Ah, video game metaphors. I do love them so.
Leveling up. Within geek culture it's accepted terminology for gaining new skills after time and effort spent integrating the last set of skills acquired. Toons get stronger. Fireballs crit more often. Mana pools deepen and armor gets better. I'd love for the same to be true for writers.
The parallels are there. We add skills on top of skills, building our craft and customizing our 'build'. So why is there a photo of a bloody lioness in this post? Because when it comes to leveling up as a writer, it's a take no prisoners sport.
Jeffe did a great job of breaking down the ways in which writers talk about leveling up. However. I will argue that the only meaningful way to level up as a writer is to keep your eye on what you can control. You. Your craft. How you do your job. You can absolutely set a financial goal and begin working toward it. But the fact of the matter is that you cannot force anyone to buy. You hope what you produce is compelling enough to bring all the readers to the bookstore. But, ultimately, what appeals to people is out of your control. (Yes. Even if you know your market and deliver reader expectation. Sometimes shit just happens.) But look. What can you control:
1. comprehending your market and your readers
2. comprehending reader expectations and writing a story that delivers in spades
3. mastering your personal process
4. mastering boundaries both for yourself and for your loved ones and readers
5. setting and mastering craft goals that build one atop the other
6. accepting your current level rather than postponing writing because you're ulcerating for the next level
Last book, I went after telling words. Knew. Thought, Felt, Wondered, Saw. Heard. All the telling words. Next book, I'm going for murdering narrative and going for action attached to dialogue. These skills relate to one another and follow in logical order. I couldn't go for action without having put a stake through the heart of the telling words and finding better ways to talk about what my characters experience. Yeah, there are days I'm that lioness above - the blood I'm covered in is my own. In order to level up, I have to dig into my bad habits. I have to be brutal about my excuses and my own BS. There may be ice cream and chocolate occasionally involved. If I'm doing this right, if I really am leveling up, I should be providing my readers with better, more engaging books. Even if somedays are bloodbaths.