A New Year’s Self-Evaluation

You never stop learning as a writer. I firmly believe Hemingway when he says “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” As you read, write, and then read and write some more, you change as a writer.

Sometimes, that change is barely perceptible, like a rock in a desert that moves only a couple of inches a decade. Only by looking back at the trail can you even see movement. Other times, change comes in spurts. I think a lot of us at The Confabulator Café are at the stage where our writing changes in spurts.

Go back and read your writing from a year ago. Look at its rhythm, tone, voice, and even its content. Chances are, if you were to write that same passage today, there would be something different about it. Language, structure, or something else would change. Maybe there are passages you wouldn’t have written, at all.

Over the past year, we have all challenged each other to write about a variety of topics. We’ve written flash fiction based on various prompts that we may not have otherwise thought about. We’ve written something every week. Certainly, there are those of us who have never written as much non-fiction as we have in the last year.

In my own case, I’ve also had graduate school and academic literary criticism to write in addition to the blogs at this website. All writing, no matter whether it is fiction or essay, changes the tone of your other writing.

This year, I noticed two specific changes to the way I write. After reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy, I began to experiment with shorter sentences. It added something new to the rhythm of my writing, sort of like a jazz trumpet player who finally figures out what staccato really means. At the same time, I experimented with much more fantastic subject matters. In the past year, I’ve had demons, talking horses, dancing cats, and a variety of other surrealistic subjects I hadn’t addressed in the past.

Before this year, I considered myself a writer of primarily dark, rural Gothic literature. This year, in addition to that type of thing, I experimented pretty successfully with more traditional horror writing. I had some success in placing pieces with horror markets and solidified myself as a more diverse writer of dark fiction than I had been in the past. It may sound odd to say that I write diversely within a genre, but there is a wide spectrum of dark literature.

I expect to change as a writer even more this year. I will still be writing literary criticism, and my fiction writing will still be the second priority. I will be forced to read a wide variety of literature from all over the world, written in every era of history. As a result, I’m sure I will pick up things here and there for my own writing.

I will continue to write short stories and try to get them published. Hopefully, at some point, I will finish my second novel and re-write the first, which will be a major learning experience. At the end of the year, I will re-evaluate where I stand as an artist, just as I am doing now.

Hopefully, I will look back at my writing for this year and think “Dear God, who wrote that?” just the way I do with all my past writing. That’s how I will know that I am doing my job. I am still learning, still experimenting, and still refining.

Hopefully, I always will be.

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at www.jackcampbelljr.com.

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