A Simple, Time-Tested Strategy to Learning the Writing Craft

A Simple, Time-Tested Strategy to Learning the Writing Craft

A Simple, Time-Tested Strategy to Learning the Writing Craft
Photo by Tim Norris / via Flickr

A Simple, Time-Tested Strategy to Learning the Writing Craft

Do you struggle with finding time to learn the writing craft? Are you worried that you're so far behind your goals that there's no way you'll be able to catch up now?

If you're feeling a little less than inspired because your writing skills are nowhere near where you want them to be or your writing goals keep floating farther and farther away, here's a simple strategy that I use to keep me focused.

But first, there's one little thing we need to do – we need to accept our current position. If we had big plans to publish a novel and we've somehow let countless years slip by without us meeting that goal, it's time now to let that go. The time is gone. The next best time to start is now. As much as we want to, we can't go back in time and change the past. We can't wish it to be different. All we can do is start today. The good news is our stories are right there waiting to be unearthed.

Once we've come to terms with wherever we are in our writing life, we can focus on learning the writing craft.

This simple strategy requires patience and persistence. We won't see results overnight, but if we stick with it, we'll start to see big pay-offs.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed at the bookstore when we check out the writing reference section. There are so many books on the writing craft that there's no way we can read them all. Not if we want to start writing and seeing our work in print.

So, what's the solution? We need to work toward steady progress.

One great way to achieve small, steady progress with learning the writing craft is to devote 15 minutes a day to studying a book on writing – not just reading it and sticking it back on the shelf, but digging in and taking notes.

When I started taking notes of writing craft books last fall, I didn't think I'd gain much. My plan was to study a few pages of a writing craft book each day. I treated the process like a writing course, something that would be more beneficial than just reading a book and maybe absorbing helpful information. By taking notes, I'd be highlighting the important parts and making them stick.

Over the last six months, I've noticed a shift in my writing skills. Now as I write, I have techniques and ideas in the back of my mind so I'm putting more thought into the words that I write – not just the specific words, but the order of words. Doing it this way helps me produce a decent first draft because I'm thinking about the plot points and the scenes or details that need to be written to make the structure work. I'm thinking about sentence structure and word flow. I'm planting foreshadowing as I write instead of adding those details later.

The idea behind this strategy is simple: steady progress. If we focus too much on how far behind we are, we might never have the courage to start. And if we focus on how much learning and studying we need to do to produce a publishable manuscript, we'll start to feel overwhelmed. But if we commit to 15 minutes a day to learning the writing craft, eventually writing skills and techniques will become second nature and we'll start to see ourselves making progress.

Jody Calkins
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