Writing: Learning from experience

“The best way to improve your writing is to write more.” Of all the writing advice I’ve seen, this is probably the most-repeated one. And, also, the best and simplest one – both to understand and to execute.

You can take courses, read helpful blogs, read books to see storytelling in practice, and all of it will help you to understand the craft, there’s no doubt in that. And it never hurts to learn from others. But, you’ll never learn as much from these external sources than by experiencing the process yourself, with all the good and bad parts it brings. And the process takes a lot of time.

If MS Word counts the time at least somewhat properly, it took me 53 hours to write the 24k-word demo (originally intended to be around 5k but I got carried away) to see if I am even able to write – and, during that time, I learned almost nothing apart from the fact that I have no clue what I am doing.

It took me 308 hours to finish the first draft of the to-be book one, by that time at 235k words. And that was just putting the story together. When did I actually realize what am I doing wrong? Hard to say but I guess it was somewhere around the fourth draft (and some 450-ish hours without counting in the demo).

Of course, not everyone learns at the same speed. What I want to say is that time spent writing will lead to improvement. Some things come sooner, some later. In the third draft, I started realizing I am still overloading the sentences (and sometimes even paragraphs) even though I believed I got rid of that in the previous draft. It was only during the fourth draft when I started seeing which passages are unnecessary or very poorly done.

It was during the fifth draft I was finally able to admit that some scenes are unnecessary and, without external feedback, I’d probably never see that some things I’ve considered obvious aren’t really obvious because anyone else doesn’t know the story inside out.

Now, where’s the progress, you might ask.

Apart from working on the to-be first book, I also worked on the second and, eventually, third. It was there I saw the progress I was making. Yes, the first drafts are still riddled with typos, errors, and all the possible pitfalls of first drafts (such as placeholders and inconsistencies). However, it has better structure (from a sentence all the way to a chapter) and is not as bloated as the first draft of the first book was.

I also managed to improve my pace (partially because I quit checking every portion as soon as it was written) so even though the first draft of the second book was as long as the first draft of the first one, it took ‘only’ 192 hours (compared to the mentioned 308 of #1). The third book was drafted in 113 hours but is roughly 25% shorter so the comparison is not as exact.

So, the first proof of progress is working faster and slightly better.

I am also more ready to admit that some portion serves little purpose and is a removal candidate. In case of #1, I needed five drafts to realize I need to rework the beginning a lot. With #2, I am reworking the beginning in the second draft. Drafting #1 taught me to see that not everything is worth keeping in the story – and accepting that will hopefully make drafting #2 faster. Instead of admitting the weakness of some passages one at a time, each in separate draft, I hope to see more of them sooner. In other words: the second or third draft of #2 might be at the same level as the fifth or sixth draft of #1, because I’ve learned to see some of my mistakes – and learned how to see at least some of them.

Another aspect is in taking the mentioned external advice into practice. No matter how well I thought I understand some of them, I needed to try a few times to actually pull it off (and I am still doubting some parts).

But, never forget one thing: you never stop learning. At least that’s what I think.

If you’re tempted to ask how much time I’ve spent writing so far, here it comes: 702 hrs on #1, 267 on #2, 114 on #3. Plus, the mentioned demo (53 hrs), rework of the original intro put aside to eventually become a short prequel (36 hrs) and a bit of side stuff (three or four smut-level 18+ scenes). In total, close to 1200 hours already and that’s not even counting time put into these blog posts. And I still feel like there’s much to learn.

So, to wrap it up: take all the advice you can get but know that you’ll need to experience it before you truly learn from it. By which, I anonymously thank to anyone who ever contributed to improving my skills, even if by a single paragraph.

I’ll welcome your thoughts on the matter of learning curve in your writing. Also, feel free to share some useful tips you’ve seen. And, most importantly, keep writing, because that’s how you truly improve.

6 thoughts on “Writing: Learning from experience

  1. Fascinating post, Tom. I love how you’ve been able to keep track of how many hours you’ve spent writing your series. Totally agree with you that the only way to learn writing skills is to practice them over and over again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • MS word tracks it in file properties so all I had to do was write the time down at the end of each draft and then mash it into a calculator when writing this post 🙂 The number is both scary and fascinating when I realize how much effort I gave to this dream of mine – and when I realize how much it’ll grow before I am done.

      Anyway, thanks for reading and for all the tips you share. They definitely helped me during the process.

      Liked by 1 person

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