Over on her blog the other day, Stephanie Tyler makes the following statement:
“please STOP reading the craft books if you haven’t yet written a complete book yet. I cannot stress this enough – if you’re reading a book on craft and you haven’t yet written a book that you can plug your own experiences into, you’re not going to understand that craft book on the level you need to. Just write the book – the whole book – write it in order, out of order, in any genre or POV you need to but get it down. Don’t get so caught up in the things you think you need to do for pre-writing that you don’t get the actual writing done. Save the energy you expend doing index cards and things of that sort for the writing. Trust me, the craft books will make so much more sense after the writing is accomplished.”
I thought this was an interesting notion. As I mentioned sometime before, I began writing when I was 12. I finished my first novel at 14. I think I was somewhere in college the first time I picked up a book on craft. Actually…no…in college I was into reading writer autobiographies in which they sometimes talked about craft, but I was more reading for the experience. I wanted to see how authors I knew and loved had gotten started in this crazy writing life. I did discover The Writer magazine and read it periodically through college, but that was about the only reading I did on craft–and I did it without much eye to conscious application and more out of interest in the topic of writing in general. I actually think that Telling Lies For Fun & Profit may be the first book on craft I’ve read, now that I think about it. So I find Tyler’s suggestion pretty interesting. I’ve done a LOT of writing over the years. Not always finished writing, but I think that having gotten all that writing under my belt I do probably understand the stuff I read about craft better now than I would have if I’d picked it up when I first began writing. Obviously at 27 I’m considerably more mentally capable of “getting it” than I was at 12, but beyond that, I think I needed the experience of doing what I do in order to have a framework to hang these gems I’ve been picking up through the years upon.
The one point where I disagree with Tyler is the idea of having to finish a book entirely before craft books become useful. I have, sadly, not finished all that many books in my 15 years of writing, but I think I learned just as much about my writing style from simply DOING a lot of it, whether I finished or not (finishing is one of the problems I sometimes need help with, obviously).
I do think that there is one sort of writer who would particularly benefit from Tyler’s advice. There is a group of people out there who make a conscious decision to become a writer–for whatever reason–and then they go to their local library or bookstore and pick up everything they can find on craft before they ever write a word–and then they get so caught up in reading what they may view as a How To book (like How To Build A Birdhouse) that they never get around to doing much actual writing! The thing about writing is that there is no ONE way to do it. There are no hard and fast rules (well other than proper spelling and grammar and even that can slide sometimes in dialogue). If you don’t have a grasp for how you personally write and you read multiple books on craft, you’ll get a lot of conflicting opinions and you may never know what to apply, let alone how to apply them! There are lots of wonderful books and articles written about the craft of writing and the great thing about going through them is mining for the gems that will truly make your own writing shine–while being aware that not everything will work for you personally.