From my Mission Statement 2.0:
To have every story be an improvement in craft.
Pro: Hey, look! I’m improving my craft!
Con: Wow. My writing really stunk before.
How do you improve your writing? I was asked this question at a book club meeting. They specifically wanted to know if I took classes or got a degree in English or writing. My cheeky answer was that I had spent enough time in classrooms (getting my Ph.D.) that I had been excused for the rest of my life. What I really meant was that I fashioned my own craft-development program. It includes:
- Writing, writing, writing
- Seeking (and giving*) critiques from/to a range of writers, especially ones more talented than I am
- Studying writers that I admire, especially ones that write best-selling books
- Reading books about writing, but only when I can actively apply them to a draft I am working on (see this post about my latest read, Robert McKee’s Story)
- Visiting writer blogs for tips and new perspectives on craft
- Attending workshops and conferences when available and affordable
- Writing, writing, writing
*thanks to Laurel for reminding me
I’m constantly searching for ways to improve my craft, but I go through some periods of craft development that are more intense than others. Jody Hedlund impressed me when she hired an editor to help improve her craft – even though her book was already under contract! She had accomplished what many of us are striving for, and yet was unrelenting in her pursuit of craft improvement. I don’t believe a writer should ever stop looking for ways to improve – whether it’s the basics of grammar, or nuances of storytelling, or methods of description, or dashes of style – words are a writer’s tools, and we should always strive to be masters of them.
In the beginning, I assumed that at some point I would “master” fiction writing. In some senses, this is the wrong approach. One can master the equations of thermodynamics – they are objective and (for the last hundred fifty years or so) unchanging. Mastering something so inherently subjective as art (which writing and storytelling certainly are), seems like hubris. But a painter/writer friend of mine once said (I’m paraphrasing), Don’t mistake inexperience for style. She was referring to painters who don’t take the time to master the forms of painting, before developing their own method. They simply throw paint on the canvas and call it their style.
Simply because writing is art does not mean that one cannot strive for mastery. I can (and do) study people I consider to be masters. But, in the end, my style is my own. I will never write like Rowling or Westerfeld. They are wonderful writers, worthy of emulation, but I can only write like me. I can only mature in my own individual understanding of storytelling and craft. Whether it’s the Early Me or the Future Me, my writing will always be an incarnation of me-the-writer along my writing journey.
And that’s okay.
Perhaps my mission statement should include a caveat: be urgent in craft improvement, but gentle with the writer herself. She’s trying.
Note to Future Me: Don’t be embarrassed by my writing today – it’s the best I can do and a necessary foundational step to get where you are in Futureland. By the way, don’t think you’re all that anyway. I’m younger.
Do you see yourself evolving in your craft?