Maturing as a Writer

Tuesday, August 22, 2023


I recently read a quote by a writer named Meredith Ireland that said, “As a writer it’s easy to feel like people are passing you by—getting agents, book deals, etc. But no two writers ever have the same path. We’re not horses in a race. We’re possums stuck in trash bins, and you get out in your own time.” 

First it made me laugh, then I nodded my head. I am a possum. Although I trained as a journalist in college, I was never formally trained as a fiction writer. In my thirties I applied for two low-residency MFA programs and was rejected. I loved reading though, and always told myself I would write a novel one day. Well, I have written multiple novels at this point. Have any of them ever been published? No. But well into my forties I feel I have finally matured enough as a writer to be crossing that threshold. 

I spent too many years “pantsing” my creative projects, falling in love with the process of creating characters and arranging their life paths, obstacles and all. (By the way, a pantser if a person who writes without an outline). I created music playlists to go along with these books and worked out unresolved teen angst in more plot lines than I care to admit. I sent out a few queries to agents, got rejected, and put those manuscripts away for another time. Then, as any good “pantser” would do, I decided to try my hand at short stories. I discovered that form of writing came easier to me and earned awards, encouraging me to continue the craft. 

Short stories come easier for a “pantser,” in my opinion. But for my most recent project I’m working on, I put that method aside. I “architected” the story, chapter by chapter, story beat by story beat, and put post-it notes on my wall. I wrote a first draft. I took a step back, put it away for a while, and came back again. I added in more chapters, took out some chapters, renamed characters, and went back to editing. Periodically I would go back to my wall and say to myself, “This chapter is out of place. It needs to be moved here.” 

I’m more than halfway through this latest book (a mystery/suspense novel) and I am proud of the maturation I’ve experienced as a writer. My prose is not beautiful, but I can outline and tell a good story. I can (I believe) write pages that keep people guessing, wanting more. I realize I need to add more sensory details and descriptions of places, but that can be done in the next round of edits. I am a possum who never should have believed my first attempt at writing a book would be a raging success. The chance of that happening is rare, although it has been known to happen. You must be committed to putting in the work. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made, the sweat equity I’ve put in, and the ability to keep going even when it got hard. 

How have you matured as a writer? I’d love to hear your stories! 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.


Angela Mackintosh said...

Wonderful post, Renee! I've also come to embrace slow writing. In our forthcoming markets newsletter, Ashley interviews author Candi Sary, who wrote a Shirley Jackson type ghost novel, and she talks about how her first drafts are fast, but revision is where she spends the years. She works at it and works until every thread is tight. She also talks about all her shelved manuscripts that were never picked up! So I think that's where maturity comes in because writing a book takes patience. There are many layers. And that's the beauty of it! I used to write something and then dash it off to get published, and it has worked, but I feel better about a piece when I've sat with it for a while and added those deeper layers that can only come with time. Then I know it's really something I want to put out there in the world.

Renee Roberson said...

Thanks, Ang! I can't wait to read that interview--I'm sure I will learn a lot. It is true that there are so many layers to our writing, plus experimenting with different genres, methods, publications, etc. I also am more comfortable now sitting back and taking more time to let something "marinate." Maybe too long, LOL!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

It is always so interesting to see how a fellow writer's process has changed over time. Some things are short and simple and come together quickly. Others take a lot more time because they are so intricate. Try to take a shortcut and readers are going to reach the end and think "What the heck? That was weak."

Kelly Sgroi said...

Recently I declared to my family they are not to publish any of my work when I die. That sounds crazy, but honestly, I only want my work published if it's deemed good enough by the traditional gatekeepers because I'm writing more for myself than for others.

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