Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Not A Birdhouse by Gabriel Valjan


Do you have favorite craft sessions, or articles/books on craft that you return to for inspiration or help?

I have never attended a craft session, nor have I paid much attention to either articles or books on craft. Please let me explain. I have read articles by writer friends. This blog is an example. I have visited Career Authors and Jungle Red Writers, but I read for perspective not advice.

I equate books on craft with How To books, a manifestation of Self-Help books, which I find perversely strange. Okay, I hear the counterargument. You read X to learn Y that you don’t know how to do. Let’s say, I want to build a birdhouse. I am not a carpenter, but I know the local store will have a Do It Yourself Kit, with instructions inside. I read the schematic and have at it. The result is a birdhouse. Serviceable and functional. Is it any different from any other birdhouse after the paint job? Probably not.

One and done.

“Now, hold on,” you say. “Writing is a technical activity, and it involves abstract items, such as Character, Plot, Dialogue, and techniques such as Foreshadow, Symbols, Irony, and so on.”

True, but there’s a difference in Intention. A story I tell will say something about me, about my view of the world, my take on humanity and the difficult situations people find themselves in. It may contain humor, a turn of phrase—all these things are unique to me.

When it comes to writing, I say trust yourself and your intellect. You were a reader before you’re a writer, and you have decades of reading behind you. That’s hundreds, if not thousands of books to draw inspiration from. It’s Borges’s short story “The Library of Babel” come to life. You want to know how to do X, refer to your mental Rolodex and summon forth an example from your reading of a writer who did something similar. Study it, analyze how and why it works, and then make it your own.

It’s yours and uniquely You. It will have Soul.

You can teach yourself techniques. I’ve consulted Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers because it provided demonstrations of Before and After using excerpts from literary works. The Before is what we have for text from the writer, and the After is the application of Dave’s advice to the passage. Since we don’t have the rough draft or see how the author edited himself, you may or may not agree with Dave, but that’s not the point. Read, analyze, and learn from examples.

What you teach yourself, you remember, and what you internalize, you never forget.

Don’t look outside of yourself. Trust your instincts and your imagination. Trust the sum of all that you have read and observed in life, and your own unique relationship with words and language.

No two people use the language the same way.


Erica Miner said...

Great article, very succinct and crystal clear. Thank you, Gabriel.

Brenda Chapman said...

Sound advice. Thanks Gabriel!