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!


  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.

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

  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

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

  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).

  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."

  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.

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

  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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