Friday, March 24, 2006


Jenn Reese has published the Growth Cycle of a Writer. As she says, it doesn't apply to every writer, so this post is not meant to castigate her for outlining her own course as a writer--what she's saying is, of course, perfectly valid. (Even though she mixes stuff about career and stuff about the actual writing--which are two different animals that must be kept in different cages so that they do not devour each other or you.)

But since a few people seem to be taking it as a general blueprint, there are a few comments worth making.

(1) If that sense of excitement she cites in Step 1 ever fades, just shoot yourself in the head and get it over with. The primary impetus and joy of creating is that sense of excitement.

(2) A writer can be at several stages of the growth cycle at once, can regress, can leap ahead, and can stall out. There's no such thing as a clean, clear progression.

(3) One element of the growth cycle not mention is the writer plucked too early and labeled for greatness before his or her time. This is also known as the What the Fuck Will I Write for A Second Novel Cycle. Or, in some cases, the Crash-and-Burn Where Are They Now Cycle.

(4) Disillusionment is actually a factor all along the way, not an early stage. The disillusionment has nothing to do with the writing. It has to do with moving higher and higher up the ladder and finding out time and time again that your goals are, in fact, either meaningless or that they do not mean what you thought they did. There actually is no external validation that will satisfy a certain kind of writer for very long. This is actually very healthy for a writer. Once you are not disillusioned, you need to take yourself out back and shoot yourself in the head. (Of course, some writers find a level of bullshit they're willing to accept as truth and do quite well existing at that level.)

(5) Stage 8 on Reese's growth cycle is "Professional." I say, god for fucking bid any of us ever become professionals. God forbid any of us become competent or brimming over with confidence. You know what the most important thing you need to keep going and keep doing interesting things as writer (once you've mastered the basics)? The ability to put yourself in a place where when you start a new novel or a story, you feel almost like the first time you wrote a story or novel--like you know absolutely fucking nothing. And to push against the fear of that by being as fearless as you can be (because the only knowledge you do have is that you did complete a story or novel in the past). If you sit down to write and you think you know everything you need to know, well, great for you, but I don't think it works that way for writers who want to push themselves.

(6) Conversely, every time you sit down to write, if you've been doing your homework, you have more ways to tell a story. You have an over-abundance of competence in a sense, and thus it gets more and more difficult to write because you've accumulated such an arsenal. Back when you only knew one way to tell a story, it was fucking easy. "I'll tell the story this way...cause, well, that's all I know. Sorry."

(7) Envy is an idiot's game, even though we all play it. If you find yourself primarily motivated by envy of other writers, you will never find any kind of true fulfillment. But this is not a stage in your growth cycle. It's something you fight against forever and try to spend as little energy on as possible. No one who starts out being envious ever really ends up not being envious of somebody.

Oh--and one last thing. In a world resonating with articles about word counts and production and words-per-day, know when the fuck not to write. The world really doesn't need all those words. Try choosing just the right ones instead. In other words, shut the fuck up a little. ;)

Have a great Friday night, my litul monkeys!

Evil Monkey

Jeff's Friday Exercise:
Exact same as Wednesday


At 12:29 AM, Blogger Tessa said...

Glad I read your list before reading hers. According to her, I am 1-7 all at once, but most with the headspace of number 1.

Wait, that's not true. I've never been disillioned. Just impatient. (My ego can crack walnuts just by looking at them.)

I can't really imagine the excitement going away. If it did, there wouldn't be much point. To anything.

At 12:35 AM, Anonymous deborahb said...

Oh, thank fuck.


At 5:33 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

still not king. *g*

At 7:58 AM, Anonymous Jay Lake said...

It's all nattering, monkey. Still working on choosing the right words, me.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger marrije said...

That Evil Monkey book on writing is looking more and more promising! I also like his Gordon Ramsey vocabulary.

At 7:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jay and I used to hang out in bars in Tijuana. I got nuthin bad to say about him. Well, nuthin bad that I can repeat...

And all I can say is--there will be an Evil Monkey Guide to Writing Fiction, probably 2007-08.

Evil Monkey

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Lee said...

Envy of what? Success? Or envy of someone else's wonderful writing. Two very different beasts.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger JeffV said...

Envy of other people's success. Jealousy?

Envy of other people's writing isn't really envy--it's love. It's a kind of writer crush.


At 6:54 PM, Blogger Lee said...

A crush? It's a lot more complicated than that. You might have a look at the essay 'Envy' by Kathryn Chetkovich, for an interesting perspective. It's available via Granta online, and has been referenced and reproduced many times

At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh it is? Wow. I never knew. Here I thought I was perfectly capable of parsing my own reactions and emotions. I'll give Granta a look so I can tell how wrong I was. LOL!


At 11:42 PM, Blogger Lee said...

Why so defensive? I wasn't suggesting that you don't know or understand your own feelings. But surely different perspectives are useful.

I find Chetkovich has a lot of ínteresting things to say, especially about being a woman writer (She was Franzen's girlfriend for a while, by the way). The point, at least for me, is that that she peels back some of the cultural and personal layers of envy.

At 6:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not defensive. I'm kinda un-fond of people who tell other people that their personal reaction is wrong.

I'm certainly interested in how others see it. Your tone was just off-putting.


At 4:36 AM, Blogger A.R.Yngve said...

"The world doesn't really need all those words. Try choosing just the right ones instead."

But if I really lived by that rule, all I'd say to everybody all day would be:

"We must mobilize a space defense to stop killer asteroids from hitting Earth!"

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