Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here with
Reading About the Craft
Ready for a confession?
It’s been a while since I read a book ABOUT writing. Yikes! I know.
While I KNOW it’s important. It simply frequently doesn’t make the top of the priority list. I read them for a while, years ago. And honestly, my ego probably took over and I told myself… okay, I got this. Now I’ll go do it.
I read blogs and things of that nature on the Internet obviously. But honestly, I mostly focus on updates in the industry and reading tips and quips from some of my amazing writing friends. But an actual novel about the craft? I probably haven’t done that in years.
Then, the other day, I saw my copy of The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, by Martha Alderson. I bought it a while back because the set was on sale. I got the novel, the workbook and prompt book for a great price. I’ve heard her name often. And I know how fantastic she is. So I grabbed the deal.
It came in the mail!
I opened the package!!
I cooed in excitement!!!
… and subsequently got distracted and put it down.
It has sat on my shelf ever since.
I had just finished the final draft of my nonfiction bee book that’s coming out, as most of you know. (yay). (When I hear more details on timelines, I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out my article on Successes and Hurdles, it talks all about it.) So I had a little bit of time I wasn’t use to.
I picked it up. The arrogant writer in me was saying… well, I’ll read it. And I’m sure it’s great and all. It might spur some ideas. But I’ve read this stuff before. I probably won’t really learn anything NEW.
Wow. Wrong. So, so… SO wrong.
First of all, her writing is stirring and eloquently touching, as she talks about the Universal Story within us all and how we are all connected by it. It is, by leaps and bounds, the most I’ve ever felt a real CONNECTION with a book about the craft.
It’s nice to have a novel about how to deeply engage an audience that actually deeply engages me with every word. Something I often find missing in books on writing.
But the book is more than just beautiful and surprisingly moving. Concepts that are generally presented in theoretical, overarching terms are broken down in definable ways. Structured activities. Hands-on suggestions. Charts with different levels of detail. Examples from a wide variety of books. Visual reference points.
I could go on and on here, but I’ll force myself to stop, because this particular post is not actually meant to only speak of this particular book. (Sorry to disappoint. Perhaps my next post will.)
Suffice it to say, I picked it up about four days ago and I’m halfway through the book. As a quick reader, I normally would have been long done by now with all the time I’ve spent reading it. I get sucked in and spend hours at a time with it.
I’ve re-read so many passages. I’ve stopped to REALLY do the suggested activities (not just half-do them…) or to take notes on how the concepts apply to my own characters and plot line.
And while much of the credit regarding holding my attention goes to the author, I have to say that some of it, in truth, goes to myself.
If I had read this book years ago, I still would have reveled in the beautiful language, and it still may have spurred new ideas and solidified old ones. But, I would not have taken the time to re-read the same passages I did this time. I would not have been as honest with myself about my own weaknesses. If I had done the activities at all, I would have done them differently.
The writer I am today absorbed both the essence and the detail of this book completely differently than I would have years go.
This led me to see how learning something NEW, doesn’t always mean that the entire concept must be something I’ve never heard of. I read many books on writing years ago when I got serious. And then I think I subconsciously said, okay, got that. And checked it off my list.
As writers, a certain level of arrogance in our abilities is… well, necessary. If we don’t think we’re good writers, we wouldn’t be putting such a huge chunk of our time into writing. And without a little healthy arrogance, we wouldn’t think that thousands of people should read our work, and thusly we wouldn’t submit it to agents or editors.
But it can lead to the kind of thought process I was in. I didn’t think I was perfect. Far from it. I just didn’t think I could get much from a book ABOUT writing.
But I am a different writer than I was when I first read all those craft books. In fact, I was a different person. I now know more about myself, my tendencies, my weaknesses and even my strengths.
I write this to challenge you all to pick up a book on the craft of writing. And read it. Not just “read over it” or “read through it” as you might a “how-to” book, picking out bullet points and headlines to gather information. But really READ it. Engage in the lessons it teaches and how they relate to your particular work-in-progress, to you as a writer, and even to you as a person.
And, well… if you’d like a suggestion… go pick up The Plot Whisperer. But be ready. If you let it, it will delve into parts of your writing you didn’t know existed.
As writers, I understand the list of “things I’ve been meaning to have time for” is staggering. And I know from personal experience that reading books on the craft of writing can fall to the wayside. But really, we need Continuing Education, just like other professions. In order to really perfect both the art and energy in our words, we must always be actively searching for new inspiration, both creatively and structurally. Reading books on writing is an important piece of the particular puzzle.
… your manuscripts are worth it.
Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!
Thank you Erika for another great post!