I’ve been thinking a lot about grad school the last few days. Not going back. I’m done, glory halleluia. But just the whole process of advanced study in a field.
I did extremely well academically. Book learning came very naturally to me and school was never hard (well, except for AP Chemistry in high school–I still shudder every time I see a ketone). My brain was very much like a sponge. If it interested me, it stuck. And for a long time EVERYTHING interested me. I worked hard, don’t get me wrong, but school was easy. College was something more of a challenge, but still, I didn’t break much of a sweat. Traditional education totally fits with how my brain naturally functions.
Writing was the same way. I discovered at the tender young age of twelve that I had an interest and an aptitude for words. My frame of reference was my classmates, not published work. But I soaked in the adulation of my teachers (who, I now understand, probably wept with gratitude simply because I knew how to write a grammatically correct sentence), enjoyed the small contest wins. It wasn’t hard, it was FUN. And I did a lot of it. I was an inveterate pantser, all charged up on the joy of discovery and exploration (with exactly zero thought to craft). And I still had plenty of people (NOT professionals, I might add, or even mostly other writers) who thought I was Da Bomb, which fed my already titanic ego.
And I think this is something that often happens to writers. We go on for a long time, skating by on natural talent, fueled by the praise of people whose opinions (while appreciated) we give way more credit than we should. And that’s fine, to a point, because it gets us over the hump of the early stuff, helps us FINISH STUFF. We feel brilliant because we just don’t know any better. Ignorance is a blissful, lovely cocoon. Some people never push themselves beyond that. But some…some of them graduate to the next level.
For some, that’s like going out and getting their first real world job and finding out that you didn’t really learn ANYTHING in college. For others, it’s like going to grad school. In grad school, almost universally, the first year is designed to weed people out. It’s designed to MAKE YOU FEEL DUMB by slapping you upside the head with exactly how much you don’t know, how much you still have to learn. And for someone like me, it’s the first time in my life that EVER HAPPENED. I went from feeling like DA BOMB to feeling like da speck.
This is, honestly, where I think I’ve been the last couple of years with my writing. I self published several books, did moderately well with them. And in my quest to keep improving, keep learning, I finally hit that tipping point from writing college to writing grad school, where I suddenly realized exactly how much there still was to learn, and suddenly that raw talent seems incredibly insignificant.
It’s easy to kind of wallow in the suck of that. And I have. But I’ve kept pushing through, kept working, kept learning.
I’m not exactly sure where I am in my writing grad school career. There’s that whole, what is it, 10,000 hours to expert thing? Maybe I’m at journeyman. But I feel like I’m headed toward another of those tipping points, where all the things I’m learning are starting to click together, and I feel like I’m on the cusp of hitting another level. Graduation? Probably not. But at least no longer first year suckitude status. Take from that what you will, but that’s something I’ve been thinking about lately.
On the writing front, as I said yesterday, Priority One this week is finishing Riven revisions. That’s going slowly, as yesterday was all about the dog. But today I’m diving in. And I’m excited to be doing so.
Honestly, I was the same way in school, basking in the praise of people who told me how smart I was. I KNEW I was smart. School was so easy for me, with all A’s except a few times when I got lazy. I rarely had to study, naturally absorbing everything in class. And even in the real world, I always sprang well ahead of the people who taught me my jobs. But, sometimes, it’s good for us to get smacked down a bit and realize we’re not all that. We should always be learning instead of thinking we already know everything. I know I was like that about writing in the beginning. I’m almost embarrassed about that now. I DIDN’T know it all.
Please don’t discount that raw talent, though. There are probably plenty of people out there who know about structure and don’t have a bit of talent. The combination of the two? Now that’s awesome. But I would take the raw talent over knowledge if I had to choose. Luckily, we can have both.
Great post. Sorry if this doubles up. I really hear you on the finally entering “grad school.” That’s the funny thing about being a writer; we’ll never have clear “sign-posts” in the way other jobs have to tell us where, precisely, we are. That ends up being part reader response and part intuition and personal assessment. Have a good one. 🙂
Ha! I can so relate! College was EASY for me and so was my “professional life” as a systems engineer and as a teacher. Until…I chose to write.
What I considered good work two years ago makes me cringe today. I know I’ve turned a corner in my writing, but I’m certain, now, that the road goes on forever, twisting and turning as it climbs in a journey that won’t end until I write my last words. Many say the journey is more important than the destination, and who can really say they’ve arrived at the summit?
Okay. I’m done with the heavy soul-searching. Dive in to your writing. BTW – I love your cover for Riven.
Thanks! Robin does amazing work.
This really resonates with me. I think it must be why I find editing such a hard slog. I can see where I have to go but – I confess – have a hard time pushing myself to get there.