Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Craft

WRITING IS A CRAFT. This was news to me several months ago when I first attempted to write. Craft. I first encountered that alien idea in the excellent book by Jerry Cleaver, Immediate Fiction. It was both a daunting idea and a very reassuring one. Daunting because I had no idea what was meant by it, and if I didn’t know what was meant by it I obviously had no business trying to write. Reassuring because the word craft implies something which can be learned and mastered. You practice a craft, make mistakes, learn from your mistakes, improve upon your product, and continually become better at it. That, I could do. I was already excellent at making mistakes. Now I just needed to learn from those mistakes and improve at the craft. But how?
Immediate Fiction was an excellent place to start, and I highly recommend it to any fledgling writer. Then, not long into this new journey I was given the opportunity to attend a two day writing workshop. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the first day I was utterly and completely overwhelmed and quickly came to the conclusion that I had no business being there. I was obviously a fraud, an imposter. I attended with a dear friend, who had also just started writing in earnest, and she too wanted to run from the room on that first day. Terms and ideas that we had never heard of were thrown around, bewildering and paralyzing us. However, on the second day, the instructor changed tactics a bit, and everything she presented seemed much more accessible. I was no longer paralyzed, but was now inspired. I went home and practiced my craft.
I am a very fortunate reader and writer in that I live in a city which embraces and nourishes those who love the written word. Last month Portland enjoyed the seventh (I think!!) Wordstock Festival. This feast for anyone who loves books, whether as a reader or a writer or both, was two days of inspiration and education. I listened to many wonderful writers share their work and knowledge of the craft. Among these I heard Michael Ondaatje read from and discuss his new book The Cat’s Table, listened to Steve Almond who spoke as a member of a panel on sex in books, heard Johnny Shaw speak on structure in novels, and attended four writing workshops, the best of which was presented by David Rocklin, the debut author of The Luminist. His topic was on using setting as character, and I found everything he shared to be very helpful for my Civil War novel. David is adorable, and kept joking about being a “sparkly vampire.” At one point he and I had a little Twilight Zone moment, when he seemed to have read my mind, and I kidded him that he really WAS a sparkly vampire (who of course can read minds…all except for that one!) I couldn’t wait to get home and continue practicing my craft.
I have a stack of books on the craft of writing that I’m slowly making my way through, and I’m always on the lookout for the next inspiring workshop to attend!
Happy Reading!

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