It happens to all of us at some point. We get over the initial enthusiasm about learning something new because of our learning plateaus.
You make the most amount of progress on a skill when you first start, so much so that you have to be careful of the “beginner’s bubble” of overconfidence.
In terms of storytelling methodology, I realized this was happening to me. I firmly understood the Hero’s Journey, the methodology of Joseph Campbell popularized by Christopher Vogler. I could recite the 12 stages from memory, I knew how to explain them, and how to identify them in a movie or television show.
I struggled to improve at this in my own writing because I had gotten past the initial excitement and was now in the learning plateau.
But I also realized that to make a living as a fiction writer, I would have to improve, to get better at this element of craft.
I could keep writing, and the act of writing certainly helped me improve, but it wasn’t my only option. As in many professions, it makes sense to study those at the top and figure out what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
So I grabbed a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and I started dissecting it. I studied how he organized the story, built the world, created the characters, and I took notes on how he did that. I charted out the scenes and then went back and asked myself why he would make those decisions at that point in the story.
At first, the process was tedious, and I didn’t feel as though I was learning anything new. But over a matter of weeks, as I took a chapter or two at a time and deconstructed what McCarthy did, I could feel myself cresting the learning plateau. By studying what decisions he made, I felt more confident to make some changes in my own writing.
I’ve gone through The Road multiple times, and now I understand the story at a different level than I did after I’d simply read it. As any type of creative should, studying those who came before you and enjoyed success can be a great way of upping your game. Whether you’re a musician or an actor, studying the masters can only make you better.
And of course, at the end of the day, you have to get back to your own writing. Because only writing is writing. It would be easy to fool yourself into thinking the analyzation of someone else’s work is the same as writing your own words.
It’s not. But it will certainly help you get over that learning plateau.
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