Respecting Your Development as an Artist

I really support what the Organization for Transformative Works (OTW) is doing for fancraft at large. When I discovered Archive of Our Own was part of OTW’s efforts, I wanted my stories to be part of that so I recently migrated all of my public fanfics there. But in migrating the stories, I read over them. The majority of them were written nearly a decade ago for a fandom I still read but no longer write for. Some of the stories had “newbie” written all over them, in pretty adorable ways, and I was having a good time reliving that period in my writing.

I then made the mistake of sharing my fun with some fellow creatives, one of whom (who has a history of doing this) proceeded to attack me, telling me to stop putting down my work.

…right. Because recognizing that in eight years, your writing skill has moved on to a higher level and still being willing to share your older work publicly is putting yourself down. I’ll have to update my dictionary.

The thing is, this person isn’t the first creative I’ve run into who has this mindset. I can’t tell you how many artist communities I’ve left because there were too many people who looked down on those who could respect where they had come from and how far they had come. It’s taken me years, but I’ve finally learned to look at people like that and think, You poor person. Or, I reflect on one of my favorite pins.

What these artists all seem to forget (or maybe they haven’t experienced this in their own work and can’t figure out how) is that none of us just starts creating at a master level. We all start at the beginning, and the amount of time and hard work we put in shapes how far along we get in mastering our craft. This isn’t just true in the arts; it’s true in life. Want proof? Look at your handwriting in first grade, sixth grade, and twelfth grade. You start by learning to craft letters, which you do rather clumsily. Then you handwrite. A lot. And through that practice, you develop the manual skill necessary to write in a more controlled manner. And then you experiment and start to put your own spin on your handwriting to make it your own. You didn’t start out writing bubbly letters; you got there through years of practice and making decisions about the shape you wanted your handwriting to take.

Doing creative work is no different. I look at those old fanfics, and I see so many things I wasn’t able to see when I wrote them that I can see now because I’ve continued to study and practice writing. Stories I wrote four years ago don’t have as many of those errors because I’ve learned ways to not commit them. Stories I’m writing now don’t have the same errors the stories four years ago did because I took the time to learn from the mistakes I was making, and stories I write four years from now will be informed by the mistakes I make now because I will continue to learn how to not make those mistakes.

In fact, New Glory will be a very interesting representation of my writing skill just as Dead Bunny is an interesting representation of my video skills because both have been developed over a period of time and as a result are now records of my development. (deviantArt used to have an project where they encouraged visual artists to take an old piece and recreate it at their current level, then post the two together to show how much their skills have changed. It was a beautiful project, and I often resented it couldn’t be extended to Literature deviants because of posting constraints.)

This is what the 10,000 hours is about. It’s about starting at a base level and achieving mastery by putting in the hours of learning necessary to level yourself up to the highest level you can possibly achieve. But you can’t do it without being able to look back on your body of work with reflection, respect, and a healthy sense of humor. Masters in all crafts demonstrate this all the time.

This has become long, because it’s something I’ve lived quietly with for too long, but I would like you to find the time to watch this very well-known Ira Glass talk on storytelling, because he says something that should serve as guidance for all of us engaged in creating.

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