Last week, you learned about the crawl, walk, run phase process. Each phase represents a different section of your writing process, where you clarify what you want to work on when. There were some examples offered on what to do and when, but please remember that you can adjust your backstops as you see fit. I used multiple literary terms up with minimal explanation. I find I get carried away in terms often, which leads to a single post breaking down into multiple parts. This year I’m trying to do better. Today’s post will address a year of honing your craft, which is the first step of knowing your craft. Enjoy.
Why is it important to hone your craft?
For some, honing your craft is going from being a writer to being an author. Others will see it as refining their skills to become better authors. Whichever reason you’re using the study of craft for, your stories and your readers will thank you. The efforts taken to develop your writing skills may not show immediate payoff, but if you work through the doubts and urges to quit, then you’ll look back and see your growth points.
Sometimes in your writing career that you’ll need to focus on your craft to get ready for the more challenging projects. But sometimes we have an amazing story idea and our craft isn’t ready for that level of a story. One challenge you may face as an early writer is knowing where you’re struggling. A friend or willing beta reader may give you the needed information, but that doesn’t mean it is true or the feedback you need. Whenever giving feedback on an ARC or Beta copy, ask the author what they’re looking for in your read, and when you share a work with someone, let them know what you’d like them to look for. An outside party may tell you if you developed the characters enough, if the story flows, or if you have plot holes. Finding these issues on your own will make it easier to accept, but if it’s your first few books, you might need someone else’s feedback to be sure.
What tools can you use to hone your craft?
With the advances in technology, the tools available to develop and hone your craft can feel overwhelming. Each one promises to help you write your book faster, better, and more likely to sell. None of them are really wrong, once you get used to their method of writing, but most will fall flat for you. So what to do? Try as many as you want. The tools you use depend on your developing writing method. You can ask most authors if their writing practices have changed since book one, and they will most likely say yes. This should be a comfort to newer writers, or those who are struggling with the transition away from their old writing habits.
Tools available include: Craft Books (On Writing by Stephen King, Save the Cat: Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody), Writing Software (AutoCrit, ProWritingAid, Novel Factory), Online/in-person courses, and writers’ groups. Each one of these offer their own pros and cons. The craft books, especially those from well-established authors, can be substantial sources of knowledge and experience, but it can create tunnel vision if you try to stick to their methods religiously.
Writing software is great for reviewing work, finding your weak points in writing, and giving you a format to work off of. That being said, sometimes the writing software becomes a crutch and we don’t work on the needed skills to help us one day rid ourselves of the software.
Story formats can help, but also become stressful when it doesn’t match your writing style. Sometimes they demand story information before you’ve reached that point in your process. Online/in-person courses and writers’ groups are a great way to work with other writers to develop a new view of your work that might not have been there before. Don’t forget about human error, though. Everyone has an opinion and not all of them will help you.
Approach all the above with caution. You’re the writer. You know you’re writing process or are learning it. The masses can’t tell you exactly how to do it, but you can develop from learning and implementing what you find useful.
How do you practice?
I was listening to the DIYMFA Radio Podcast today and got some great insight on this section in particular. Now, this was an older episode (140, I’m pretty sure), but the interviewed author offered an idea to make the practice portion easier. Whatever it is you need to practice, whether that be character development, working with different POVs (Point of View), or just practicing adding setting details that improve the story impact, use your WIP (Work in Progress). You don’t need to include anything from your practice session in your WIP, but if you have a chapter that focuses on a certain character element, story detail, or anything else craft related, use your practice sessions to beef up your confidence. I often tried to write completely separate stories when I did my practice because I was worried it would mess something up in my WIP. But sometimes you need to hear someone else giving you permission to do something you didn’t think you could before. So, here I am, giving you permission to practice your writing skills with characters, settings, and plots from your WIP.
For most exercises, I like to use two books I found during my Bachelors, The 3 A.M. Epiphany and The 4 A.M. Breakthrough by Brian Kiteley. These include writing prompts broken down by their focus topic and have a few pages of information to get your mind in the mood for working on those prompts. Brian Kiteley’s books are a great way to work through your problem areas and have some fun while you’re doing it. Note: You don’t have to wake up at 0300 or 0400 to use these prompts. (Yes, I think I’m funny.)
Another tool I’ve used to practice writing new stories is called the Story Engine. The Story Engine uses cards with different aspects of a story (i.e. character, conflict, anchor, setting) to build a story prompt. I’ve been using this to get some short story ideas because all of my self-created story ideas turn into attempts at another novel. Sometimes you have to practice seeing one tree grow instead of the forest’s growth. It’s been a lot of fun, and they have multiple genre expansions that you can use to diversify your stories.
Honing your craft can be a hard process, but it’s one that will improve your writing and make you better as a writer. There are so many tools, methods, and practices you can use to hone your craft, but it’s up to you to make that commitment to yourself. Take the time this week to assess your writing and identify the areas of your craft you want to work on. Write a list and start looking at the tools and techniques that might help you develop those parts of your writing process. Practice as much as you can, because that will show up in your WIP. Thank you for reading, and as always, keep writing, keep learning, and stay fresh, my nugs!
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