No writer wants to be a one book wonder. But maybe worse than being a one book wonder is the writer who peaks with their first book. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be the M. Night Shyamalan of literature. (I don’t think you’d find too many film buffs who would disagree with me when I say that he hit the ball out of the park with his first film, The Sixth Sense, and has yet to direct a better movie).
But how do we do write a book that's better than the one we've just written? How do we continue to grow as writers and improve our craft? Just like the protagonists we write about, growth occurs through conflict and struggle.
First, let's talk about the struggle.
It's no secret to anyone who writes that writing is hard work. If you're familiar with Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule, then you know what I'm getting at. In his best-selling book, Outliers, Gladwell theorizes that natural talent has less to do with success than the power of sheer hard work. The rule is that it takes about 10,000 hours for an artist to hone their craft. In other words, if you do something long enough, you're going to get better at it. So the first key to writing a better book is to simply write consistently. The old adage practice makes perfect has been around a long time because it's true.
Then, there's the conflict.
Again, unless you happen to hit one out of the park (and do so consistently with each book) your writing career will be filled with ups and downs. It's those "downs" and how we react to them that teach us the things we need to learn to be better writers.
"Downs" come in many forms- rejections, bad reviews, etc... I know there are a number of people out there who will disagree with me on this, but I happen to believe that reviews can be a writer's best friend. I read every single review written about my books. Yes, every single one I can get my hands on--this includes reviews from Amazon and Goodreads.
Now, lest you think I'm a sadist (trust me, I'm not) I can tell you that I've learned a lot from reviews. I also read and study reviews for books I've read not written by me (I've found this to be one of the best teaching tools out there.)
Most of the time, I discount 5 and 1 star reviews. Loving (or hating) a book is usually a visceral reaction. It's the 3 star reviews that interest me most. Many times, those reviews hold a tiny nugget of something that reverberates with me. That teaches me something I don't get from the reader who loves my work (or hates my protagonist). The hard part about this isn't reading that someone thinks your work sucks (because believe me, someone will always think that), it's knowing what to take away from those reviews. Over time, however, I'm come to trust my instincts and to know what criticisms feels right and what feels wrong and I think my work has become better as a result.
Conflict and struggle. It works for our characters, and it will work for us as writers.
Maria Geraci writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction with a happy ending. The Portland Book Review called her novel, The Boyfriend of the Month Club, “immensely sexy, immensely satisfying and humorous.” Her fourth novel, A Girl Like You, will be released August, 2012 by Berkley, Penguin USA. You can visit her website here.