writing craft

I’ve published six novels, with the seventh on its way in October and the 8th with my editor. You’d think I’d felt like I had some mastery of the craft, but in all honesty, i feel like a newbie every time I set out. Now I realize I’m not because I teach creative writing and each time I do, I remember what newbie-ness truly is, and that’s someone who’s just learning about plot and character and pacing and so on. these are people who’ve never practiced the craft whatsoever. How scary and exciting that must be to start out fresh! I can’t even remember that.

But I do feel panicked and nervous every time I start a new work, every time I return to write on it, every time I take up revisions . . . . In short, I never feel like I know what I’m doing. Part of that is because I hope I’m stretching myself, pushing at the stories to make them deeper, more compelling, more entertaining, and generally better written. Of late, I’ve felt like instead of getting better, that I’m slowly dwindling in my abilities. I wonder if that’s true, or if it’s a case of the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know. Hmmm.

I’m always on the lookout for books and blogs and articles and so forth that teach me more about writing. I don’t like all of them. Some I look at for commiseration–that I’m not an anomaly. Some I look at for real ideas on improvement of craft. I know there are a lot of writers who don’t read books on writing at all. They think they are mostly useless. I tend to read them and frequently find something useful, though many are more basic than helpful now. But some will still have gems that let me see writing in a new, different way.

I just got Don Maass’s The Fire in Fiction. Haven’t read much of it–like 10 pages, but it definitely sparked some thoughts for me on what I’m currently writing. It wasn’t anything new or unusual, but it was just said in such a way that made a key snick in a lock and suddenly I had ideas. This is why I continue to read those craft books, and why I go to panels at cons on the craft of writing, why I read a lot of writing and industry blogs, and why I talk writing frequently. Something will light a match for me and I’ve got to chase it down.

For me (and every writer is very different) I need to read about craft every so often. Sometimes I sink into the writing and I get running down paths that I’m comfortable with–and not necessarily bad paths–but I know I need to think about the craft and push the boundaries. I need to try new ways of doing things and stretch myself. It’s the only way to improve. To quote Robert Browning, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?” You should always reach for more than you can achieve to grow your craft. Never let yourself be comfortable in the old grooves, the good enoughs.

How about you? what do you do to improve? Whether it’s the craft of writing or something else?

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