Thursday, November 18, 2010

Writers Toolbox

Last week, Deb Sanders @ NKotWB wrote about "Rules? Where we're going there are no rules!". And she goes on to explain that to break the rules, one must learn the rules.

Generally, our first exposure to "the rules" is grammar class. We learn vocabulary, noun, verbs, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, etc, into ad nauseum. We learn how to write the proper way. This is good, for without the basics, there is nothing to weave your words into coherent sentences. The proper way can also be bad when it restricts creativity and stifles voice.

But, knowing good grammar is the cornerstone in becoming an excellent writer. Notice I typed "excellent writer." Anyone who has a basic understanding of written language can write. The ability to become an "excellent writer" depends on the writing tools you have in your toolbox.

Rules = Tools. (But they aren't always the sharpest tools. In fact, they can be quite dull.)

Consider adding online writing workshops, enrichment classes, college courses, lectures, books, books, and more books to vary your tools.

[Beeeep~ This is a Writer's Public Service Announcement: Be mindful of the workshops and classes you choose. I took a class in college that was all about diagramming sentences. For me, diagramming sentences = writer's hell. Lesson learned? Know what you're taking before you sign up for it and investigate the instructor's credentials. Some have less experience writing than you do. Now, back to the regularly scheduled post about those workshops and classes and books that are essential to your toolbox.]

In our busy lives, it's unrealistic to attempt to attend workshops and classes that aren't in our generally vicinity. Thank god for the internet. Many RWA chapters host monthly writing workshops via Yahoo and Google loops. Other online classes are independent of RWA affiliations, such as Margie Lawson's workshops. Margie is uber psychologist by day and super uber writing guru by night. At least in my estimations. I've learned so much from her intensive online classes because she gets into the psychology of writing. Her classes include Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors, Empowering Character Emotions, Deep Editing, Writing Body Language, and Digging Deep into the EDITS System. I love her workshops because she not only shows you the tools, she teaches you how to use them.

If online classes don't work for you, and even if they do, I also recommend that you attend your local RWA chapter meetings. Oftentimes they will host guest lecturers on the craft of writing. And, if you can, attend the RWA National Conference. They have beaucoup workshops on writing. If you can't make it to the annual wingding, don't worry. The workshops are recorded on CD's and available for purchase. Check out the RWA website for details. You can also ask your local RWA chapter if they purchased a set for their members to peruse.

On to books, books, and more books. Another key to unlocking the secrets to becoming an excellent writer is to read, read, read. My to be read pile is at least 75 books high and climbing. I aim to read 2-3 books a week. I don't always hit that goal, but I try. Some books I'm reading are for reviews at The Season or here at It's KRISTAL kLEEr. Others are craft books or books I'm reading for personal interests.

Whether I'm reading for enjoyment, enrichment, or education I always have an agenda. I'm studying voice. I'm studying POV switches. I'm studying what holds my attention and what parts having me skimming. I dissect the plot. I take copius notes about what I like and what I don't and why. I meditate upon what I'm reading, not the story but how it's written. I keep my favorites close by. I do the same with the ones I dislike. I am a student of the craft. You should be too. Read the genre you write. Study your competition. Read outside your genre. You may discover a hidden gem.

To become an excellent writer, you must, you must, you must read and study your craft. Here are a few books I believe that every writer should own. My list is by no means exhaustive, but it can be a starting point if you haven't begun stocking your toolbox.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, should own a copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. If you don't, your writing skills are greatly disadvantaged. Originally published around 1935, this master tool is a timeless and a priceless resource for all writers.

Number two on my list is GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon. She delves into the critical elements of creating a plot by ferreting out what it is that your characters want or need and the obstacles hindering them from obtaining their goal. Plot is essential. Without a plot, all you have is a random series of events that no one cares two hoots to holler about. Again, I say, this book is a must for every fiction writer.

Another treasure for the chest is Donald Maass'  Writing the Breakout Novel. For those who may not have heard of Mr. Maass, he is a highly-sought after literary agent and author in his own right. Writers, pay close attention to him. He not only knows how to write, but how to write what sells.

Also worth mentioning is Brandilyn Collins'  Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors. She demonstrates how to use Method-acting techniques to deepen characters' emotional and behavioral presence on the page.

Though my list goes on and on, I must make mention of the RWR (Romance Writer's Report). This is a free publication available to all RWA members. Inside each issue are numerous articles on the craft of writing. I've read and kept each issue I've received since becoming a member. If you aren't a member of RWA: Romance Writers of America, I seriously encourage that you become one. Their goal is to educate writers on how to become excellent writers.

There's an old adage that "Practice Makes Perfect," but that is misleading. Only perfect practice leads to perfection.  Okay, so we all know that perfection is a myth, but what we can relate to is that excellence in practice leads to excellent performance. Learn from those who've gone before you. Fill your writer's toolbox and practice, practice, practice your writing. Once you master a tool, experiment and create your own method of utilizing that tool outside the norm.

I've given you a glimpse into my writer's toolbox, tell me, what's in yours?

Happy Tales,
~kristal lee

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