There are lots of things that make the transition between writing sometimes and being a quote-unquote “writer” but at least some of them are psychological. For years you consume “Top 10 Tips on Plotting Your Novel” and listen to TEDTalks but can’t see any marked improvement in the standard of your writing. Then one day you’ll go to a talk or workshop by an author you really like and respect and catch yourself taking less notes. Instead you’re nodding along, listening and thinking “that’s so true”.
Or at least that’s what happened to me.
In December, Maggie Stiefvater, an author that I am personally, endlessly fond of, gave a writing seminar in Edinburgh. I bought a ticket, flew to crash on my best friend’s sofa and brought with me the unending anxiety that everything I write is actually shit and I should stop wasting my time. But the more I listened to how Maggie described writing and narrative the more I found myself thinking things like “ugh I learned that the hard way” or “oh yeah I started doing that on the last one”. Now it wasn’t that it was all things I knew, Maggie puts mood as paramount above plot in a way that I had not thought about before and that I think I will be thinking about for a while. However, I came out of the seminar feeling for more capable than I went in, without much having changed.
But if I had attended the same talk five years ago and heard all the same things, it would probably not have made me a better writer any faster, anymore than good advice at 17 made me any less of a dumbass teenager. Some things you have to learn for yourself through trial and error.
Good advice, like good examples, help but they won’t do the work for you.