Worse at the Craft

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Worse at the Craft
image by Christina Xu

Is it possible to get worse at the craft of writing?

It is said, quite often in fact, that a person can improve at whatever he or she does by practice. This means doing whatever it is repeated day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

There was a time when I sincerely believed in this. When I was an elementary school child, I took piano lessons. I practiced every day for thirty minutes. I did get more proficient at it to the point where the nervousness of the recital was minimal. In upper elementary school going all through junior high school and senior high school, I spent hours learning how to play the flute. Not only did the anxiety of performing in front of others become infinitesimal, I also entered into local and state contests, winning a blue ribbon in various categories.

I’ve written more in the past decade than I have all those years before since grade school. Yet, when I read what I’ve written in these past ten years, my conclusion is I’ve regressed.

How can this be?

It could be I need a refresher course in the basic rules of English. My style is okay but not what I would consider terrific, by any means. I break the rules as I see fit, which may not be the best way to write. True, I read about how it’s okay to do away with some of the rules for the sake of the story but maybe I’ve gone too far. After all, the rules were created for a purpose. Moreover, I could take a course for free. There are several websites offering free basic grammar classes, yet I’ve chosen to ignore them.

It could be I’ve become so accustomed to writing like I speak. My speech is full of jargon and clichés. Of course, this means my writing is full of this junk too. So many people I have contact with are writers and 95% of that contact is through the internet, which means my language is also tarnished with terms that aren’t usually read in the books I prefer to read and write. Yet, looking at my WiP, I readily see these terms that, I’m quite sure, would turn the stomachs of readers. The people I converse with by phone or in person are usually family. I don’t adjust my speech for them.

Yes, I do believe a person can become worse at the craft of writing. The dissatisfaction of my efforts is enormous these days. The impediment my laziness has caused is abominable.

My solution is to go ahead with a free writing course. I’ve signed up to take a course at openlearning entitled Scribble: Writing for New Writers. It’s self-paced so it doesn’t interfere with anything. I know some of the lessons will be repetitive for me, so probably a little tedious. Still, I’m hoping to unlearn bad habits I’ve gotten into during these years.


How would you judge your writing skills these days?

To be a writer is to sit down at one’s desk in the chill portion of every day, and to write; not waiting for the little jet of the blue flame of genius to start from the breastbone – just plain going at it, in pain and delight. To be a writer is to throw away a great deal, not to be satisfied, to type again, and then again, and once more, and over and over….


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Examining the Plotting Method Again

Examining the Plotting Method Again

A blog I’ve visited frequently to learn about writing is Fiction University. One of the posts, written by the owner, Janice Hardy, has stayed firm in my mind, Writers: Ignore This Writing Advice. If You Want. To have someone out-and-out tell me I don’t have to take the advice of accomplished authors gives me that sense of optimism that can propel me forward in any project I’m working on. I shed the notions of having to follow rules I find no use for and can be a wacky as I want.

She says it all for me in the first sentence of her second paragraph.

I’m a firm believer that there’s no right way to write, and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.

Albeit, not having straightforward guideline can also send my erratic brain into a frenzy, swinging from one side of the pendulum to the other. I wonder which of the sides is the better, not even considering all that is in the middle.

The current swank way to write a novel is to use the Plotting Method. Those who use this are call Plotters, of course. What this means is the writer does preliminary work centered around the story before diving into the chapters and scenes. There’s summaries, outlines, developmental arcs, questionnaires, and good old fashion research. The hardcore plotter does this before writing that first page of the first scene in that first chapter. Believe it or not, this approach to writing works for many authors.

Regardless of me being somewhat of a neat freak, wanting a schedule I can live with day in and day out, and wanting things so organized, spontaneousness gets squashed regularly, I find myself wanting to trash all the preparation the plotter goes through and get down to writing the blasted story. There’s enough of us who are pantsers, the ones who just put our butts in our chairs and start writing the first page of the first scene of chapter one, so I don’t have any guilty knocking going on in my head about how I’m proceeding with my project.

Still, after twelve scenes in my current WiP, I’m discovering the need to develop my second characters before I can continue with the story. His reactions, insights, and mannerisms will have such a bearing on my protagonist and what she does in response to not only him but everyone and everything in her world. Yes, this guy is more important than what is conveyed on the surface. Do I stop and fill out those sheets I’ve downloaded a various writing sites, or do I just forge ahead in hopes all turns out okay?

I question my sanity when I flounder with decisions like this. How can a person of such defined habits in life swing so wildly from one methodology to another, never landing long enough to see enough of what is working or is not working? The notion of not having hardcore rules could be playing havoc with my usual commonsense. Or maybe it’s a case of I’m assuming I have commonsense when, in reality, I’m as flaky as they come.

Either way, I’ve come to a crossroad where I must decide to either keep plodding along hoping all will come out all right despite my misgivings, or to put the story aside for a short time to do some development questionnaires, an arc, and maybe an outline. I wince at the thought of all this writing that will never make it to the first draft. Yet, if I’m honest with myself, I know the second draft will be twice as grueling if I just slog along with what I have so far.

Pondering on all of this, I’m reminded that there’s nothing telling me I can’t go ahead with a little plotting technique, get it done, and go back to good ol’ pantsing. Maybe I’ll be ensuing a new methodology of writing procedures this way. I wonder what this process would be called. I’m doing the groundwork as I need it. I’m developing as I go. Sitting here trying to think of a catch phrase, I’m coming up blank.

Maybe if I let it rest for a short while, the dust in my brain from the racing will clear and I’ll be able to find that term I want.


Writers spend three years rearranging 26 letters of the alphabet. It’s enough to make you lose your mind day by day. ~Richard Price