Saturday, January 15, 2011

When Craft Attacks -- Cheryl Renee Herbsman



A few months back I began scouring books on writing craft, finally having the urge to comprehend all the plot, structure, outline strategies that until now have given me the heebie jeebies. As a "pantser" or intuitive writer, I don't usually sketch out the story in advance. I just write and see where it takes me. But I'd seen a few blog posts that had piqued my interest and had begun to wonder if maybe I was missing something that might actually be useful (even if it did give me hives to think about it.) One of the first books I read said, "Hey, it's okay to be a "pantser", just consider your first draft to be an extended outline, then start looking at the structure. That made sense to me. I blogged about it here. I started reading book after book on craft, on plot, on structure. And with each one, I was like, "OMG! How did I not know this! I must restructure my work-in-progress ASAP!" And for the first time in my life (outside of school), I started drawing little graphy-things like this:
And, yes, it still stressed me out, but at the same time, I felt like I was learning so much! So I'd read the next book and it would recommend a totally different way of looking at plot and structure. And I'd say "OMG! How did I not know this! I must restructure my WIP immediately!" Throw another handful of papers on that pile, as I tweaked, redirected, changed plot points, etc. This week I started yet another book on craft, which I read voraciously, quickly, as if my life depended upon me learning everything it had to offer in one night. "Ack!" I cried. "How did I not know this..." Papers flew, my pen frantically drew new graphy-things, my mind raced, my family steered clear of the crazy woman flinging papers and chewing on pen tops (and yes, still talking to herself.)

And then something miraculous happened. I took a deep breath and said, "F*$% this." (insert cheers)

Yes, there is a lot to learn. And I'm glad to be learning it. And yes, structure is important. And I'm glad to have a better sense of it and my story is better because of it. But here's the bottom line: I know the story I want to tell and so I'm just going to set aside all those books and all those graphs and all those mountains of papers and just tell my d*@# story!


11 comments:

  1. I'm secretly glad to hear this. I'm a panster and the whole graphs, and outlines and everything gives me hives too. But I really want to outline. I do!!!

    Craft books are wonderful though. I am about to go back to a book that needs lots of work (and finishing) and I have to work on it.

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  2. I did learn a lot. And it will guide some of my storytelling. But I am definitely not a convert!

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  3. I liked your post! The same thing's happened to me (too many times). I think we can let ourselves be overwhelmed with what we're supposed to do. It's a balance, being creative and also incorporating the craft things we're learning. One I'm still working on. Good luck with it!
    Trish L

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  4. I totally agree!! Not every book has to work by conventional measures ... they'd be pretty transparent and boring if they did!

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  5. Oh, I'm so glad you said this!! Yet another "writing" book arrived in the mail for me the other day. I keep buying these books in hopes I'll finally have the "a ha" moment that makes me a disciplied plotter. But, alas, no. I still like to just sit down and write. I'm glad I'm not the only one (and that it doesn't mean I'm a lazy writer, just one with a different method).

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  6. I enjoyed your post, and the fact that you'd made a "graphy thing." I made my own graphy thing a year or so ago, and posted about it recently. Here's the link: http://www.pammingle.com/plotting-simplified/
    As for craft books, like many of us, I've read dozens and have my favorites. I think we absorb what they teach us on a subconscious level, and as we write, it's reflected on the page, along with our own "intuitiveness."

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  7. I think that story structure tools are most useful if you think something you've written (or something you're giving a critique for) isn't working and you can't figure out why.
    If something works, it works. If it doesn't, sometimes those theories hold the key to sorting out why.

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  8. I think "F*$% this" is a motto I'm going to adopt!

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  9. I was planning to hit the craft books stacked next to my bed. Tonight! And then I read your post, and totally cracked up. Thanks for the reminder.

    Those can be useful if you're stuck, in a rut, or have no idea where to go next. But they shouldn't rule your F*$%ing life.

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