Help Me Help You Help Me

This is probably not an earth-shattering revelation, but I find that when I help other people do things, I get better at them myself. Or at least I get better at helping other people do them. Writing is no exception; the more I read other people’s work and think about how to make it better, the more I learn about my own writing. And the more I write down my thoughts on writing, the clearer they become and the better I know my own needs and goals and prejudices.

I also think I’m getting better about trying to judge different pieces on their own merits rather than trying to force them into preexisting molds. Sure, deep down I still roll my eyes when I think about people writing (and reading), say, romance novels. But at the same time, I can put that scorn aside and be helpful despite whatever involuntary reactions I have to the genre as a whole. Writing comes from different places for different individuals, and far be it from me to judge anyone for having a different muse. I’m sure plenty of people roll their eyes when they pass the fantasy section at Borders.

Putting together a sort of curriculum to prepare for NaNoWriMo is another way for me to be somewhat metacognitive about the whole writing process. In thinking about how to help others create characters and premises and settings and outlines, I have to confront my own opinions and sift through the years of teaching and experience I’ve had. Luckily, I think most of my teachers had good ideas that I am privileged to pass along, and the ones who weren’t so good have taught me how not to approach the process. Plus, I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes along the way, and I will almost certainly make many more before I’m through with writing, and mistakes are nothing if not instructive.

So by helping others I am really helping myself. Also, screwing up makes me a better writer. At least that is what I intend to keep telling myself.

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