Learning the tools of the trade

To be human is to be a storyteller.  Whether it be simply answering the question of “What did you do today?” or telling a joke, we all tell tales.  If we look at our modern media, what do virtually all of them have in common?  They tell a story.  Movies, books, comics, television, even video games, all tell us stories that could be our lives or something entirely fantastical.

So then, if all of us have this ability, even desire, to share our stories, why do writers who get paid seem such a rare breed?  Why is the idea of being a published author romanticized so heavily?  Why do we treat our storytellers as though they have some great and mythic ability?

I spent the day reading Write Away by Elizabeth George.  Reading her detailed breakdown of how she constructs her novels, it struck me that what truly separates those who create and those who spend time at the water cooler is one part imagination and another part education.

Imagination is something that you have, or you don’t.  I can’t teach someone to have an imagination.  Which is too bad, because it is wondrous!  But on the flip side, what if you can imagine dozens of tales, yet lack the technical ability to express them cohesively.  Can this be taught?  Given the volume of books on writing, clearly someone thinks the answer is yes.  And based on my experience of today, I’m inclined to agree.

See, I have had dozens of ideas over the years.  So many that my wife rolls her eyes when I say “I came up with a really great idea for a story!”  She rolls her eyes not because she doesn’t want to hear it, but because none of my great ideas have turned into great, finished, stories.  When I wrote earlier about how not letting myself suck killed a number of projects in the past, it wasn’t a lie.  But what I have figured out today is that I never really knew what was wrong.  After years of reading, I instinctively knew my writing was sub par, but I lacked the education to determine why and how to fix it.  So do I possess that after reading half a book?  No.  At the same time, yes.  See, having given myself to this current work in progress, I have finally broken through my personal glass ceiling.  I am open to new ideas.  I am open to being educated.  I am surprised at how quickly I am recognizing my own failings.

Ms. George talks about using your gut.  She discusses how she has a very real physical reaction to the right idea.  I had that a number of times reading her book.  A number of times my gut said, “this is why you’ve failed in the past.”  Having now recognized this, I am determined to not fail again.

So, education time it is.  I need more tools.  I have imagination, I have a skeleton of a story, now I need the tools to put the pieces together.

So, do you have a favourite book about writing?  I would be very interested in checking it out.

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7 Comments

  1. So, education time it is. I need more tools. I have imagination, I have a skeleton of a story, now I need the tools to put the pieces together.

    I’ve been doing the exact same thing, trying to learn everything I can about the craft of writing.
    I have to teach myself too, re-learn everything from the basic grammar, to story structure and dialogue. Not only that, there’s learning how to keep myself motivated, how to build what I call, “a writing life.”
    I plan on making my own blog post about this but I wanted to give you the names of a few books that I have been reading. They are all good in one way or another.
    On the craft of writing, I have…
    “On Writing Well” By William Zinnser
    “Writing Fiction” By Garry Disher
    “One Year To the Writing Life” By Susan M. Tiberghien
    “Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace” By Joseph M. Williams
    “Writing Tools: Fifty Essential Strategies for Every Writer” By Roy Peter Clark
    “The Writer’s Little Helper” By James V. Smith

    For motivation and inspiration on building a writing life…I have:
    “Page By Page” and “Chapter By Chapter” By Heather Sellers
    “The Writing Life” By Annie Dillard
    “On Writing” By Stephen King
    “The Right to Write” by Julia Cameron

    Hope that helps. See you on Twitter!
    Kelly (keleiter)
    🙂

    • Awesome! Thanks so much for these. I’ll be sure to check them out. I’m really glad you included the motivational books, because I find that’s an area I’m weak in as well. Excellent! Thank you.

  2. You are very welcome!
    And I realized after I commented that I actually forgot one. It’s a really motivating book.
    It’s called, “Write is a Verb: Sit down, start writing, no excuses” By William Hudson O’Hanlon

  3. I’ll add to Kelly’s inspiration-to-write list (and thank you, Kelly, for that list! I’m going to investigate those titles):
    *Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
    *This Year You Write Your Novel, Walter Mosley
    *and a big I CONCUR on The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

    I’ve also got Eudora Welty’s On Writing waiting on my shelf, but can’t recommend as I haven’t yet read it. It did come highly recommended to me.

    • Thanks for the additions! Also, your enthusiastic seconding of The Writing Life has me thinking that might be my next one to pick up!

  4. Ill add to Kellys inspiration-to-write list (and thank you, Kelly, for that list! Im going to investigate those titles):
    *Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
    *This Year You Write Your Novel, Walter Mosley
    *and a big I CONCUR on The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

    Ive also got Eudora Weltys On Writing waiting on my shelf, but cant recommend as I havent yet read it. It did come highly recommended to me.

    • Thank you very much for adding to the discussion. Im thinking I should collect all these titles into a new post price them all out on Amazon. Umm, I dont think my wife will be very happy.

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