Friday, June 23, 2017
CRAFT BOOKS - A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION by Victoria Chatham
When I started writing seriously, over twenty years ago, I had never heard the term ‘craft books.’ I associated craft with knitting, sewing, or woodworking and furniture restoration. My first writing instructor explained that there were many, many craft books on the market and what some writers swore by was anathema to others.
My very first craft book on writing was Guide to Fiction Writing by Phyllis Whitney (September 9th, 1903 to February 8th, 2008.) I read it slowly and carefully and the one thing that struck me was her comment, ‘I had worked hard to learn my craft.’ This was something of an eye-opener as I had never thought of writing as work.
I suppose that stemmed from having always been good at English, a carry-on from early exposure to books and reading from a very early age. Not only did I enjoy my English grammar classes but also English Literature, both taught as separate subjects at the high school I attended. Words were fun, making up stories was even more fun. Writing prize-winning essays carried all the perks of extra points for one’s house and, if one was very fortunate, maybe the gift of a pen or a notebook.
But, as an adult, the fact that good writing didn’t just happen was something of a challenge to me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write, so continued taking short story writing courses until an idea gelled into a western contemporary romance. Did I know how to write romance? Nope. It involved a lot of reading and deconstructing some of the novels I read. It also involved many, many more craft books.
Other early books were William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. These did not necessarily enhance my romance writing ambitions, but they did help the structure of my writing. I’m not sure at what stage I came across Stephen King’s On Writing, but that one book has remained my firm favorite. Being more mature when I really settled into my writing career, I really appreciated these words by King (2000):
‘I have spent a good many years since - too many, I think - being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.’ (p. 50.)
My family and friends had always looked on my writing as ‘Vicki’s little hobby’, undermining any confidence I had. This resulted in me relegating whatever project I was working on to the back-burner until I had either a) recovered my courage enough to pick up my pen again or b) come up with a better idea. I got to the point of not sharing my ideas with anyone, secreting my scribblings away into deep, dark drawers.
Many years later, I am now comfortable with myself as a writer. I like to think that I have learned, and continue to learn, my craft. Along the way I have acquired many more craft books, too many to mention and goodness knows how much I have spent on them. I love talking to other writers and many have recommended books they find useful. Some I have read about in trade magazines or on some blog. As I have acquired a book, I have read it from cover to cover. Some have been discarded or passed on, many have been kept on my bookshelf and revisited often. I have my favorites, Robert Mckee’s Story being one of them. Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer is another and my go-to grammar book is the saucily titled Comma Sutra by Laurie Rozakis. I rarely go into a bookstore without looking to see what is new on the shelves but I have to be firm with myself. There is little point in getting lost in the how-to or why of writing. The lessons learned need to be put into practice by writing and then writing more.
So now I have finished writing this post, I am going to write the next thousand words in my work-in-progress. The operative word here, now that I am older and wiser, is work! If you have a favorite craft book, please share by leaving a comment.