How Writers Evolve

How Writers Evolve

A friend of mine once told me, “If who we are today is who we will be tomorrow, then our lives are already wasted.”

Every day, as writers and as people, we can choose to grow and evolve or we can choose to remain the same. And evolution goes both ways: it can improve you or it can drag you backwards.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, evolution is “the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.” What does that mean?

In one word…Change.

Evolution makes you versatile

I am in favour of perfecting and mastering an art form, but I sometimes wonder: At what point does the quest for perfection turn into comfort, fear or complacency?

The day I lost my perpetual need to be angry was the worst day of my life as a writer and a slam poet. I was convinced that my anger was what made me a writer because it forced me to go deeper within myself. In my performances, my anger was seen as passion. Anger defined me as an artist.

The truth was that writing from a place of anger was safe. I could say the same things and someone in the audience would still connect with it because of the volatility in my voice.

I realized I was limiting myself as a writer. When I allowed myself to change and stop being obsessed with anger, the tone and message of my writing also changed – and improved. To compel the emotion I’d once gotten through anger, I had to work harder and find new things to say.

That knowledge expanded my horizons as a writer. I learned different styles, different techniques, different topics than I’d ever written on before. I met new people in pursuing all this knowledge, and they introduced me to still more people, and that wider circle eventually became my clientele.

How do you allow yourself to evolve?

We aren’t scared of change itself. We’re scared of the consequences that change brings.

I was scared that letting my anger go and writing about more tender topics like my spiritual journey and falling in love would make me lose my passion as a performer. I was worried it would make me ordinary.

I was afraid of facing that consequence – even though I had no way of knowing what change would bring me.

How do you allow yourself to evolve and explore new writing styles or genres when you’re afraid of the consequences of change?

  1. Reconnect with your personal mission
  2. Reconnecting with your personal mission as a writer can help you find direction and help you embrace change. One of our biggest fears in changing our writing style is that we will somehow lose track of ourselves and who we are.

    By keeping our personal mission and values in mind as we experiment with new styles, we have a solid rock to keep our feet on while everything around us is malleable and moving.

  3. Acquire new knowledge and techniques
  4. Knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have about a given change you’re about to make, the less scary it becomes.

    As you explore new styles or genres as a writer, you’ll learn things you never knew – like the fact that this style is seen as the most compassionate style, or that a famous author you admire broke through some of the same barriers you’re struggling with by using this technique.

    The more you know, the less frightening change will be for you.

  5. Build a tribe of like-minded people
  6. Studies have proven that people take on the qualities of the people they’re closest to. If your five best friends are twenty pounds overweight, odds are good that you are, too. If your entire extended family is middle-class, it’s unlikely you’re a millionaire.

    We want to fit into our tribes, which is why we take on their characteristics. If you hope to become a kind of writer that doesn’t exist in your current tribe, go find some writers who fit the mold. Surround yourself with a tribe of writers whose influence you’d like in your work – and make the time to see them often.

How do you see yourself evolving as a writer?

Post by Vangile Makwakwa

Vangile is a writer and spoken word poet. She is also the founder of www.speak2bfree.com, a company that provides tools for writers and slam poets to find their voices and promote themselves online and offline.

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  1. Hey Vangile

    Evolution as a writer – or becoming better as a writer – is a complex topic. You’ve hit on some good pointers though in points 2 and 3.

    You’ve no doubt heard the 10,000 Hours Rule – that it takes 10,000 Hours of practice to become virtuoso level at a particular discipline. Gladwell wrote about it in Outliers – that’s where it reached the popular consciousness I think.

    However the thing Gladwell missed out from Outliers was that it’s not just 10,000 Hours, but it’s 10,000 Hours of a specific kind of practice (which is called Deliberate Practice). Where this is important is that a lot of writers – and a lot of writing advice – is based on the assumpion that just writing a lot will help them get better.

    And yep, there’s a certain amount of improvement that regular writing will bring. But at some point you’ll plateau – because you need to get out of the comfort zone and Learn New Skills (your point number 2). The quickest way to improve at writing is not to write a lot, but to identify core areas and actually practice working on just those core areas in turn. Preferably with a teacher or mentor. Or someone qualified to give accurate feedback. So that you can correct mistakes.

