I found myself reading about the craft of writing this week, and I surprised myself by really enjoying it.
Outside of a couple creative writing classes in school, I’ve not had much of an opportunity to study writing as an art form. I’ve read a lot of articles about the Dos and Dont’s (show vs tell, don’t use adverbs, etc.) and I’ve put some effort into studying grammar and punctuation (homophones, Oxford commas, etc.), but as far as the craft itself goes, I’ve imagined myself as self-taught.
I used my novel Flight as a method of teaching myself how I write a novel, so I flushed out many of the first-time writer mistakes. Having characters stare in a mirror to provide physical appearances, telling the reader all about a character and character, but showing him in a completely different, and so forth. I learned a lot about the writing process and a lot about how I write from Flight, but over the years, I’ve forgotten that reading about the craft is almost as important as doing it.
Yesterday, I read several articles about writing, but one in particular stood out to me: “Tell, Don’t Show” Here the author refers to the old recommendation of show versus tell, that is, show your characters doing things rather than just tell the reader that they are doing things. This can be the difference between telling the reader “Gloria was so angry with Philip” and showing “‘How could you do this to me!’ Gloria shouted as she slapped Philip across the face.” as an example.
The article, however, focuses on the opposite, i.e., the appropriate places to tell rather than show. Part of what took an additional 18 months to complete Damen was my problem with word count. I initially showed every step Damen took every day and had to teach myself by forcing myself to tell when I wanted to show. Oh, how I wish this article had been available to me when while I was in the middle of Damen! How much time could I have saved?! While the article did not describe anything that I hadn’t already learned through trial and many, many errors, I was so pleased to see someone else eloquently describe the process and confirm what I’d learned.
Having gone so long without encountering anything new while writing, I had gone along these last few years under the arrogant guise of “There’s nothing you can teach me that I haven’t already taught myself.” While it may even be technically true, in reality, there is always something to new to learn or even confirm about one’s writing.
Four months into this agent search, it would have been easy to toss aside everything I’d learned through Flight and Damen, assuming that I had just “it” wrong and blundered along another path, but reading just a few articles on writing not only confirmed what I’d learned, but helped strengthen what I already did.
I still find it odd that I have to remind myself to take a step backward and remember that I have plenty left to learn. Arrogance has little place anywhere in life and especially when one still wishes to learn.