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I’ve heard many people describe their progression as a writer, and I’ve been surprised not by how different these stories are, but how similar. That doesn’t mean everyone goes through these specific steps or does it in exactly this order, just that these growth experiences are shared by a lot of people. Since some of these stages are tough to get through or somewhat embarrassing to look back on, realizing we’re not alone can be really validating. And while it may not seem like it at the time, I think each stage has something to offer.

1. Prewriting

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You have creative ideas, and you like the idea of putting them together into a great story. Sometimes when you’re feeling especially inspired, you’ll jot down whatever comes to you. Maybe if it’s short, you’ll even get to the end!

But every time you try to work on something that takes more than the space of an afternoon, you run into the same problem: writing is hard work! After the initial glow of that fun idea wears off, finishing doesn’t seem worth futzing with those sentences or troubleshooting the obvious plot holes. You have other things to get to.

Maybe you still think that you’ll be a great writer someday. Or maybe you’re sure you’ll never be a writer; it’s too much effort.

If You’re in This Stage

You’re actually ahead of the curve! Most people don’t come to a site like Mythcreants until they reach stage 3 or 4. That could save you a lot of heartache later. And while I can’t promise that you’ll actually settle down with a nice story someday, many people move to stage 2.

2. Magnum Opus

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You have it: the idea. This is no one-afternoon stand; this story will be the love of your life, your magnum opus. The idea is fresh and exciting, but more than that, it resonates with you on a deeper level. You feel for the characters, and you’re riveted by the fix they’re in.

You start putting words on paper, and soon the idea grows from a short story to a novel and then from a novel to a series. You find yourself investing tons of hours doing the work you never wanted to do before. You do it because you just have to make this story real. And after you do, it will be the next big thing. You’ll show everyone that you were made for this!

In the meantime, you protect your precious idea. It’s incredibly valuable to you, so it must be valuable to others. What if someone steals it? Gotta keep it secret; keep it safe.

If You’re in This Stage

I’m sorry about what comes next. As a consolation prize, may I offer you some articles on the basics of plotting? You’ll be happy you read them later.

3. Disillusionment

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After working long and hard on your beautiful magnum opus, you showed it to someone else. Someone who didn’t think it was the cat’s meow. That someone was maybe a friend, an editor, or even yourself. Regardless, reality has come knocking, and it says your work is crap.

Maybe you hold on to hope a little longer. It isn’t that your work is terrible – that person just didn’t get it. The masses don’t appreciate true art. But eventually, you admit that you aren’t a natural writing savant and that your work is far from a masterpiece. This is a hard thing to realize.

If You’re in This Stage

There’s nothing wrong with you. The disillusionment stage happens because our culture lies to us about what being a fiction writer entails. It’s not some mystical journey that involves following your heart and muse wherever it takes you – it’s a profession that has to be studied like any other. You just haven’t learned it yet.

Sure, there are a few people who lucked out when their first attempt became a smash hit. But it’s probably good you aren’t one of them, or you’d be insufferable thereafter.

4. Learning

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You’re going to learn all there is to learn, and then you’ll fix your magnum opus! You read books, visit websites, and attend workshops. Slowly you become aware of the problems in your stories. Unfortunately, everything feels the same except you now dislike your own writing, and that makes it difficult to continue.

You keep working at it, and eventually you notice that your writing is actually getting better. You even branch out a bit. You write some short stories or test out different perspectives and genres.

But whenever you go back to your magnum opus, you become discouraged. Your new writing is clearly better than it was when you put so many hours into it. The plot of your masterpiece is a tangled mat that you can’t seem to comb out. With dawning horror, you realize it’s time to put the love of your life aside. You say you’re just on a break, but everyone knows what that means.

If You’re in This Stage

The struggles you’re facing are growing pains. Before, you had blissful ignorance, but now you’re actually on your way to achieving a dream. It really does get better.

5. Rebirth

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After kissing a lot of frogs, you’ve gained skill and confidence. You have more to learn – as you always will – but you’re ready to take on more challenging projects. Maybe after writing short stories, you’re ready to go back to novels. Maybe after writing in limited, you’re ready to go back to omniscient.

Writing isn’t like it used to be. It’s not deliriously chasing a dream; it’s sitting down every day in front of the computer. You know it’s not having a great idea that matters, but all the hard work and skill that goes into narrating it. You work to make each story good, but it’s okay if it’s not perfect. While the romance may be gone, now you can accomplish what you only dreamed of before.

If You’re in This Stage

Congrats! Keep writing and learning.

Many writers are lured in by unrealistic expectations. If we knew what we were getting into then, maybe we would have turned right back around and focused on accounting instead. But we didn’t, and I think that initial burst of enthusiasm enables many of us to climb a formidable learning curve. We may not have salvaged all the stories we wanted to, but thanks to those failed stories, we can do better today.

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