I am certainly one who falls more into the ‘creative’ category rather than ‘craft’. I have a pretty basic grasp on the requisite skills for writing, but my talent(if what I have at this point could be called as such) really lies in my creativity. I have big ideas. BIG ones. Ideas so big it’s tough to try and contain them to paper(or so I tell myself on those-ahem- rare, more egotistical days).
Point is, I know my strengths. Or, at this point in time, strength. Singular. My imagination is a wild animal just waiting to be set free into a pasture where it can grow fat from the reams of paper it hunts down and sinks it’s teeth into. I look at craft as the tools necessary to tame said animal into doing more what I want, instead of just turning itself on and off whenever it sees fit.
So where does one start when looking to improve their craft?
The craft store, of course…
There’s no one place, unless the internet counts. Which it does, sort of…
But what are things I can do to actually start improving my own craft? I know of a few ways, including the obvious, of course.
First, there’s the biggest one: WRITE. All the writers I’ve ever heard or talked to give the same advice time in and time out for how it is they became so good at writing. That is to actually write. Put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard and get words out and down. If all someone ever does is talk about getting something done and never actually does that thing, then they aren’t motivated enough to pursue it. There’s a reason they call it ‘chasing’ your dream. No one’s dream ever walked up to them, sat on their lap and slept until that person picked it up with a ‘Hurrah! I did it!’
You want something? You have to go out and get it. You want to be something? You have to do the thing(s) that gets you there.
Secondly, and just about as obvious: READ. How will you know what’s out there if you’re not reading regularly? How will you know what’s hot and what’s not? How will you know if that teen-angst love triangle between a werewolf, an undead soldier, and little red riding hood’s grandmother’s ghost is original and hip or not? Unless you’re writing specifically and solely for pleasure, then writing(down the road or right now) is a business venture to some capacity. And in any business, you have have to know the market. For authors-aspiring or fruitful-this means reading. Not just for pleasure, but for purpose.
Lastly, and probably the single-most important part of becoming a writer is: WRITING. That’s right. You want the secret to getting a book done? There it is. Out of all the things you should be working on, 66%(or more, depending..) of your attention should be to getting words down on paper. Like an athlete, if your muscles are in good shape, you’ll be able to lift more. So to is it for writing. The more words you write consistently, the more you’ll be able to write consistently. Momentum is a powerful force once it’s attained just about any speed.
After a body of work has been built up, only then can one go back and see how far they’ve come. We need data to be able to analyze progress. After all this we can finally start looking at the things that make writing work. The little things like nuance, transition, punctuation and grammatical usage, simplicity and the million other things that make good writing great.
For some of us this could take months of hard work and dedication. Sounds a little scary. But for the vast majority, I think, it takes years. Just getting to a point where you have a body of work can be like climbing Mt. Everest while having your teeth pulled. That’s where I’m at now. Plugging away every morning and getting words in. They aren’t great. They’re probably not even good. But after I’ve filled my pockets I can take them home and go through it all. I can look for potential and work from there.
It’s not easy, glamorous work that TV and movies make it out to be. It’s back-breaking(or at the very least butt-breaking) work that demands the whole of you while you’re ‘on’.
I read somewhere in an article that out of all the people who say they’re writing a book/story/whatever, that only around 58% of those people complete said project. That means close to half of everyone you’ve ever heard say “Ooooh, you’re a writer? That’s great. I’ve got a book idea I’m going to work on when I get the time.” won’t finish, or maybe even start that bad boy. Now, I’m not sure where the author of the article I read got 58%, but it seems to me that number is much lower. Much lower. I can count on one hand the number of people I know who’ve finished a project they said they had started.
In the end, there isn’t much I, or anyone else, can say to push you to get that magnum opus completed. It’s all you. I can only offer motivation, which I mostly steal from others…But you’ve got to bring the bacon. The world-literary though it may be- is literally on your shoulders. What are you going to do with it?
If you’d like some direction, I’m not sure I’m the best one to give it, but writing is as much about community as anything. I’d be more than happy to lend a helping eye to some of your projects. I enjoy reading and giving feedback. Don’t hesitate to get in touch and see if we can’t hit some of our goals together.
Until then, here are some words to live by:
Start it. Middle it. Finish it. Repeat it.
and Consistent baby steps win out over sporadic, giant leaps every time…