Is your writing stuck in Training Wheels Protocol?

Yesterday I had a free birthday ticket to my favorite cinema that was about to expire. I'd already seen Wonder Woman twice, so I wasn't sure what I was going to use the ticket for. Then I realized Spider Man: Homecoming opened this weekend. Honestly, I'm so conditioned by recent incarnations of Spider Man to shy away from movies featuring the webslinger that I had completely missed that a new one was coming out! But this one is part of the MCU. And I loved the teaser of the new Peter Parker we got in Captain America: Civil War.

I'm so glad I picked Spider Man, because it ranks right up there with the best of the Marvel movies. There's a lot I could pull out of the movie to demonstrate excellent storycraft, but it's a bit too soon to do that without risking spoilers. So I ask you this question instead: are you stuck in developing your "craft?" How many years will you spend becoming a better writer...and never finish writing a book?

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Peter Parker was indignant to discover that the suit he'd been given by Tony Stark was programmed to be in "training wheels mode" - and I'm sure you can guess what he did about it. There's a time in a writer's life to really focus and hone in on writing skills and understanding story structure. In fact, I'll link to a couple of my favorite books on those topics at the end of this post. But there's also a point where you have to switch off training wheels protocol and find out what you didn't know you needed to learn!

How do you know if you need to hack the protocol? Here are ten warning signs that you need to press pause on the things you do to become a better writer...and do the BEST thing you can do to become a better writer - get to "the end" for the first time:

  • You've purchased more than four books on writing in the past year.
  • You've been part of a critique group for two or more years, and you've been rewriting the same chapters for just about that long. 
  • You've been to a writing conference and pitched to an agent. But you don't have a complete manuscript.
  • You have a notebook, a Google Drive folder, or a Trello board with half a dozen (or more) half-fleshed out story ideas. You've never finished one.
  • You're an officer in your writing association - which means you haven't had time to actually do any writing.
  • Every time someone asks you how the book is going, you cringe and change the subject.
  • You participate in #pitmad every time it opens up, and your twitter pitches couldn't be more popular! If only you had a book finished so you could respond to the requests. 
  • You sign up for NaNoWriMo every year! And life, family, and Thanksgiving happen and the cursor on your draft document gets stuck.
  • You have a binder full of handouts from writing workshops. The instructors all know you on sight.
  • Your vocabulary includes these phrases: five-act story structure, the hero's journey, character development, plot arcs, character webs, subplots, backstory, "show don't tell."

How many of those sound painfully familiar? Any others I should add to the list? Perhaps "owning stock in index cards and colored pens?" Tell me in the comments below!

In case none of those warning signs pointed to you: