A few months ago I wrote a post for Career Authors in which I talked about how my experience as a copywriter came in handy for novel-writing.
As hinted in the piece, there’s another side to that coin, a gap between expectation and reality in the transfer of writing skills. Or in my case, a LACK of transfer of those skills. At least at first.
When I set out to write my first book, I thought writing for a living would prepare me to write for what I would hope would be a new living. I had written for my supper for more than 20 years. I had the discipline to write on the daily. I knew that when deadlines loomed and clients (or editors) waited, writer’s block wasn’t an option.
Easy, right? I’d simply take my writing skills from here and copy/paste them over there.
Despite the fact that I had a toolbox crammed with writer’s tools (handy) and the discipline to write rather than heed the siren’s call of a full dishwasher (also handy), novel-writing was a world apart from copywriting.
It wasn’t just the sheer volume of words. I expected that writing 90,000 nouns, verbs and adjectives would feel different than writing a few hundred. It was the dearth of skills I had not yet acquired, let alone honed, that surprised me.
I found that while I knew how to write dialogue that would help define characters, I had to learn to give my fictional people rich internal lives. I discovered that although I knew how to turn a phrase, I’d need to figure out how to twist a plot. I realized that good storytelling very often trumped good writing.
That was the real a-ha moment for me.
I had oodles of experience creating lush mental pictures through my writing and knew my way around figurative language. I soon found that it didn’t mean a thing if the story itself wasn’t interesting. I discovered that, for the most part, a good story could withstand okay writing, but not the other way around.
Not that I advocate verbal mediocrity, mind you. How you say something is as important as what you say. It was simply an epiphany that taught me that I couldn’t rely on writerly gymnastics the way I could with copywriting.
So I dug deeper into my toolbox. I read books. I took classes. I went to the writer’s school of hard knocks and made mistakes then tried to learn from them.
It’s been a journey—one that’s far from over. The more I learn, the more I discover how much there is to learn. And that’s the beauty of it, really. Writing isn’t about the triumph of achievement. It’s about reaching farther, growing, learning, becoming, discovering what you didn’t know you’d need to know.
What’s been a surprise as you’ve transitioned from a career or life stage? What advice would you give your younger, greener self? I’d love to know.