I think the most important and useful advice any writer can follow is “Just keep writing.” I’ve followed that, have dedicated more and more time to it, and I think it’s made a big difference for me.
Another thing that’s harder to condense into a pithy advice one-liner, though, is the idea that you shouldn’t just keep working without thinking about what you’re doing. Probably the most important development I’ve made in my writing last year didn’t arise from just pushing ahead with constant practice, but from stopping what I was doing, reassessing what was working and what wasn’t, and taking the difficult step of resolving to make significant changes.
I changed my subject matter, I changed my style, and I changed my work’s emotional tone.
I shelved about half the stories I had considered “finished.” Some of them I reworked heavily (frustrating at first, since I had already put in tons of work “finishing” them before), others remain on the shelf. I started some brand new work. In some ways I became a beginner again. I set myself back, the way a golfer who changes his swing to correct for some fundamental flaw actually becomes a worse golfer for a while before he gets better.
After all this reinvention, I “felt” my work getting a lot stronger earlier this year. The responses I’ve been getting from editors have changed. Not only do I have two recent acceptances. There are more personal rejections, more rewrite requests. This past week or so marks the first time since I’ve been writing and submitting that I’ve received more pieces of good news than bad news. Some of the good news is of the “can’t pass along yet” variety, other bits may still not pan out into what I hope for. The thing is, it feels like it’s starting to click. I’m starting to see a future for myself in which I’m able to consistently write the kind of thing that’s compelling and interesting to tough-minded editors, and doesn’t just impress friends who read it with a heavy dose of benefit of the doubt.