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Five Ways to Measure Growth as a Writer

This past Sunday, I gathered with my local writing community to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the group's founding.

What a full circle moment that was for me!

Five-and-a-half years earlier, on a Wednesday night in June, 2017, I attended my first meeting of Write Now Lancaster. I'd moved to Lancaster THE DAY BEFORE, knowing practically no one.

When we circled up for introductions that June evening, I hadn't even lived the ending of the coming-out-later-in-life story that I would eventually write about in GRAVEYARD OF SAFE CHOICES, my memoir that will be published in Fall 2023 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

Now, on this Sunday night five-and-a-half years later, I was one of the leaders of the writing group, ready to put the finishing touches on my manuscript before sending it off to my editors.

It's made me think a lot about growth. How we know we've grown. How we measure it. Whether we can see the growth in the moment.

Your kid wakes up one morning and he's 6'3" and towers over you.

Yep, that happened to me.

But did I actually see him grow?

You go out to your vegetable garden and that zucchini that looked so delicate is now as big as a baseball bat.

Yep, that happened to me too.

Here's the thing:

We don't see the inches being added in the moment. Or the circumference of the zucchini multiplying geometrically.

Or the beginner writer becoming a confident writer.

Or the fuzzy idea transforming into a fully fleshed out manuscript.

One day we wake up and it's happened.

Here's how I measure my growth as a writer & here's how you can too:

#1: I show up. Whether I want to or not. Because I've learned that writing is what makes a writer. Because I've seen what happens when I show up consistently.

I write the outline. I write the scene. I write the chapter. I write the first draft.

Note: We're not talking perfection here. We're talking making a plan to write and building accountability around it. How about we aim for 80% compliance?

#2: I don't try to do it alone. Sure, I'm the one who actually has to put their butt in the chair and write, but as a writer committed to growth, I know it takes a community to get me to the finish line.

Writing community can look like many different things: An accountability partner or triad. A monthly writing group. A weekly co-writing group.

#3: I know when to share my work and when not to. Unless you're only writing for yourself (which is an absolutely fine goal to have), at some point you need feedback on your writing.

Be careful about who you ask for feedback from and when you ask for it. First drafts are fragile and can be crushed by the wrong sets of hands.

Work with a professional editor or book coach that you've vetted or be very clear on the precise type of feedback you are looking for from a critique partner or writing group.

#4: I'm willing to take risks. Writers who are growing don't play it safe. They experiment, they mess up. They don't get it right the first, second, or even third time, most of the time.

This doesn't mean just randomly try stuff. Have a plan but be willing to take the detours. Play with form. Write the unspeakable.

#5: I'm willing to be patient. A memoir or any book worth its salt doesn't get written in 30 days.

Sure, you can fast draft like during NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) and that can be a good thing, especially if you have a plan going in. But writers who are growing let the creative process unfold at its own pace.

If you show up, don't try to do it alone, share your work at the right time (and with the right people), and are willing to take risks, you WILL grow as a writer. I guarantee it.

One day you will wake up and find yourself reading an essay at a public reading.

Writing "The End" on your draft.

Finding a publisher.

Holding your book in your hands.

These are some of those hell yes, I've grown moments!

Have you ever had a full circle moment?

I'd love to hear about it!

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