Getting Crafty

Not crafty as in arts-and-crafts. I dabble in that but really, I’m not very good. I’m talking crafty as in writer’s craft. And craft books.

As I’m going through revisions on not one, but two WIPs, I’ve been consulting a couple of my favorite craft books: Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass and Don’t Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden. I also like Hooked by Les Edgerton and The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, but I’ve yet to crack those open again – I’m still working on plot and characters, not worrying about how beautifully the first few pages shine yet.

I’ve realized I should do more reading on craft. There are several books I still want to read (The Art and Craft of Fiction by Victoria Mixon, Architecture of the Novel by Jane Vandenburgh, The Art of War for Writers and Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and others…) and I’m sure I can learn something from each of them. We should always be working on improving our skills and although writing itself is the best way to improve, so is learning from the experts.

On the other hand, we can’t go too far with “expert” advice. I learned this the hard way with Promise. Experts give all kinds of great advice and various sets of rules we must follow (although they often conflict with each other). Doing so will make our stories so much better. Our writing will glow like a hundred-watt light bulb. Our characters will pop off the page. And not doing these things will cause ultimate failure.

My lesson: With Promise, I followed all the experts’ advice in the multitude of books I read. I revised, rewrote, edited, proofed and spit-polished exactly how they said to do it. I took out the big no-no’s. I replaced them with what “really makes a story good.” I was a model student. And when all was said and done…I hated my story. Hated it. Following all their rules and advice created an uninspiring narration that was the equivalent of cardboard pizza.

I also realized that I had come to the point where I was changing things just to change them – I wasn’t making the story any better. Despite what the experts said.

So I went back and revised again. No, I didn’t undo everything they suggested. Many of their recommendations did make the story better. But I did undo/redo the lifeless parts. I took my story back and made it mine. And I’m so freakin’ glad I did.

Craft books, conferences, professional critiques/editors…they’re all great. We need them. We must continuously grow and learn or we start dying. But we also need to know how to apply what we learn, know when to take something and when to leave it. Because all those experts only know what works for them, their clients/students/friends/past successes/etc. They don’t know our story. And every story is unique.

Keeping that in mind, I’ll be making a point of reading more craft books. I have a ton of fiction to read (did I tell you we cleaned out Borders’ paranormal section? And there was a lot still left at 80% off!) but I need to make a point that for every two or three novels I read, I must read something about craft or the business of writing.

So…what are your favorite crafty books? Have you read any of those I mentioned? What has been your experience when applying what you learn? Do you do any arts-and-crafts?

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