Terry Shames here. Our question this week is about Craft: When you have craft questions, where do you go for answers? A particular website? A book? Podcasts? Writer friends?
Craft is a particularly personal subject for writers. Ask a writer how he or she writes, and you’ll get answers all over the place. One writes straight through without much thought to sentence and paragraph structures, whether scenes work or not, whether they’ve chosen the proper words, whether they’ve gotten descriptions right. They write to “discover” their story. Others edit as they go along, reviewing work every day to make sure they have said exactly what they meant to say in the way they want to convey it. Some writers outline roughly; some outline in detail. Others wouldn’t think of outlining. There are whole books written about each process. But it’s certain that some point every writer thinks about craft.
I recently gave an on-line presentation to a Sisters in Crime chapter. It was a double subject—one I felt confident that I had valuable insights about; the other I wasn’t so confident about. For both subjects, though, I needed help to make the presentation stronger. I never rely totally on my own experience when I do presentations about craft. That’s because I fall into ruts when I write and take shortcuts that work for me but may not work for every writer. I need to be reminded that there are other ways of doing things. I also always feel like I can use a refresher for my own work, and that gives me a chance to dip back into valuable resources..
The subject I felt confident about was Inspiration for Characters and Plot. I thought I had a good slant on it—but I still wanted some tips from other writers to fill out my talk.
So I went to my two trusty folder—one in my Word files, and one “paper.” I call the folders “Writing Tips.” In them I stash things I’ve seen on-line or heard in person that seem particularly insightful. For example, I have notes on talks by David Corbett, Kelli Stanley, Jess Lourey, and Jeffry Deaver, among others. In presentations I put out my own twist on the ideas, but their talks inspired me.
The other subject, short stories, I don’t think I know much about. I’ve written short stories, but each time it feels like I’m reinventing the wheel. So I went first to Margaret Lucke’s handbook on the subject, published several years ago that is still very much in demand, Schaum’s Quick Guide to Writing Great Short Stories. I contacted her to ask if it was okay for me to draw from her book, and she said yes. (Of course I put in a plug for it in the talk.) And then I emailed two short story writers I admire, Gigi Pandian and Art Taylor, and asked for “quick tips” I could give my audience. They gave me two tips I could use not only for my talk, but for my own writing.
I also have a library of books on writing that I dip into if I’m feeling at sea about something I’m working on and need a craft reminder—or If I just need a little inspiration. Books like Save the Cat Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody or Take Off Your Pants, by Libbie Hawker are terrific reminders when my writing shortcuts start to put me into ruts that aren’t useful.
So in a way, I could say I go to writer friends for help, either from presentations they’ve given, or books or articles they’ve written.