How about a quick quiz?
How many writing craft books do you own? _____
How many of those books have you read cover to cover? _____
How often, when you’ve read the book cover to cover, have you actually applied the information learned to actual writing? _____
If you’re anything like me, your answers were along the lines of “too many,” “hardly any,” and “We’re supposed to apply this stuff?”.
Sound familiar to anyone?
There hundreds of fabulous writing books out there on every conceivable topic from characterization to plotting to productivity. I probably own (or have owned in the past) at least 50 of them. I’ve probably read completely through about ten of them.
It’s not that they don’t contain great information. I found one in my bookcase the other day that I’d read about one-third of. I remember when I read it that it was filled with fantastic plotting information. Opening it, I discovered I had marked and highlighted large amounts of the text, testifying to how much I was getting from it.
So why did I stop reading it? It probably started to look more like work and less like the hope I was expecting when I bought it.
Yes. I think hope is the reason most of us writers buy so many craft books. They give us hope that one more book, one more bit of information, one more lesson, will finally tip the writing over into a thing of ease for us. That inside those pages will be the magic formula to make our characters finally leap to life, our story structure make an agent or editor hang onto the edge of their seat, or to finally make the writing flow.
And when that doesn’t happen, we get discouraged (sometimes before we even finish reading), put the book down, and go looking for another magic book.
Or writing class. Or workshop. All of these things offer us hope.
What they don’t offer is to do the work for us.
Another couple questions to add to the quiz:
How many hours do you spend reading writing books or participating in writing classes? _____
How much of that time could you have spent actually writing? _____
I’ve fed my “hope addiction” mostly with craft books and not classes, but I know many people looking for that next magic teacher who will turn out to be the Professor McGonagall of writing, who will, with a wave of her wand and bestowal of just the right words, help them transform into a published author.
Now, I’m not saying those books and those classes don’t have their place. Not at all. I’ve taken some fabulously informative writing classes and, of course, read some outstanding craft books. The reason those classes and books were valuable to me? Because I actually followed through with them and then applied what I’d learned to my writing.
I’m not discouraging you from taking a writing class (especially since I hope to teach some at some point) or buying and reading another craft book…unless that’s all you’re doing.
If you’re taking yet another class and not spending at least ten times the amount of time you spend doing the homework for that class on writing and practicing the craft on your own, you shouldn’t be taking another class.
If you’re buying book after book after book and doing more reading about writing than writing…put the credit card away and step away from the bookstore.
None of that is going to help you, unless you write. It may feel hopeful, but the only hope you have to becoming a better writer, a successful published writer, is to write.
As with anything else in life, it takes commitment to achieve your goals. You can read all the dieting books published and faithfully attend weekly Weight Watchers meetings for 20 years, but if you don’t make the commitment to work the program and practice good eating habits, all the book knowledge and class support isn’t going to help you lose a single pound.
If you see yourself in this scenario, clinging to the hope that you’ll stumble on the magic writing formula if you just keep searching, make a commitment right now to:
1) Stop buying new craft books. If you really feel you want to read one, make a commitment to one that you already own. Read it cover to cover, do the exercises, apply it to your work in progress. When you’ve finished it, write. Remember the hope is in the writing, not between the covers of a book someone else wrote.
2) No more classes. At least for a while. If you have a writing class addiction, save yourself a penny or two and take a break. Make a commitment to go over old notes from one of the classes you’ve taken in the past and apply it to the writing. Then write some more.
3) Make a commitment to the writing. You’ll learn most from the practice of getting the words on the page, the story in the proper form.
In the end, the practice of writing will show you where you need help. Only once the story is complete and you’ve had others read it or had suggestions from an agent or editor can you see where you need help. THEN pick a book or a class to help you improve on your weaknesses. Make a commitment to read that book or take that class and apply what you learn there toward making your writing better…by doing more writing.
Use them as tools, not as beacons of hope.
Because, in the end, the only hope you have is in the writing.