Writing Tips: the importance of craft

Hi, kids–

I have a spiel I use with new-ish authors with regard to the craft of writing. I tell them that there are certain rules that apply to writing. Rules of grammar, rules of spelling, rules of sentence structure, paragraph structure, story structure. Back in the day when public education was actually education all over the country, I learned all of these rules in both elementary school and high school. I diagrammed sentences out the ying-yang, and took courses in high school that delved into the origins and roots of words (in the English language).

These are things everybody should be learning at least in high school English.

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The point is, there are rules to writing, and often different sets of rules for whatever genre/subject in which you are writing.

When writing fiction, however, you will hear the word “craft.” Fiction is a melding of those rules, craft, and your own personal style. That is, the way you personally say things and put words in order within the context of the rules. Style is a discussion for a whole other blog. Right now, I want to emphasize the importance of CRAFT.

Craft is the infrastructure of writing. It’s like building a house. There are certain things you have to do when you build a house. Walls go certain places, wiring has to run according to code, building materials and plumbing must also fit that rubric of “code.” So, too, must the foundation. Craft is the building code of writing.

source: Woodcrest Homes, MN (re-sized here)

It doesn’t mean you can’t bend or break the rules. But in order to do that, you need to know what those rules are and you need to understand how they work and how your writing works within them. I tell people that yes, there are rules. There is a canon to writing in the English language, as in other languages, but as you get better and mature in your writing style, think of the rules more as guideposts.

Back to that house — once you’ve got your framing in, and you’ve planned where to put the walls and where the rooms go and the doors, then you can unleash your personal style on that house, and it’ll show up both inside and out, though the skeleton of that house is comparable to many other houses.

source: Richardson and Reeves, realtors (re-sized here)

Craft is thus the bones of whatever you write. Even if you’re living inside a giant, hollowed-out Sequoia, you need the trunk of that tree as your house bones. Even if you’re living on the planet Tatooine in a dugout, you need something that’s going to keep that dugout from collapsing on you. Writers need craft to keep the story from collapsing.

To that end, Novel Girl has an awesome list. Her top 10 tips for writing fiction. Tips 1-3 are particularly important, I think, for new-ish authors. Those are:

1) work hard, be determined
2) think about taking a creative writing course or a degree/certification program in it
3) learn fiction writing techniques [CRAFT!]

Novel Girl provides some good links in that tip number 3 at her site.

Other tips include learning the business, but for new-ish authors, stick with getting that first story hammered out and learning proper technique first. Otherwise, you’ll freak yourself out and maybe end up bogged down. You can start learning that stuff when you engage with rewrites of that first story. And there will be many. 🙂

Another note — you never stop learning, you never stop honing your craft. I still read writers’ guides and try to attend workshops and try to have people who are way better writers than I am critique my work. I am constantly developing in my style, constantly working on character depiction, and constantly thinking about what words works best in differently-paced scenes. Writing is like a sport. You have to practice all the time, consult with others, ask people to gauge your technique, and figure out how to do something if you don’t know how. Like an athlete, a writer needs to constantly assess her technique and make adjustments.

In order to do that — to effectively take professional critique (and sometimes not so professional) — a writer needs a very thick skin. That comes with lots of writing, lots of submitting, and lots of slapdowns and re-directions. That’s the conditioning aspect of writing. Like athletes who do their workouts and training, participate in their events, writers must do the same. Not every training day will be fab. Not every event will be awesome. Not every day writing will rock.

So my final tip for you, dear writer, is to keep hold of the long-term vision and don’t sweat the small stuff. Writing is a journey, not a destination. It’s an adventure that requires that you continually build and buttress your skill set. You will never learn everything there is to know about writing, but that’s fine. That, too, is part of the adventure. And if you did, what, then, would be the point?

Happy travels.

source: National Geographic (re-sized here)

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