Friday, March 20, 2015

Writing: Improving Our Craft

One of my readers, Lauri, asks if I enjoy working to improve my craft, or if I look upon it as a distasteful chore. That's a great question, and the answer is, "yes--to both parts." I like it when someone says my current novel is better than any of my others. But I don't particularly enjoy sitting in a class or reading a book on technique to improve what I do. I don't relish rewriting large chunks of the novel on which I've worked long hours. Be that as it may, it's part of the process.

Look at it this way. I enjoy golf. But if I'm to take the boomerang out of the trajectory of my drives or hit putts that don't scoot ten feet past the hole, I'm going to have to spend some time on the driving range and putting green, making adjustments to my stroke to achieve what I want. The same goes for writing.

Every writer knows that first and foremost we must produce the best possible work. That means polishing, revising, sometimes cutting and replacing large chunks of our work-in-progress until we're satisfied. Before we get to this point, we have to master the fundamentals of character development, point of view, vocabulary, and many other things. Once we have those down so they're second nature, we're ready to proceed. Unfortunately, some writers don't go very far down this path.

Most of us want to get better with each book, and that's why we never feel as though we've "arrived." Although no writer ever achieves perfection, we should always seek to improve our craft. We may not like it, any more than I like going to the practice range for golf, but it goes with the territory. There are some writers--best-selling writers--who seem content to stay right where they are, churning out work that corresponds to an established template. They don't appear to have any real motivation to get even better at their craft. But they're in the minority.

So, Lauri, I don't necessarily enjoy continually working to improve my craft, but I do it because that is part of what being a writer means.

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Shirley Strait said...

I love to read a new book by an author I know and see how they improve from book to book. Seeing an author grow is great fun.

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks, Shirley. Authors try--or at least, we should try--to make each book better than the last. When that doesn't happen, readers notice. I appreciate your comment. Come back often.

Patricia Bradley said...

I'm one of those crazy writers who likes the revision process. All through the first draft, I keep telling myself you can't revise what you haven't written. lol

I also like craft books, which must make me strange indeed. Great post, and like you I like it when a reader likes my last book better than the one before it.

By the way, I love your books.

Richard Mabry said...

Patricia, thank you for your comment and your nice words. The only reason I like the revision process is that I already know where the story is going, so I can more easily smooth out the rough edges--that's one of the disadvantages of "seat of the pants" writing. It bothers me when a reviewer says, "This one isn't as good," or "Was a bit slower" than the last. I guess we all want to improve, but sometimes it's a struggle.

Johnnie Alexander said...

Oh, how I wish I had the time to read all the books on writing I have on my shelf. But alas, there is a manuscript to write, to revise, to revise again. And again.

As agonizing as the process can be, it's also fun, exciting, and deeply satisfying when it all comes together.

Thanks for the post, Richard.

Richard Mabry said...

Johnnie, That's one of the problems a writer has, isn't it? Most of us study, or at least read through, the books on writing while we're trying to get our first contract, but after that many of us are busy writing, revising, etc. It's a problem, and probably won't be solved until cloning reaches a more advanced stage. : ) Thanks for your comment.

Lena Nelson Dooley said...

I'm a multi-published author who does like improving my craft. I don't plan to stop until the day I die.

Richard Mabry said...

Lena, your secret is safe with me. : ) Yes, while some of us (and certainly me) don't always look forward to learning and practicing new things, others like it....and do very well at it. You're one of them. Thanks so much for your comment.

Patti Shene said...

Thanks for a great post, Dr. Mabry. I wonder if reading writing craft books for the writer can be compared to seeking out the latest research in his particular field for the physician.

I think, no matter what field we choose, we should always strive to improve.

However, like others have expressed, where do you find the time? I haven't written a writing craft book from cover to cover in quite some time.

I do enjoy reading blog posts that address improvement in some facet of the craft of writing. A person can get a great deal of information, and it sometimes whets the appetite to research further if that particular element happens to be a weakness for that writer.

Patti Shene said...

Oh dear, I meant to say I haven't READ a writing craft book for quite some time! Sorry about that!

Richard Mabry said...

Patti, You bring up a good point. In medicine, to begin with I studied texts and journal articles and listened to lectures. After I learned the techniques and treatments, I often referred back to books and papers to refresh my memory, but didn't continue studying over and over.

As fa writer, as I said in response to an earlier comment, I read through all my writing books while I was still learning the craft--it took four years before I got my first contract. Since that time, I've sometimes gone to a book to refresh my memory, much as I might before a surgical procedure I hadn't done in a while, but I don't continually study them. On the other hand, conferences help me brush up and learn even more. It's a constant learning process.

As for time...well, like everyone else I never have enough time. I simply do the best I can and try to prioritize. (And family comes first...I try never to forget that).

Thanks for your comment.

Caryl McAdoo said...

Like Johnnie, I find it hard to take the TIME to read a writer's book, but like Pattie, I'm always clicking on blogs with writing tips to see what they have to say - not too long and an easy click back to work - - - yes, wowrk, Laurie, work, but work I do enjoy. I love Love LOVE making the first draft better and Better and BETTER. And like the Lady of Literature, Lena, I intend to create and improve until I go to be with my Creator. My favorite quote: "Only God writes in stone, the rest of us rewrite!" :) Thanks Dr. Richard :)

Richard Mabry said...

Caryl--well-said. Sometimes it's not easy to keep improving, but Lena is a great one to emulate. Thanks for your comment.