A writer never stops learning. No number of publications, awards, or sales changes this. Creative writing, like language learning or painting, is a life-long journey. This applies even if ‘mastery’ is reached. A writer must always seek improvement, new skills and develop sophisticated knowledge. Our era understands infinite growth. From a young age, we encourage children to ‘dream big’ and develop their own ambitions, regardless of personal circumstances. These students may have specific careers in mind: doctor, content creator, lawyer, scientist, librarian, teacher, or the performing arts. All require a positive attitude towards life-long learning. Doctors, even acclaimed ones who charge thousands, can improve relations with patients. The same applies for lawyers, scientists, librarians, and other professions.
I am a content creator. My video channel, designed for education and entertainment, would benefit from this mentality. So often, I’ve made videos under the vain belief that I’m already good enough and viewers are foolish for not seeing it. I have blamed algorithms, Google Search, and social media. It is frustrating when others cannot see your worth or hard work. However, the pity party is over. I can make better videos. Admitting this does not mean I have failed. Learning is truly a life-long journey and it is for everyone. As for fiction, I have worked on a novel for the last 18 months. I am proud of my accomplishments so far. This novel, however, will take years to finish.
That is okay. There are areas to improve in: grammar, using the correct tense, time management, applying character perspective and worldbuilding. To quote famous author Brandon Sanderson, ‘journey before destination.’ Greatness is not a swimming race, where once your hand touches the pool wall, before anyone else, you win the gold medal. Life does not work like that. No one is waiting to hand you a trophy saying ‘you’ve made it, there’s no need to work hard anymore.’ Of course not. Writing, or any creative pursuit, has no finish line. This is certainly true for winners of the Nobel Prize or the Booker.
Around 2015, Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in literature. Critics adorned Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. His follow-up, however, did not spark this love; The Buried Giant, a literary fantasy, did not resonate as much. It was an excellent book. After reading, I found myself disagreeing with Ursula Le Guinn, who took aim at Ishiguro’s distance from the fantasy genre. However, I also disagreed with many critics, falsely believing literary fiction must translate into realism. My point isn’t to portray Ishiguro as a failure or a success.
Rather, every book written provides writers a map into their next story. Hopefully, an author does not seek to copy without adding something new. This is a fantastic and sympathetic criticism of genre fiction. To live as a writer does not mean hiding in a fortress, afraid of new lessons, competition and perspectives. A brilliant artist transforms these novel encounters into opportunity. I recall Eowyn’s fear of a cage in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It applies here; closing your mind to the world locks opportunities away. A writer may declare ‘I have nothing more to learn’ yet this is throwing the key away from their own prison.
I must conclude by encouraging writers to share their work. Whilst there is no finish line for writers, and creating literature is a life-long journey, getting feedback is crucial. I am thankful towards my beta readers and critique partners for shaping my literary journey. There’s value in submitting stories to literary magazines, agents and publishers. Rejection does not change this. Do not fear outside judgement, either. Writers should polish their stories and follow submission guidelines. However, someone disliking your story is not a shocking, end-of-the-world failure. Everyone, in the Arts, gets rejected. No one has it easy, and those born in lucky circumstances, fight hard to stay fortunate.
Whoever you are, keep learning. The world is changing. Understanding that education is a life-long pursuit is crucial to literary success. In an era of instant gratification and get-rich-schemes, humility matters. Keep writing, keep sharing and keep going.