On Leveling Up

Wordsmith Workshop

Two months before getting on a plane to go to Warrenton, Virginia for the Wordsmith Workshop retreat, I stared at my computer contemplating whether or not to cancel the whole damn thing. I mean, what was I doing? I’m not a real author. In rare moments when I’m off my guard, I sometimes unexpectedly think to myself, “You’re a good writer, Pa.” It’s often a whisper followed by an eye roll and an amused chuckle--like I’m telling myself a joke. In that moment in front of my computer, though, all I could think was: who am I to put myself in the same group of people who go on five-day writing retreats? Who am I to spend that much money on myself? On a hobby? 

I’ve always been hard on myself. As a recovering perfectionist, a people pleaser, and a rule follower, I’m my own worst critic. Whether it’s writing or work or my personal life, I never think I’m doing enough. That’s why even though I’ve been writing novels since high school, I have never really shown them to people. Never taken a creative writing class, never participated in a writing workshop, never tried to get my writing published. I wanted to work quietly in a hole until my novels were perfect. I had this unrealistic image of emerging from my hole and presenting my shiny work to someone who gives me that impossible, but highly coveted nod of instant approval and says, “Yes, Pa. Your writing is perfect. We will publish it right now.”

But no writing is perfect. No person is perfect. No thing is perfect. I read an email from Susan Dennard, the author of the Witchland Series, once that said just because we keep writing and writing and writing doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting any better at it (or something like that--I can’t find the original email to quote it). We have to level up. In gaming, to “level up” means to have acquired enough points or skills to advance to the next level. It’s the same thing with writing (and anything else for that matter). To level up, I needed to let go of perfectionism, of my fear of enoughness, and get some feedback. 

I bought a non-refundable flight to Virginia that day, and it’s been a week since the retreat ended. What I learned during those five days in Warrenton among published and not-yet-published, agented and not-yet-agented writers is that nothing is ever perfect and everyone is scared. But if I want different results, I have to do something different. I have to share myself and my work before it’s ready to be shared. I have to get out there. I have to get feedback. I have to be okay with the idea that some problems are meant to be solved with the help of others, and that doesn’t mean that I’m lacking in any way. 

This is why I’m sharing my novel Rise of the Dragon Warrior on Wattpad. It’s a huge step for me, but I know it’s the right one.