Write It Sideways

The Best Way to Measure Your Growth as a Writer

More than three years ago, I wrote a short story after a very long hiatus from writing.

I thought the story was pretty good. Great, in fact.

I quickly sent it off to a literary magazine, and expected a glowing response from the editor. Instead, my manuscript was returned to me in record time, covered with red marks.

Denial was my first instinct. Surely my writing couldn’t be that bad, right?

But, after a few days, I softened. Perhaps the editor did make some good observations on my story—things that could be cleaned up a bit. As time went on, and as I abandoned that manuscript for newer, better ideas, I started to realize I’d been far too hasty in my self-approval.

Since then, I’ve spent a few years immersing myself in learning about the craft of writing fiction. I’ve come so far, now I literally cringe as I read my earlier attempts.

Measuring Your Writing Growth

Fresh eyes are a writer’s best friend.

If you want to see how far you’ve come in your writing journey, and motivate yourself to continue your hard work, dig out your first honest writing attempts. A short story, abandoned novel, magazine article, blog post…anything you wrote at least one year ago.

Got it?

Now, follow these five steps to determine just how much you’ve learned through practice and study:

  1. Grab a red pen and a lined piece of paper.
  2. Read your piece of writing from beginning to end. Mental notes are fine at this stage, but don’t start recording them yet.
  3. As soon as you finish reading, write your immediate reactions on the lined paper. What’s your overall opinion of the piece? How do you feel about the fact that you are its author? What would you think about it if someone else had written it? What surprises you most about the piece?
  4. Use your red pen to mark the manuscript wherever you find specific weaknesses. Is the language verbose? Are your thoughts unclear? Have you written weak transitions? Are your spelling or grammar less-than-perfect? Strike stuff out. Circle or underline whatever’s questionable. Be your own biggest critic.
  5. Read over your comments and manuscript mark-up. Which weaknesses did you identify that you would definitely not find in a similar piece of your writing today?

I’ve noticed so many improvements in my writing over the last three years. Things I never would have noticed before, now stick out like sore thumbs. In general, I’m more aware of the common signs of amateur writers, and I’m more capable of spotting them in my work.

The best part about writing is that you can never stop growing. Who knows–maybe a year from now, I’ll even be taking a red pen to this post.

How do you measure your growth as a writer? What weaknesses have you overcome in your writing over the past year, or more? What do you hope to overcome this year?