The Craft

I generally avoid books about writing.

I think part of this stems from the fact that it seems like anyone who's ever self-published a book of fan fiction has decided to share their knowledge of writing with the world.  Just because you've written a book, doesn't mean you can talk intelligently about writing.  And even if you can, that doesn't mean you have anything of note to share with the rest of us.

I suppose I consider books on writing to be the pinnacle of writing arrogance.

I've also kind of been writing like a hippie for most of my life.  I write when the mood strikes me.  Even if I try to force myself to write, I still end up procrastinating.  It takes a lot to get me to do the actual work.  That's a problem.

This realization came along with a rejection letter from an agent.  It was an agent who requested the first 3 chapters of Master of the House.  There wasn't a lot of feedback included in the rejection, but, of course, it made me go back to look at those first 3 chapters to figure out why they weren't good enough for the aforementioned agent to at least ask for more.

In talking about those chapters with my wife for what must have been only 5 minutes, I realized what was missing.  By the end of the day I'd written the first of what would be three brand new chapters for MotH.  I knew the book would be better because of these additions, and I was frustrated that I'd sent those sample chapters out before now.

For whatever reason, this led me the conclusion that these breakthroughs would happen much sooner in my process if I were writing more often.

I think, really, it boiled down to a realization that Master of the House is good and that I actually have talent, but I'm never able to take that next step.  And I need to.

I decided it was time to read a few books on writing.

I scoured the internet for all the "Best Books on Writing" lists I could find.  In the end, there were two books that were basically on every list: "On Writing," by Stephen King, and "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield.

I have never read anything by Stephen King.  It's not intentional, I just have so many other books on my "to read" list that there's never been a spot open for anything by him.  So his book on writing was my first exposure to his work.  Clearly, the man knows what he's talking about with regards to writing, as he's managed to make a pretty good living at it.

I was not disappointed.  "On Writing" was fantastic.  It's a nice mix of biography and instruction.  King is never preachy about his rules for writing, and he's never really adamant about them.  He knows there are exceptions to every rule, but exceptions should be few and far between.  He gives plenty of specific lessons on what to avoid in everything from plot to characters to sentences.  But there's one thing he stresses above all others: you have to do the work.

"The War of Art" was the polar opposite of "On Writing."  It was preachy and the personal anecdotes were flat and uninteresting.  While King is trying to get you to change your work habits, Pressfield is trying to change your life, a step which seems unnecessary for the average writing.  I can see how such a move would have worked for Pressfield, but I don't think it's applicable across the board.  There's also the simple fact that "The War of Art" is a flimsy book; it's 165 page, and only because each point gets it's own chapter, even if that chapter is less than a page long.  Sure, there are some useful bits, but it probably could have been a list on a web site instead of an entire book.

In the end I decided it was finally time to start being serious about this thing that I've taken so seriously for so long.  I needed a set writing schedule that I follow no matter what.  I needed to set word count goals for each of my writing sessions.  I need to put the work in so that I could get to the good writing faster.

While forcing myself to write, that hasn't been the hardest part of all this.  The hardest part has been the fact that it's nearly impossible to maintain a set schedule.  Things come up, even writing related things that aren't actually writing.  It's frustrating as hell, but I have to assume this is the way it is for most writers who don't get paid for it.

But this also, in part, explains why I haven't been putting the work.  I have always written when the mood struck me, but also when I had the chance.  But I admit that my free time hasn't always been direct at writing.  There are hours in each day that are unassigned, and those need to go to my writing above almost all other things.

Anyway, "The Craft" is also the name of a fantastic album by Blackalicious.