    So in order to evolve at writing you need to commit to getting better, identify core areas of writing that you need to improve, work on exercises designed specifically to improve you in those areas (preferably with a teacher and/or mentor), and keep doing it. And then do it again. And again. Just writing regularly is an inefficient and time consuming way of getting better at writing – and it’s very hit and miss.

    Sorry for the long comment but this is something I feel strongly about. I really dig Point Number 3 though about surrounding yourself with a group of like minded people. You should expand that out to post length – very important information.

    Paul

    • Vangile Makwakwa says:

      Hi Paul,

      I have read “Outliers” and the 10,000 hours rule and I remember when I read that I spent a long time counting how many hours I had spent writing so I could see if there was hope for me (true story). One of the things I believe writers battle with is the quest for perfection – we can get stuck believing in this idea that we have to perfect a particular skill before moving forward. I think you make a great point about committing to get better and identifying core areas and practicing on them. I wonder though as writers work on these core areas should they work on their strengths or their weaknesses?

      • Hey Vangile

        That’s a great question.

        The ‘quick’ answer is that they should work on their weaknesses. And bring those areas to a level of parity with their strengths.

        However there’s a caveat. That caveat is time and opportunity cost. The important thing before undertaking any kind of ‘practice regime’ is to identify what you actually what to achieve – and then work on areas that will lead to those goals being met. The opportunity cost of improving in an area that doesn’t contribute directly to the overall goal is too high – unless you have unlimited time!

        An example: bloggers and content marketers COULD increase and improve their rhythmic proficiency by studying and writing poetry. But for most bloggers and content marketers there are other areas of writing to study first that will have a more dramatic effect on what they are trying to achieve.

        Does that make sense?

        Paul

        • Vangile Makwakwa says:

          Yes it does and it makes me think and sheds some light: improve upon the things that will help you achieve your goals.

          • Good.

            Seriously, the third point about the ‘tribe’ is something you should expand to post length. There’s some really good info you could put into such a post.

            Paul

  2. Love the pic.

    Vangile, great points. I went to a Neil Diamond concert one time and he talked about how his anger helped him write better songs. (He joked that was why he kept getting divorced.)

    Anger is so exhausting. I’m thinking sometimes it helps me, but in the long run it ruins my creativity and spirit–to say nothing of sleep.

    Like Paul, I also like point 3 about finding a mentor. In “action research” it is called a “critical friend”–someone who can be honest with you and give direction. I think that is why the Men with Pens’ blog is so popular. James helps us keep evolving. And you are right, that is a gift indeed.

    • Vangile Makwakwa says:

      Thanks Mary for bringing up that point on anger: it is exhausting. I believe in having a mentor who has already been on the journey because they can also help you manage expectations to make evolving easier.

  3. Hi Vangile!

    I follow my enthusiasm wherever it takes me in writing/life. There are some angry poets/writers/musicians/painters – sometimes it’s a phase you need to travel through to get to your ultimate destination. I certainly had an angry phase – it’s therapy. You work through it and keep going. Passing through evolution/phases brings us to yet another place to express ourselves. Most of us may be seeking a place of peace. Then we turn around and throw life preservers to those struggling behind us.

    It can be hard to leave an identity behind – like angry slam poet. What folks most worry about is the reaction of those who’ve come to see us as “fill-in-the-blanks.” I try as best as I can to not worry what others will think. It’s important to keep moving and changing for my own sanity.

    Enjoyed this! G.

    • Vangile Makwakwa says:

      Thanks Giulietta,

      I could not agree with you more on letting yourself pass through each phase as a writer. I think the hardest thing for many of us is to just be and allow ourselves to get to a different space because we don’t know what the consequences will be: will my friends still love me? Will people still connect with my work? Will I ever be creative again?

  4. HI Vangile,

    Thank you for this. Somehow you answered something I was asking myself this very morning. For the first time in 20 years I have come up against a severe writer’s block. I started a new project and it’s just not coming to me. It’s unusual territory. When you said, “We aren’t scared of change itself. We’re scared of the consequences that change brings.” my throat literally constricted. I’m pretty sure I know what that means:) This has really made me think. Thank you.

    Melani

    • Vangile Makwakwa says:

      Its my pleasure Melani. Writer’s block is not fun but whenever I get it I see it as a symptom for something deeper in my subconscious that is manifesting physically. Usually I just meditate on one question: what is it that I am blocking myself from seeing?

