Feed Your Craft


by Karen Newcombe

Writing is a craft. Every craft has tools, and every tool requires experience and practice to use. Fortunately, at this point in history, there are more resources available for writers than ever before. Many writers who have mastered their craft are eager to help the rest of us develop and hone our skills. We can benefit from their hard work and knowledge and bypass some of the thousands of hours that mastery of any craft requires. Books about writing,  workshops and classes, book festivals, and YouTube videos are now abundant. Hundreds of writers’ websites share how they have solved thousands of writing challenges. Dive in! 

The more you understand, the more competent you will be at using your tools. The more you practice, the better you’ll handle them, and the better your writing will become. 

Read every book and article about writing you can get your hands on. Many of them are excellent, offering practical insights into building a plot, creating conflict, handling multiple viewpoints, or designing a great sonnet. 

Some books offer an inside look at specific genres. Every so often an innovator turns up who can jump start a genre and drive it off in a new direction, but you can’t do that if you don’t have a solid feel for how and why that genre works so well already. I don’t care if you’re writing elegant literary fiction or sizzling hot erotica, you need to understand what sets that type of writing apart from the others. 

Explore what’s out there. YouTube has thousands of videos related to writing, from recordings of writing workshops to classroom lectures to vlogs by successful writers. There’s an entire subset of videos about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and hundreds of how-to videos about software tools for writers, like Scrivener. 

Every time I talk about this, someone says “Reading how someone else does it will corrupt my writing. It would dilute my vision to fall under someone else’s influence.” The reality is that life is overflowing with influences: teachers, colleagues, family and friends, drinking buddies, agents, publishers, even enemies, already influence you. You sit down with your work alone, but in your mind and heart, even your genes, is the influence of all of human history and biology, every person you’ve ever met, the books you’ve read, movies you’ve seen, news from this morning’s paper. You are a net constantly capturing influences, so you might as well leverage them to your own purpose with intention. 

James Scott Bell, whose books on writing are excellent, frequently says that he wouldn’t want a self-taught brain surgeon working on him, thanks very much, and he also wouldn’t want one who never bothered to keep up with new developments in medicine. Like every other field, writing changes over time. What made for gripping drama in the 1700s doesn’t work so well for today’s readers, so take the time to keep up as language and storytelling evolve. 

Developing your writing craft also takes practice. Do you want to write more engaging dialogue? Get out a notebook and practice writing dialogue every day. Practice plotting with index cards. Give yourself writing challenges and exercises that take you out of familiar territory and force you to grow. 

You’re a writer. Feed your craft. This is part of your commitment. If you take writing seriously, treat it seriously: care for it and nurture it. 

Study. Practice. Write.

Photo credit: .m.e.c. / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

© Karen Newcombe 2014     karen@karennewcombe.com