Monday, March 18, 2013

On Writing and Learning


“I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.”  

          --  Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in E.L.Konigsburg’s Newbery-award-winning novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler  (p.153 in the paperback version)




Of course, she wasn't talking to Claudia about writing, but I think the quote applies just as easily to what we do, as writers. The more I write, the more I need to learn about writing. And many people have suggested I buy this craft book or that one. Sometimes I do. There's a great deal to be learned from books like Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass or Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell or my favorite, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. 





But there comes a time when you need to stop all the studying and let it "swell up inside of you." Let all the advice simmer; let your own ideas marinate so you can feel something. What do you think? Have you learned something invaluable from a craft book? Do you depend on craft books or are you finding your own way?


27 comments:

  1. I'm truly finding my own way. I tried reading Save the Cat but didn't glean much from what I read. Not surprising when I'm a learn-by-doing person. So that's what I'm doing...just doing, and by that I mean writing. Reading other middle grade books is what builds my writing.

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    1. Barbara, I appreciate your honesty. I trudged along on my own for four years before I relented and purchased a couple of craft books. But I have to admit, I don't use them much. I've read thousands of MG and YA books, and I write. And that is more useful to me.


      Two important things I learned from Anne Lamott, though: one is that rough drafts are meant to be crappy (she didn't use that word, but you can figure it out!) and the other is to carry an index card and pen everywhere you go, in case an idea hits you. You could, of course, do the same thing with a smart phone.

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  2. I love that quote, Joanne. It's so very true.

    BIRD BY BIRD is one of my favorites, so is ON WRITING by Stephen King. Even though I've read them both multiple times, I learned the most about writing by actually writing.

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    1. And you've clearly done the right thing, Kate, since you now have two published books under your belt!

      Both of those books are as much memoir as how-to. Haven't read Stephen King's yet, but one of the things I love about BIRD BY BIRD is that you feel the author is talking to you and revealing herself along with all this wisdom. There are no writing exercises. Her best advice is simply to keep writing!

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  3. Plot and Structure is one of my favorite craft books. I want to read his newer book on revising.

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    1. I have that book, too, Natalie, but I haven't read it yet! When I revised my first novel, I dipped into Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King.

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  4. To me Bird by Bird is more of a guidance book. I used to rely a lot on craft books when I decided to get serious about my writing. But I've only read one from beginning to end. Usually I skim or go to a specific chapter for reference.
    I do have to agree with Barbara that I learned more by trial and error and also through a lot of MG fiction reading.

    ~Akoss

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    1. Excellent point, Akoss. Bird by Bird is as much about living as it is about writing.

      And I've only read two advice/craft books all the way to the end. I've skimmed a few more!

      As for learning by writing, one of my favorite quotes is one mentioned by mystery writer Joe Gores. When he asked a Notre Dame professor how to become a writer, the prof said: "It’s very easy to be a writer. Go to a big city and get a little room with a table and a chair in it. Put your typewriter on the table and your backside on the chair. Start writing. When you stand up ten years later, you’ll be a writer."

      I always thought Hemingway said that but when I Googled it, this is what came up. I would argue with the big city part of it, but I love the rest!

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    2. Oh goodness! 10 years! reading it like that makes it very daunting but I totally see the point. :)

      ~Akoss

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    3. Yes, it sounds like a lot, but I'm getting there! I'm sure you are too.

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  5. The quote is awesome and works on so many levels! I had forgotten about it- but it came back to me as soon as I read the post. I do enjoy reading craft books and find them helpful- but I agree that after a while it is necessary to just let the information swell inside of us. :)
    ~Jess

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    1. Hi Jess! Yes, there's definitely something to be said for letting it all stew awhile.

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  6. lol I think you know the answer for me. I'm a writing craft book junkie. But I've learned so much from them, you can't blame me for being an addict. :D

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    1. Oh yes, Stina! You read more craft books than anyone I know. But it's great that you've learned so much from them.

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  7. One of the reasons I'm so addicted to conferences. The ways I can improve as a writer are never ending, it seems! Thanks for the reminder... My crit group is focusing on writing more beautifully this year :)

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    1. I love writing conferences, Gina! If they weren't so expensive I'd attend several every year.

      That's a wonderful goal for your crit group.

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  8. The last craft book I read was more inspiration than anything. There was one I read last year, about deep POV, that was really good, but I forgot the title.

    I have other craft books on my TBR list that I really need to get to.

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    1. Oh, that would be a good book for me, Medeia. Was it Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson?

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  9. I enjoy reading craft books,especially when I have some aspect of writing that I especially want to improve, such as plotting. But my writing has grown the most through reading lots and lots of books.

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    1. That's one thing we all seem to have in common, Andrea. Reading lots of books! Thanks for stopping by.

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  10. Great post, Joanne. I enjoy reading craft books, but I have a hard time finishing them. I start out strong, but then end of stopping and picking up a middle grade novel instead. Sometimes, I feel like I can get too much advice from too many people. It does pay to simplify at times, I think. Just my two cents.

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    1. Hi Jennifer! Thanks for weighing in. And I know what you mean. I've done the same thing with several craft books.

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