  5. Hi Vangile,

    The great thing about evolving as a writer (as opposed to, say, a newscaster) is that you can throw it all down on paper and then decide if it works *before* you put it out the world.

    That’s kind of freeing in itself, don’t you think? Writers do have natural fears of… well, everything from rejection to revealing “too much”. Part of fighting that fear (I think) is to get into a comfortable rhythm with your own voice. In other words, it might not be a fear of change per se, but a fear of dropping the shield that kept all the other bad demons away. Does that make sense?

    Anyway, I’m just speaking from personal experience here (hope I’m not revealing too much…) and it could be different for other writers. I completely agree with your solution though: if you are going to evolve as a writer, you have to push yourself out from those comfort zones.

    ~Graham

    • Vangile Makwakwa says:

      Graham thank you for sharing and what you said made sense: writing is freeing but it is also a tool that reveals our inner demons and whilst that is great. The problem becomes what to do with them once we see them and that action has consequences

  6. Awesome post & great discussion! Just like Melanie, the following phrase struck me: “We aren’t scared of change itself. We’re scared of the consequences that change brings.”

    You got me thinking deeply! I’ve always feared the consequences of taking that “risk”; fear has held me back from doing a few things that I’ve always wanted. ( I still am able to do them, luckily!) And like Paul mentioned – working on weaknesses that I have to reach my goal and not waste my time on ones that don’t contribute- exactly what I’ll do going forward.

    Thanks to all who posted! Certainly learned more about myself!

  7. Hello Vangile,

    The writing when angry resonates with me because that is typically when I write poetry. It is true we all must evolve and not let one emotion brand us. We are ever changing and if we don’t open up to change we may hinder ourselves from exploring other work using other emotions & ideas. We will in essence block our fullest potential and growth. It’s more to make our energies & abilities kinetic than to hold on to potential and remain stagnate. It’s nice to know you can do something, but to evolve and actually do it is even better. Thanks for the post! It truly has me thinking!

  8. Dear colleagues:

    As a Rwandan journalist who is going to turn in to a writer very soon, writing is having a topic , focus then setup an angle. What you need to know is to learn how deliver your message to people , I mean your audience. Learn the contribution of facts as truth. Then, there you are!!!! Isn’t?

    Being a man of few words but effective, it helps.

    Ntarugera François

  9. Any emotion can be a crutch, for me it was passion itself, or the very state of being in love, I believed this was what gave a unique quality to my writing and even my life!
    This is where the tribe came in to help me to remeber what I initialy set out to do, not become enslaved to an emotion, especially the critical freind; whom I hate in my private time but still cannot stop admiring.
    point 3 indeed.

  10. Natasha Di Fiore says:

    You pose an interesting question (How do you allow yourself to evolve and explore new writing styles or genres when you’re afraid of the consequences of change?) and I agree with your solutions to that question. Your self-awareness throughout your career as a writer will take you to great heights.

  11. Great thought piece here. I think evolving as a writer has been one of the hardest challenges I have had professionally, but also the most rewarding. Til this day, I think reading great fiction and really smart business writers helps me more than anything else. Reading really the key. But some other great tips here. Thanks for the post.

    Jason
    http://investinsocial.com

  12. Vangile,

    Going through a rather profound evolution myself at the moment, this post really resonated with me in a big way. Thank you for writing so honestly.

    James,
    Thank YOU for posting this piece. You never fail to inspire.

    Now if you’ll both excuse me, I’m off to evolve! 😀

  13. Hey Vangile, this was a great read indeed! I completely agree with the basic fact that writers either evolve or they devolve, one thing must always happen, there is no ‘happy medium’ here.

    Also love the idea of forming a tribe of like-minded writers, it sounds wonderful on paper! One thing I must point out is that, when looking for a group, be prepared to experience failure and/or rejection. I was a member of a local writing group for a period of months, and although my writing did improve constructively, I haven’t made any friends from there. I learned how to get better at the ‘craft’ of writing, not writing itself.

    Thanks Vangile :-)

  14. Hello Vangile

    I feel very inspired. I’m a trained journalist with a passion for some serious writing other than a news story. great I found this website and everyone speaking their mind

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