Write to Learn

No matter how old I am, September always takes me back to school. What that means for me now is that I find myself taking stock of where I am in terms of my writing. This starts with questions at the practical level, then gets increasingly ambitious. How could I rework my schedule to make more time for writing? Have I neglected to do enough submitting? (Usually, yes.) What do I think of my work in progress? This is where I really begin to take off.

What could I do to take my current novel to a whole other level? What have I never before considered that I could add to my unfinished work? What fresh ideas could I dream up for new fiction? What interesting voices do I long to explore?

More than anything else, September is a perfect time to remind ourselves that we write to learn.

We write to learn about writing. We write to learn about other experiences and lives. We write to learn about the interior landscape of people we can only imagine. Writing is a journey, an exploration. We write to grow as our characters grow.

Fiction is by definition a dynamic exploration. We’re not writing profiles or personality sketches. We’re testing our characters in action against adverse circumstance. Our plots need to challenge our protagonists both inside and out – knocking at their barriers to change – in response to which they will ultimately grow and evolve, or fail to grow and evolve. We don’t know for sure what will happen until we go there with them. Fiction writing depends on sympathetic imagination.

Part of what fires the forward action of a piece is the writer’s own drive to discover. You want to pick characters who intrigue you, even puzzle or worry you; characters who are out of balance; characters who will have important choices to make. You want to write them so they seem true to themselves. Writers may have goals in mind, but until they write it, they can’t know for sure how a given character will react or where the experience will take him or her.

Write to be unnerved. Write to take risks.

Write to become more than you were.


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