Why would a writer ever get any better?

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Dan Foy

A week or so back I got into a twitter discussion about whether any authors are any good late in life. Many people felt like a writer’s middle years are their best,and that most make a slow (or rapid) decline into irrelevance. But offsetting age and the loss of faculties, most felt,was that your ‘craft’ would grow and develop.

I’ve always kind of blindly assumed this: that as I kept writing I’d get better at writing. That of course my third novel would be better than my first, because that’s what happens, right?

But I’ve just started wondering why that would be the case. Why should anyone learn anything about writing just from writing? It’s not like you get much feedback. A swift edit, perhaps, from an overworked and underfunded publisher. Maybe a few short reviews here and there that might or  might not give you some useful feedback. Writing, for most people, is an entirely solitary pursuit without teachers or even peers to push you to better things (unless you’re the kind of writer who seeks that out).

So why should you get better? Is there anything essential about writing itself that causes someone to get better at it?

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7 thoughts on “Why would a writer ever get any better?

  1. I think that you’d make YOURSELF improve – the biggest impetus to make the next one better would be your own internal critic. I know I’m hard on my own writing – harder than I am on others’ I think – and that feels to me to be the main thing that’ll keep making me try harder, which will hopefully lead to better work.

    Also, I do believe in the idea that the more you do something, the more you learn how to do it. I guess you can always find new mistakes to make, but maybe you get better at avoiding other ones.

    1. That’s true: now I’ve felt the shame of people reading things I’ve written that I wish I’d written better, I’m more careful about what I say/write. But I still only have my own internal voice to base it on, and all evidence so far suggests that voice is nuts.

  2. I don’t know. I think it is (to a degree) like music. There are certain musicians who remain relevant and keep writing / recording / performing well. But for a lot, there’s something about the musical “voice” they use which doesn’t age well, or that subsequent voices employed aren’t credible, for whatever reason.

    This is also, in my view, independent of the degree of “craft” they employ. This especially applies to authors whose voice is aggressively distinctive at the beginning of their career and reverts to the mean later on. Worse, they become mutton dressed as lamb, the enfant terrible turning into the try-hard middle-aged (in a writing sense) rocker trying to look like a teen idol.

    Like any creative field, there’s a degree of fashionability to this, but also something about the audience accessibility of writing which is independent of skill/craft. At the same time, you’re right that there’s precious little peer feedback / professional development which can be reliably used for objective skill development. .

  3. Instead it’s like a haircut. You never know you’ve made a terrible mistake until someone comments and then you have to painstakingly grow it out again…

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