solitude, even isolation, not sharing their work and not participating in a collaborative effort. 

I am a cave writer, with a cave located in a coffee shop that serves the best Mexican mocha in the world (not that I've tasted them all...).  I haven't always been a cave writer, though.  I've evolved into this creature.  

But evolving was a matter of being, trying and learning.  Starting out, my question was, how do you come up with an idea of what to write? 

Well, ideas weren't that hard. More difficult was creating a story from an idea.  That's where the true quest became for me. 

It was hit and miss.  I would write when I had the time but everything else had priority.  I recognized I needed a more stable and methodical approach. 

I took up word counting.  Counted, tracked and compared word counts by day, establishing goals of how many words to write each day. One thousand words a day were my standard.  I cheated for a while.  I didn't do one thousand today so I'll make up for it tomorrow with two thousand.  I sort of missed the point with word counts. 

Eventually I understood that word counts were another carrott to get ass in seat to write.  Writing every day was as important as the word count.  As my writing processes developed, writing every day became more important than word counts.  Now I check them when I think, geez, I've been writing a long time.  How many words have I written?

The word count was about establishing a routine with the deliberate purpose of fiction writing.  Next, though, I was stymied about how to improve my writing, you know, make some sales.  For that, I joined writing critique groups.  Meanwhile I went to conferences and attended seminars.  My goal was to learn to write fiction like published writers. 

Critique groups were interesting.  They twisted me all over the place.  What was really best about the critique groups was not the feedback given to me.  Some good feedback was provided, along with useful tricks and tips but more critically, the critique groups taught me to think about what I enjoyed and did not enjoy in the material I critiqued.  I learned to write like a reader. 

Meanwhile, non-writers were always saying, "Aren't you supposed to write what you know?"  And I, like many, assumed that meant that I should know the subject.  Now I no longer believe that;  I believe that writing what you know means to write what you enjoy reading. 

Writing for myself became my mantra.  I must write what I enjoy.  I am my first fan, my number one fan.  That's not to say that I don't want feedback.  I seek feedback from trusted, private sources.  I worry that they enjoy my style too much but being a worrier by nature, prone to overthinking matters, I press on.

Write like crazy has also become my mantra.  I used to think I needed to know and understand all the elements of what I was writing.  Now I just pursue it, because I've also learned that writing fiction is a matter of several processes.  Besides creating stories, developing characters, establishing pace and building up those word counts, writing is about editing, revising, polishing, and submitting.  Each process has its own set of approaches. 

Along my writing trip, I've figured out that what I write that 'feels wonderful' is often not that different from what I write when my writing day 'sucked.'  I write in a cave but not a bubble.  My writing feels all the impacts my life feels.  The best that I can note about that is that I've become strong enough to accept that, set the time aside, and write everyday, no matter how it went yesterday or how it feels today.

So that's my progression to becoming a cave writer.  It's not the same progressoin that others have taken.  I admire those who pursue college courses with creative writing classes and wonderful opportunities like Iowa's programs, people who are mentored by well-established authors.  I'm jealous of those writers who, more than just understanding structure, understand the evolution of structure by geography, story type, culture and writer. 

But, like many things, I'm self-taught as a writer.  I learn to do things half-ass backwards and then learn to fix what I'm doing wrong.  I don't recommend it - and I do recommend it.  You want to write, you need to figure out what works for you.  Contrary to the American education system's structure, we learn and grow in many ways.  Few of us share the same path of learning and growing. One person's preferred learning method may fall short for another. 

Took me a long time to learn that, too.

Now here's the kicker.  I'm finishing a novel.  I'll do something with it to pursue publication.  Along that way, I may well end up workshopping the novel.  I'll do what I need to do because that's my final writing mantras:  do what you need to do.

Just keep going.