There is an online writer's list I belong to. On it, I do a lot of critiquing. This is interesting for several reasons. First, I get to see the stages of some other writer's work. Second, I can also see, through the prism of the individual's style and subject, how any writer is learning, or practicing his or her craft, because, just like any other discipline or job, creative or otherwise, we all have to lean, and then we all have to practice and refine. When I first started this blog, I compared my efforts to doing physical exercise. In order to get stronger, one has to exercise. This may make your muscles sore for a while, but they get stronger after a while. This was brought home to me a few days ago, when I restarted a yoga class I'd dropped(along with a lot of other stuff), due to various things I won't go into here. I wasn't "out of the loop" a terribly long time, but it was long enough for me to find out two things: first, my legs and hips have become more flexible, and I generally have more physical energy than I did before I even started. But, having been out of practice for a while, I was also kind of sore. I've also found out that with exercise, I have to work out what's right for me, no matter what anyone else is doing. The local YMCA definitely encourages this. And it also encourages people not to rush into it too hard, because if you do, you are more likely to get injured, and not get the benefit you might otherwise get.
The same is true of writing. When I first started, I got lots of advice from various writers. One of them said that you should outline your story from beginning to end. Another claimed it was a good thing to start wherever you like: beginning, middle or end, it doesn't matter. Well, all I can say is, I tried both outlining and starting in the middle -- though not for the Invaders trilogy I'm doing now. Neither technique really worked for me. Despite outlining, I found that as I wrote, things and characters would get added, and I couldn't write to an outline at all. I also tried writing something I thought would come somewhere in the middle of a novel that's presently "on hold"(yes, I will probably get back to it in some form). But what I eventually ended up with, didn't even have this particular"middle". The concept I thought was so great at the time, just didn't work. At least, it didn't work for me, and what I was writing turned out quite differently as I wrote, and learned more about the characters and their backgrounds. Basically, I work "logically". I cannot conceive of starting in the middle of some story and working around it, but that doesn't mean my story won't change in certain details, or take an unexpected direction. That is pretty much what my Invaders trilogy has done, with the addition of certain important characters, some of whom are so important that they will have stories of their own, eventually. Or details change the more I discover about the historical period I'm writing about.
But I've also discovered, through critiquing other people's writing, what my strengths and weaknesses are, and what I've learned. I'm at a different stage now, than when I first started. I used to write much more "flabbily" than I do now, using lots of unnecessary adverbs and sentences that ran on too long. I learned to shorten my sentences, and leave out a lot of unnecessary words. But I'm still learning, and probably always will be, till, as they say, they put me six feet under. I'm not ashamed to learn, whether it be from Stephen King's On Writing or from some aspiring writer's efforts. And this is what is interesting -- when I critique, I can see the writer's struggles for things like clarity, setting the scene so it makes sense, making characters come alive in various ways. I struggle with these things too, and probably always will. We all do, and this is aside from the problems and possibilities presented by changes in the publishing world, the quirks of agents, and anything else that goes on in a writer's life. If we don't constantly struggle with this, one way or another, I'm convinced that creativity dries up.
Yes, I know, there are published writers out there, some of them quite well-known, that have latched onto a formula from which they never depart. Some of them can write well, but others don't. Are they creative? I don't know. I think some of them are, and a lot of them aren't, particularly. But none of this should, or does, matter to me, or any of the individual writers I know through helping them with their creative efforts. I, and they, are writing our passions, so to speak. We can only hope to constantly hone and upgrade our skills, so that we can write the best story or novel we can. No one can do any more than that.