For me I'd say my plateaus come more from bouts of hopelessness about ever being published, affecting my motivation, or from the stories themselves and wondering if they're worth finishing, rather than from my writing itself.
Granted, I have plenty of quirks, and areas where I'm probably doing it wrong but haven't found a better way to do it or don't think it's worth the effort. I'm sure my writing is constantly improving, the evidence there as I go back to earlier work, but I don't see it so I can't identify any real plateaus.
I think one of my major hurdles was probably proper use of dialogue tags and grammar for them. I'm surprised by how recently I started picking up the correct ways to do that, since a book I wrote only a few years ago was a major pain to edit because I had to fix quite a bit of the dialogue.
By "plateau" I am assuming that you mean that your learning curve is not as steep as it once was (not that you've reached near the top of your abilities).
I would say that has not happened to me. My writing today is much better than it was a year ago just by the fact that I've written more words down.
Do you think you are just perceiving that you've plateaued just because their aren't tangible markers of improvement? Can you read something from a year ago and say that it is the same quality of writing as something you wrote recently? If the answer is yes, perhaps you need additional help, like from a writing workshop.
Sometimes I feel a little mixed about my writing, like it could be better, but I'm not sure how to get it there. That doesn't last though, because each new story I write is slightly better than the last one. So even though I don't directly see or understand how it happens, it still happens, and that's pretty cool.
I think what it is, that feeling you're talking about, is just that you're looking at your work as it is---fresh in your mind---rather than giving it time to mellow for a while. Maybe you're looking at it after you've just written it, and you're thinking "man, I don't know what to change to make it any better. What can I do?" A lot of writers get that feeling. The problem is you have to wait a while before you do that. Stephen King puts his drafts away until at least 2 or 3 weeks go by, all the while he's writing something new so he can get the old ideas and stories out of his head. Then he goes back and edits the older one and he suddenly sees things in a different light.
None of us are perfect writers, and sometimes it is definitely frustraiting, but you just have to stay positive and understand the process. Once you realize how complex it actually is and just how bad these first drafts are for every writer, it's easy to figure out you aren't alone.
Interesting you should ask that, I use the same term which probably is popular one since it describes things so well.
But I have been on a plateau for two plus years. And I've been working on improving my writing for most of that.
Probably three and a half years ago, or more even, I had a nice tiny run of eight to 12 stories that showed improvement-sold one- but then I backslide and haven't been able to move back up. I used to say that I forgot how to write, since the idea that I forgot something I was doing right, seemed like the most logical explanation.
In a discussion on Dean Wesley Smith's blog I said that I have been looking for the magic or sliver rule(s) that will get me back up there and even further but that's a wild goose chase. It's the whole process that gets you moving upward. SZo you need to be working on your writing in that light.
Most writers do eventually get off of that plateau, like with every other skill, it seems to be something that needs to be worked through.
I feel that my writing skill has come far enough that I don't have to hide the text I write from the world. I know how to express my thoughts and I know how to come up with believable characters. Does this mean I've mastered writing? Not by a long shot but at least I'm well on my way.
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I find that I hit writerly burnout here and there. Usually what helps me in those times is to pick up a book on writing, any will do (even ones I've read so much they're falling apart at the spines.) Something about doing that helps me reset my priorities, see the areas for improvement in my own work, and find new things to work on with my writing.
I don't think I've plateaued yet, because I can definitely look back and see vast improvement over time. But improvements do seem to be less, or more nuanced.
Kind of like muscle memory, the more you do something the right way, the easier it becomes. Then you get bored with the workout because you aren't challenging yourself. I don't personnally believe you ever reach an absolute plateau (the idea that you can stop learning in a universe as vast as God's with a life as short as now seems unlikely). Therefore there should always be potential, and if you can't I imagine potential you wouldn't care about whether you were on a plateau (perfection doesn't mind being perfect, it enjoys it).
But I imagine there are seasons. One for writing another for reading. You notice the plateau because you're trying to do the wrong one in the season.
I think with Rowling it's not so much about outselling as about selling out.
Sorry, couldn't help myself. Ever since she announced out of the blue, AFTER the series was finished, that Dumbledore was gay, without having any actual hints to the fact in the books, I lost all respect for her. The fact that she made this announcement just before her new book came out made it look suspiciously like a publicity ploy.
Yes, Rowling, retcon a beloved character after the fact for personal gain.
quote: Then you get bored with the workout because you aren't challenging yourself. I don't personnally believe you ever reach an absolute plateau (the idea that you can stop learning in a universe as vast as God's with a life as short as now seems unlikely).
I don't think the problem is that you stop being able to learn, even though it might be that you get to the point where you need some new resources. But I think the problem can be putting in practice what you have learned.