This week, as I prepare to dig deep in order to revise my recently completed novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about craft. A writer’s craft, to be precise. I’ve read so many books and blogs and articles that all essentially say the same thing: to become a better writer, you must simply write. And write. And write some more.
The iterations on this conventional wisdom are endless. They say (whoever ‘they’ are) that all writers have one million bads words inside them, and only once they’ve all been written can true quality pour forth. In his book On Writing Stephen King states that ‘Writing equals ass in chair.’ Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers famously posits that everyone must spend ten thousand hours in practice of any given skill before they can reach excellence. But is that all it takes? Time and practice?
Yes, I think that to be a writer, one must write. And write. And write. But I’m not sure that just setting down mediocre words on paper in the hopes that they will eventually transform into words of beauty is necessarily enough. Without the intention and the desire to improve, that metamorphosis will never happen. Our words are not caterpillars, destined to magically transmogrify into beautiful butterflies. No–as writers we must not only write, and practice, but also envision the change within ourselves, and manifest it in our actions.
Improving your craft isn’t sexy, and you can’t write it on any resume or list of accomplishments. Craft is reading middle grade books that bore you to tears in order to identify voice and its relationship to diction. Craft is reciting aloud your characters’ dialogue to hear cadence and pinpoint subtext. Craft is writing backstories and character studies for your protagonists that no one will ever read but you.
As Molly O’Neill says,
Because strong craft? It speaks for itself. It wows its readers. It elevates a story to something even greater than itself. Craft is like meditation, or prayer, or exercising. It’s mostly silent, and somewhat hidden, and deeply personal. Few people will notice that you’re working on it unless you tell them. But your self will be enriched by it, and your work will be strengthened by it.
So I don’t think it’s enough to simply plant your ass in a chair and write. Sure, that’s a major part of it. But more important is that awareness, that self-consciousness that drives you to not only do, but to do better. And better. And better still. To not only write a million words, or practice 10,000 hours, but to focus on the thousandth word being better than the hundredth word and the five thousandth word being better still. Honing your craft with all the intention and clarity of mind you can muster.
Then only will writer you become, young padawan.
How do you hone your craft? Do you think it’s enough to simply writer, or do you agree that improving craft requires intention? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!