What is craft? The techniques writers use to capture a reader’s attention in the telling of a story are referred to as the writer’s craft. Essential components of craft are establishing a clear voice, choosing precise words, incorporating a useful organization, developing effective sentences, and creating vivid characters and a compelling plot that illuminate your underlying theme.
Imagine a professional musician playing an amazing piece—smooth and fluid and polished—with every note perfect. Imagine another musician who isn’t in tune, misses notes, and leaves out measures. Which one would you prefer listening to?
My son was a classical guitar major in college. He had years of study under the masters. He learned theory, took private and group lessons, and practiced hours every day. He attended the presentations and performances of other students, and he performed, too. He even bought his own tuxedo. It took time and tunnel-vision for him to master the skills and techniques, to perfect each finger movement, each sound, and the timing of each note. He learned the tricks of his trade. His fingernails had to be long and perfect. He had numerous bottles of fingernail hardeners and strengtheners and clear polish, fancy files, and even had to learn to fashion a fingernail out of a ping pong ball and cement it to his nail base if one of his broke.
It takes commitment and dedication to be a skilled artisan. As a writer, you should want to have this same commitment, dedication, and reputation for quality.
Why does it matter? Because the reader can tell the difference. He may not be able to put into words that there is too much narrative and not enough action, or too much backstory, or passive construction, but he knows when the book is “so-so” or “so good I couldn’t put it down.” He also knows when there are mistakes in grammar and punctuation.
This means the burden is on you to keep learning craft.
The goal of many writers is to publish and sell their work, while others write for friends, family, or business. Today, so many people are writing books that your manuscript must be as sharp as possible to get attention from agents or publishers. Although it is easier than ever to self-publish a book, if it lacks proper grammar, structure, or even clarity, no one will enjoy it. Those who take the time to learn the craft of writing do themselves and others a huge favor; they give the term “self-publishing” a good name and make the label of “writer” worthy of respect.
There are various avenues one can take to write like a professional. What are some things you can do?
– Read a variety of books on the craft of writing. Study premise, character development, plot, dialogue, point of view, scene, and setting, for example. A few suggestions: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition by Renni Browne and Dave King, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White, The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, and On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser.
– Attend workshops and conferences that bring in successful published authors to teach classes on craft.
– Hire a writing coach for one-on-one sessions on techniques, organization of your writing project, or getting started and following through to meet your goals.
– Join a writers group that critiques and discusses craft. Get feedback on your writing and learn from other writers.
– Go to writers’ meetings, lectures, and events offered by the public library, bookstores, and book festivals, as well as writers’ meet-ups in your city, to soak in all you can about writing and publishing from professionals and peers.
READ (A LOT)
– Read books in a variety of genres. Read with a critical eye and ask questions. Where did the author start? How did she handle character introductions? How did she build suspense and tension? What is the conflict and when was it introduced? How did the author approach showing and telling? How did she handle dialogue and description?
– Read the genre you want to write. Read books by a variety of authors. Read for voice and craft and not just for the pleasure of it.
– Writers write. You can’t be a writer if you don’t write.
– The more you do it, the better you get.
– You don’t wait for inspiration; you just do it.
– Don’t worry about it being good. Put the words on the page and then read it out loud, and you will hear places that don’t sound right and are in need of improvement.
– Some people just want to publish a book. They don’t want to take the time to learn to write. They want the finished product.
– People who regard writing as a profession write consistently. Those who regard writing as a hobby usually don’t.