Writing away, writing toward

betsywrites asked whether I ever find that I write away from my existing writing skills–whether I ever lose some skill I was good at while working on other aspects of writing craft.

Scary as it is when it happens, yeah, I do.

Like the book where I finally got worldbuilding down. I was really proud of myself; I’d finally created a complete world; I finally felt like I could handle worldbuilding without being overwhelmed. (Because worldbuilding is another character that unfolds as you go, at least for me–something I should ramble about separately sometime.) I was so pleased that it took me a while to realize I’d let the characterization slip–something I found troubling, since characterization was one of the things I’d thought I already had down. One of the things I had already had down.

I went back, re-threaded character arcs and character development for everyone (then re-rethreaded it when I realized one of those characters was rather a cliche). Then I moved on, and in the next book, I managed to get both down at once, in a more instinctive and more intertwined way.

Earlier, when I first was learning to write fiction and was playing that voice card pretty hard, I regularly used fairly lyrical language in my stories. But as I began working on other things–especially plot–I moved away from that lyricism; the (more strongly plotted) stories I was now writing didn’t seem to want it anymore. For a time I convinced myself that lyrical prose was something I just no longer wrote–until I found myself writing an entire book in that style.

But along the way to getting my lyricism back, I’d gained more skill using voice in general, and had learned how to write in other voices, too. I’d learned I could choose my voice, somewhat consciously; I wasn’t limited to the one voice which used to be the main thing I knew. The skill I’d written away from came back to me, with interest, and I’m a better writer for it. (Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer could never have been written if the only voice I knew how to write was still lyrical.)

I’m more and more convinced that the things we lose as writers come back sooner or later, one way or another. (Okay, the things we lose in life in general, too–which is how I wound up, say, as a Girl Scout leader.)

This sort of thing happens in other arts as well, of course. At one point, during a voice lesson, I was struggling to get back the projection/volume I’d once had, but had lost when I was working on reaching notes in a more open, less strained way. I was working on a song I’d once been able to sing, but now couldn’t. And I asked my voice teacher, basically, “What will I gain, when I put all these things I’ve lost back together again?” Meaning, what would I gain that would be better than simply having hung onto them in the first place.

My voice teacher thought about this a moment, then said, “Yes, but now you’ll have control.”

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