These will always be the wisest words the average writer needs to hear:
I’m not saying exceptional writing geniuses don’t emerge fully formed and explode onto the literary scene. I’m saying most writers don’t. But therein lies the rub. Most writers don’t see themselves on par with most writers when most writers are.
I don’t think the inability to see that is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The average writer has more talent and creative intelligence than the average person. But having more talent and creative intelligence than the average person still makes them the average writer.
This means if the average writer wants to become better than the average writer, they must put their effort into their vulnerabilities as a writer, not just practice their strengths. Or, as Anders Ericcson calls it, they must deliberately practice:
Writing advice is everywhere in the writing community. Writers who believe it might actually assist them in their intentions for their work are scarce. “There are no rules” assures the writer that just doing what they already do well will lead to success. But that ignores the exponential growth possible when a learner deliberately learns and practices new skills.
Art is craft + vision. If an artist can’t use the tools of their trade through muscle memory alone, they must concentrate on using them. It detracts from using their craft to form something meaningful out of nothing. A beautifully painted tree is a nice image of a tree. A beautifully painted tree that makes the reader feel something besides “that is a beautifully painted tree” is art.
But artists can’t paint a tree that evokes emotion without first learning how to paint a beautiful tree. They could even paint a hundred trees and pick out the one or two that evoke emotion that was not intended. Evocative work requires many monkeys banging away at keyboards or hours of deliberate practice.
Stories need a source of tension that does not necessarily have to come from obstacles on the character’s path or from in their head. But tension does not exist on the page. It is an emotion the reader feels external to the text.
Writers are not competing against other writers who create beautifully-written stories that focus on what the character does, says, or thinks. They are competing against the work that can use what a character does, says or thinks to create a world that needs this particular character to change at least one aspect of it, including the character themselves. Work that doesn’t require any change to the character, world or concern must be exceptional to be as engaging to its ideal reader as a story with a simple conflict.
That skill comes from deliberately practising the dynamic aspects of storytelling. And that doesn’t happen until the writer learns that the dynamic aspects of storytelling are absent from their work and that absence does not serve their intentions for it. Conflict, tension, plot and character development are the eggs, flour, sugar and leavening agent in baking. A skilled writer can work around not using them, but their absence will be obvious in work that needs them.