Twelve Posts on Writing, Day 12: Always new, always learning

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I’m sitting at a cafe with Jim Sallis. We’re eating oatmeal, drinking coffee, talking about writing. We’re both working hard to finish our current novels. He’s had 12 novels published and won a bunch of awards and had lots of movie options; so he’s pretty familiar with how this writing thing works. I’m working on my second novel, (*cough*) having sent the first into permanent exile.

(Well, not permanent, but when I get around to reworking that story, it’s going to take on a very different shape. More on that in future posts.)

Anyway, Jim and I are chatting and people watching (because everything is material) and we realize we’re both facing the same conundrum in our current projects. We both know how our stories end, we just aren’t sure how to get there. Neither of us is stuck. We’re just…searching.

We commiserate and consume our sundries. And then I ask him, “When does this get easier?”

“When does what get easier?”


After he stops laughing, he says in his wise and guru-like manner, “I’ve been doing this a lot of years, Amy, and the only thing I know is I have to keep learning it over and over again.”


There it is. The awful (and wonderful) truth.

Awful, knowing writing will always be work. If it continues to be work for a seasoned pro like Jim, it will continue to be work for me. And you.

Wonderful, though, isn’t it? Knowing this will be a lifelong journey of learning and discovery? If Jim Sallis is still learning, then when I get to where he is now, I will still be learning and discovering, too. At least I hope I am.

But beyond that, here’s what I think he meant.

Every time you start a new project, it’s a brand new thing. In the history of the universe, it never existed before the muse feathered your head with sparkly dust and gave you the idea. Once you put words on the page, you’re setting off on an unknown journey. How can it possibly be like any journey you’ve been on before?

Sure, you know some, if not all, of the mechanics of this gig. Tone and diction and POV and verb tense and passive voice and all that. But unless you’re plagiarizing or writing a very close copy of a previously-published book, your character and your story are brand-spanking new. And their journey, unique.

Of course you’re going to learn it new. Every time. Over and over again.

This is what I love about writing. This is what I love about living a creative life. It’s always new. I’m always learning.

I hope you’re always learning, too.


4 thoughts on “Twelve Posts on Writing, Day 12: Always new, always learning

    Lisa Nowak said:
    January 15, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    I think what Jim said is even bigger than that. It’s not just about writing. It’s about life. I’m continually re-learning lessons I thought I’d gotten down years ago. Sometimes I’ll read something I wrote way-back-when and think, “how did I know that? And why did I forget?”

    StrayfishFiction said:
    January 15, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Right, now I’m officially grovelling and moving dangerously close to boot-licking. The nearest I’ve come to hob-nobbing with a published author was when Isaac Asimov pinched my bum while I salivated over his signature in my copy of his book! Jim’s right though and what a dull world it would be if he wasn’t. Just because you’ve learned the language, doesn’t mean you have to speak the same lines every day (oh, I can feel a plot coming on…!), or use the words in the same order every time. My world is research – not the reading up on other people’s, although there’s a lot of that too, but the getting out there and generating more. The structures and requirements are much the same each time but without creative imagining and novel application, there would be nothing new at the end. Science and art, not opposites but complementary cousins.

    Margaret Ann Abrahams said:
    January 15, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    As I struggle with a scene in the 5th chapter of my current WIP, your two last posts resonated with me – from Steve Almond’s advice to what Jim Sallis said. I always find the creative process so fascinating. There’s the story idea and the elements that you have in your head when you sit down to write – and then there’s the other stuff – the developments that evolve on the page – occurring to you as the story unfolds. It’s the same with painting, and probably any creative process. As for the advice to slow down – I also realize I may have been rushing certain scenes – shortchanging my protagonist as well as future readers. Great advice – almost a mantra – as you suggest. Thanks for commenting on my blog – I’m really enjoying reading yours.

    Justine said:
    January 15, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    That’s inspiring, what Jim had said. And I realize it’s true! There will always be new things to learn and new things to write. It’s just wonderful.
    To me, writing is fun. I do it for fun. It’s a hobby. And I absolutely love the feeling while writing. I get excited because I get the chance to create something, make stuff up, and explore the world in my mind.
    It’s just so, so fun! 😀

    Thank you for visiting my blog, by the way! 🙂

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