Over the course of my writing journey, I could point to any number of things that have helped me achieve publication with a major CBA publishing house and the subsequent successful debut of my book, The Preacher’s Bride.
Many years of hard work, five practice books now stuck in a closet, writing contests, feedback from critique partners, conferences, perseverance, patience, Providence. The list could go on and on.
And yet, if I had to narrow down one specific thing that has helped the most in my quest for publication, I’d have to say this: My careful, ongoing, and thorough study and practice of writing techniques has been the single most beneficial aspect of my writing career.
In other words, I read writing craft books, studied fiction-writing basics, and then put what I learned into practice. All the studying has been the number one thing to help me in my writing career.
I recently read a post by writer, Aimee Salter. She talked about how others had encouraged her to read books on fiction-writing techniques. At first she pushed aside their advice: “I'd really rather just keep writing and getting feedback and work it out on my own. Study and research of the craft seemed like a lot of hard work for dubiously unknown gain. I wanted to 'learn on the job' . . . I thought I'd spend a lot of time studying (dry, boring, uninspiring reading - *Yawn*) when I could be writing (creating, exploring, doing something I'm passionate about - *Cheer!*).”
Aimee goes on to conclude that after approximately two years of writing and rejections, she finally acted upon the counsel and started studying fiction-basics. “Really studying the craft gave me tools and expertise I couldn't have found any other way . . . In four months of study and rewriting . . . my book has come further than it did in the sixteen months prior.”
Interestingly, I’ve heard many writers voice the same opinion Aimee originally had—that studying about writing is stifling, boring, unnecessary, and a waste of time. That to get better all we really need to do is keep writing. I’ve repeatedly heard things like “writing ‘rules’ impede my creativity” or “writing is an art form of individualistic expression.” Such statements imply that if we study fiction-writing, we’ll lose the freedom to express ourselves.
But I can reiterate what Aimee finally came to realize: Nothing, and I do mean nothing, can replace learning and mastery of fiction-writing basics. When we learn the foundations of crafting memorable characters, cohesive plots, or page-turning conflict, we unleash our creativity and our passion. We give ourselves an even bigger canvass on which to paint with our words. And we’re able to utilize more tools and mediums to express ourselves.
So what can we do to push ourselves to study about writing, even when we don’t particularly want to?
1. Check out writing craft books from the library.
2. Watch for recommendations from other writers you respect. (For four books I highly recommend, see my sidebar.)
3. Narrow down the books that hone in on the things you need to work on the most.
4. After reading the most helpful books, buy them, if possible. Then you can mark them up and re-read them to refresh yourself.
5. Slowly build up your writing library (the above picture is one shelf of books I’ve collected over the years).
6. Take notes from the books on specific things you want to practice in your writing.
7. Then put those notes next to you as you write. Consciously work on implementing them.
8. Go slower until the new technique feels natural. Once it becomes second nature, you won’t even think about it, and your speed and flow will increase.
9. Between books or projects, go to the library again. Check out more fiction-writing books.
10. And start the learning process all over.
Believe it or not, I still go through the above ten steps every year. Yes, I check out technique books from my local library, read/skim through them, and take lots of notes. I usually do this when I’m between writing projects as a way to review and prepare myself for the next novel.
The conscious studying of the craft has been the MOST helpful thing to my writing career. And because I want to continue to be a better writer, I’ll keep on studying and learning.
What’s your opinion? Do you think fiction how-to books are a waste of time or a benefit? And if you’ve found them beneficial, what’s been the most helpful book you’ve read, one that really helped you forge ahead in your fiction-writing ability?