A Craft So Hard To Learn
Over million self-published titles were published in 2018. According to a report from ProQuest affiliate Bowker that number was up more than 28% from 2017. I wonder how many of those authors really know the craft of writing. Most writers want to publish, publish publish. I know I did. Learning any craft takes a long time, writing is no exception.
It has taken me many years to hone my skills and I’m still learning how to craft a piece. I thought the early stories I wrote were masterpieces and wondered why they were never published. Looking back at the fragments I still have I know why. Many of the stories were poorly written, unformed, clichéd, full of bad dialogue, and grammatical messes. The private school I went stopped teaching grammar in the ninth grade. It was explaining the idea that counted. In college most of my essays were D or D- . I struggled to get better as I began to learn the craft of writing from the ground up. I read a lot and studied grammar books. My grades went up and I began to see that good writing was essential. I learned how to revise and get rid of unnecessary clutter and cliches. For me writing is revision, is revision is revision. Or as I once heard a writer say “It’s reimagining the truth.”
When I first began to write stories I thought five pages was a novel and didn’t want to revise any of it, but knew I had to. When I reached eight pages I couldn’t believe it. Then ten and length never was a problem after that. I still couldn’t see myself writing anything longer than about ten pages. Even though I learned more about the writing craft I didn’t think I knew how write 100,000 words or even 10,000. My longest manuscript is 67,000 words and was a struggle to get there. I do plan on adding a few thousand more words because now I know how. I’m no longer afraid of running out things to say or word lengths. Just get the piece done and worry about length later.
Each year I’d set myself a series of goals to write. First, the short story, then the novelette, novella and finally the novel. I still like the novella the best.
I’m a fairly disciplined writer and will spend hours revising and hours thinking about how I can further craft my piece into something beautiful and lovely. And, yes there were many times I wanted to quit—it’s hard to write and sometimes even harder to make people understand why you want to write. It’s very simple, because you can’t do anything else as well.
Looking back at the short story classes I taught it hurt to know that even the best writer in the class would at some point give up after the first rejections came in. I’ve sent a story out in the morning only to have it rejected the next day. That hurts. I’ve also had stories accepted the next day. When I get a rejection I send the piece out to another journal the same day of the rejection. My advice—there is place for your work, don’t give up.
But back to the subject of craft. There is always something to learn from workshops, books you read or your instincts. I don’t like to copy other writer's styles, I have my own. A good trick I learned at the Vermont College MFA program was to type out a page from your favorite author and physically experience how the words were crafted. Or look at a particular word and see how it was used.
I thought my story collection was well done, which I felt good about. Not so. Some of the stories were not as crafted as they could have been. The comments from the editor really hurt, but I knew they were right. The next revision was significantly better as was the final. I’ve never worked so hard on piece before. Even now as I reread some of the stories I want to make changes. I’m still learning.