It doesn’t matter how much theory you gorge on, until you execute, until you learn how to articulate your imagination, structure your story, and develop your writing processes, you will never learn to write. It’s in the writing that you work out how you do things, find your voice, and grow as a writer.
But there is a danger in existing and trying to evolve singularly in a bubble. You could write book after book after book. But how will you know what you’re doing well and what you’re not doing well? You could be writing reams of exposition. How’re you going to know? You might think it’s working for you, and just continue to do it, not realising what you’re doing is to your detriment.
This is where it’s important that you do get challenged.
It might just come in submitting. Lots of places use form rejections – usually, they do so not because they want to be cold and impersonal, but because it’s just too time-prohibitive to write a personal response to everybody submitting. However, some journals still offer feedback, as do competitions. Look for those who do (especially if you’re paying money to enter a competition).
Workshops are another great place to be challenged. Here, you can learn about components of writing that you can take away and apply to your own work. You might learn about active versus passive sentences, go away, and in reviewing your own work, find that you write too passively. This is something you might never have encountered if you stayed inside your bubble.
Along the route of workshops, courses are another avenue you might take. Some might not want to commit to some long period of schooling, but there’s always short courses. Find something that appeals to you either personally, or to what you’re writing. There’s lots of great stuff out there.
Find people you trust to share your writing with, people who are going to give you constructive criticism (which usually rules out family). You could join or start a workshopping group, or just find specific people you trust. With the advent of email and the assistance of Track Changes, it’s so easy to do things electronically nowadays.
Pop your bubble!
You need to write. You need to have something down on the page to work with so you can find what your strengths and weaknesses are – where you’re doing okay, and where you can improve. You’ll never know any of this until you do write, because your writing is going to behave as your frame of reference. Writing is always the key. But, at some point, you will need some sort of exposure to learn new things you can apply, or to examine where you need to improve. Just remember something paramount as far as the latter goes: be open.
Don’t ever think that your writing is infallible. Don’t ever believe that you’ve always got it right, and everybody else has got it wrong. One common denominator amongst the better writers is that they’re all open to being challenged, because they recognise that’s how they’re going to get better, and that’s how they’re going to improve whatever they’re working on.
The moment you close yourself off, you’ll stay where you’ve always been.
In a bubble.