Wednesday, January 23, 2008


My dad has a saying whenever someone does something stupid.
"That person is educated beyond his intelligence."
That's how I feel right now. Not that I've done anything stupid...well, not that I'm going to admit here.
I've been reading books. Books on craft. Books on the craft of writing. I read "How to Write Western Novels" by Matt Braun, and "Write Away" by Elizabeth George. I peeked into "How to Write Historical Fiction" by Roberta Gellis. Still on the bedside table are "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott, "20 Master Plots and How to Build Them" by Ronald Tobias, and "The Complete Guide to Writing & Selling the Christian Novel" by Penelope J. Stokes, Ph.D.
Each one showed me some new vista as yet unexplored in my writing. Plot, Emotion, Payoff, tools for the writer's toolbox. My mind whirls at all the possible ways to begin, sustain, and end a novel.
I've come to the conclusion that while you're actually writing a novel is not the time to be reading these types of craft books. I'm paralyzed by the possibilities, and completely sure I'm not up to the task. The standards set by these instructors is so much easier to talk about than to do.
Has this every happened to you? You read so much on how to do something, you feel educated beyond your intelligence? I believe I'll be setting aside the craft books until the rough draft is finished.
T. Davis Bunn said, "The writer needs to be completely confident and fearless when writing the first draft, and have no confidence whatsoever when editing subsequent drafts."
Craft books are for subsequent drafts.


  1. Great post. I usually use craft books as reference books. I start out reading them, highlighting great advice but then I get motivated, put the book aside and start writing. What really stops me in my writing tracks is reading reviews and seeing what everyone else is writing and accomplishing. Immediately, I feel totally inadequate and completely blocked. :(

  2. That is an excellent observation. I had all these grandiose ideas about reading all my craft books before starting this book, and upon your advice, I'm waiting =P Or is it because I've run out of patience between books? I like the idea of being fearless during the first draft.

  3. I find the craft books to be a great stepping stone. I find if I spend to much time in the how-to books, I lose my voice. The books are generally one person's way of doing things. The best way to find what works for you (or not) is to get in there and play, in your case, write your patootie off. Your own good instincts will let you know if you're on the write path (-;

  4. I can relate. I devoted a couple of months to reading and studying craft books while brainstorming my newest WIP. After 2 1/2 books, I set them aside and started writing. At first I had no confidence in "my" voice, but as I exercise my writing muscles, it's coming back and what I learned is ticking away in my subconscious. I think it would paralyze me to write a first draft while reading a book on craft. I agree--get the first draft down, then worry about how to fix it. And, trust me, there are a bunch of books (and people) out there who can help with that. Write on!

  5. I don't know if it's because I've gone to so many conferences or because I had to read so many craft books (and attend so many craft-related classes) in grad school, but I find myself less and less likely to just read a craft book. I'm much more likely to pick one up to quote from when I'm judging contest entries for unpubbed authors or critiquing.

    I guess it's just getting to a point where the basic fundamentals of writing (characterization, plotting, POV, etc.) are all there in the brain so that I don't have to think about them when I sit down to write---just like I don't have to think about how to brush my teeth in the mornings when I'm still pretty much unconscious.

    I would recommend against reading craft books while you're in the creative process. Craft books are analytical---left brain---and nothing will shut down your creativity faster than spending too much time on left-brained activities!

  6. True, Erica. And you learn so much just by writing the story.

    By the way, I love Bird by Bird. She just made me feel so normal as a writer. I think that's one you could get away with reading while you're writing because my memory wants to say it's more about the writing life than the how-tos.

    Now I want to read it again!

  7. Mama has this hang-up about craft books. She keeps saying she doesn't know enough to write anything and I keep saying "Bull!" I've lost count of how many times I've told her you learn more by actually writing than you do by reading craft books. Yeah you do need both, but if you're not actively writing, in my mind the craft books are a waste of time because you have no need to absorb the info.

    I have never read a craft book from cover to cover. I started Plot and Structure the week after conference, but I haven't finished it yet. At this point in time, all I needed to read was the exercises in the first chapter to help me nail my antagonists. So I put it back down because I know it will just interrupt my flow. I don't plot out in advance. I know where I'm going with the story, and I prefer to be surprised scene-by-scene with how the characters get there.

    I'm a multi-draft writer, known that for a long time. The first draft exists for just getting the story out and for me, staying in the right POV. (that's so much easier now!) Then I can finish Plot and Structure and during the rewrites I can apply what I've learned.

    There is one craft book I have that I will never finish because of the author's attitude towards Pantsters. He pretty much said if you can't plot scene by scene you have no business trying to write. So I said "Good-bye, Mr. Bickham". It's Scene and Structure.

    Now if I could just get all that through Mama's head...