What Is Writing Craft?


I mentioned in my last post that one of the reasons I go to Mount Hermon is to learn. Writing is one of those skills that can’t be perfected. In other words, there is no “right answer.” When something works, it can hardly ever work again (because by the very nature of repeating what has already been done, it does not do what the original did, which was to be the first ever or the new twist of). Consequently, the real job for the writer is to continually improve.

If at some point in my writing career I think I’ve “arrived” when it comes to the craft, then I am most in danger of becoming stagnant. It’s interesting to me that a number of acquisitions editors recommend certain writing books. One editor a year ago referred to a well-know volume as his writing bible and says he re-reads it nearly every year. Yet the writing that seems to excite these editors is that which goes beyond the constraints of the norm.

The norm, I would suggest, is competent, concise, clear writing. Anything less has little chance any more. What with writers’ conferences offered across the country, online writing courses, mentoring groups, and freelance editors, more and more writers are capable and understand a great deal about the basics of writing.

But what we sometimes forget is that writing is a creative endeavor. Sure, we understand that the story is a creative endeavor, but so is the vehicle through which the story is delivered.

What is it that captures a reader’s heart, that brings him to tears or makes him laugh out loud? What keeps him awake long past midnight even though he needs to get up and go to work the next morning? What makes her want to tell her best friend, her mom, and her neighbor down the block about the book she read? What brings those characters to mind at the oddest times? What stirs him to excitement when the day approaches for the next book in the series to release?

You think I’m going to provide the magic formula to such stories? Well, here it is. There is no formula.

If “craft” is reduced to a list of do‘s and don’t‘s, the writing will acquire the taste of water.

Sure you can stretch the analogy and say we can’t survive without water. I’m talking about the taste of a colorless, odorless liquid. What will set our writing apart from all the other colorless, odorless stories out there?

Clearly, “craft” is something more than avoiding passive voice or steering clear of -ly ending adverbs or cutting away any backstory in the first fifty pages or avoiding speaker attributions in dialogue. Craft is the magic of writing, not slight of hand.

Can it be learned?

Published in: on February 28, 2008 at 10:14 am  Comments (7)  
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