Unlike a garden, it’s hard for us as writers to see how far we’ve come when it comes to growth. A writer’s development isn’t always as obvious as a branching tree or a blooming flower. But with every new work written comes signs of growth and change. How does one measure growth as a writer when it isn’t as simple as seeing a plant transform from seed to sprout to fully-fledged and fruitful? As a writer, the answer is simple: write it all down!
Here are some tips for tracking your growth as a writer:
- Revisit your old writing
Let’s get this one out of the way! Revisiting old works can bring up feelings of embarrassment or exasperation (how naïve you were back then!) but it can also fill you with a sense of pride when you realize how far you’ve come.
Challenge yourself: find something you wrote exactly one year ago and compare it to what you’ve written most recently. Go even further if you want – two, three, five years; maybe even a decade! You’re sure to see how much you’ve grown then.
No, it doesn’t have to be a beautifully kept bullet journal of your personal progress – simply spend a few minutes after each writing session making note of what was difficult, what was enjoyable, and what you want to work on next. Struggle with dialogue? Make a point to track it. Wish you had more impactful metaphors? Track that, too. Eventually, you’ll see how these aspects of your writing begin to improve with focus and intention.
- Write a writer’s guide (for yourself!)
Struggling to recognize your own “voice”? Not sure what your style is? Write out a personal style guide! Write as if you are preparing it for your ghost writer – what must they include, how should they include it, and what would you never write about?These are the questions to ask when considering what makes a story uniquely yours. Every writer has certain quirks, whether in style or subject matter, that they return to, again and again, and find carried across their written works. Writing a guide can help you recognize these aspects of your own style rather effectively.
For example, something as simple as a skeleton of how your novels or short stories are structured is a great place to start if you find yourself having a difficult time tracking your own progress. Referring to this guide can help you get back on track and is something that you can update every time you find your writing has shifted or developed.
- Ask a friend to compare your newer and older works
This is just like the first tip, except more mortifying: ask a trusted friend who is familiar with your work to read an older piece, then a newer piece, and briefly outline how they compare. They might be able to spot growth and changes that you totally overlooked.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to take the leap from romance to dystopian fiction. There are plenty of genres within genres that you can explore. Research the typical tropes or features of said genre and try writing a short piece – even just a paragraph – and see how it goes. You might be surprised by how easy (or difficult) it is to write in a different genre!
- Read outside of your comfort zone
Lastly, writing is just as much about reading as it is about… well, writing. Reading in a genre or about a subject you are not familiar with can be a great way to expand your writing horizons. If you mostly read fiction, try some non-fiction about a subject you’re interested in. If you’re a stickler for strict plot structure, try out a plotless or otherwise differently structured book.
Reading outside of your comfort zone gives you the opportunity to see how other writers are engaging with their genre or form and might give you a few ideas of what to try incorporating into your work next time you sit in your writer’s chair.
How do you track your growth? Feel free to share your tips and tricks with the KWL community!
And, as always, happy writing, and good luck growing!