This past weekend, I attended the annual SCBWI Southern Breeze Springmingle conference in Atlanta, where I signed up for the all-day intensive plotting workshop with Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein. There was a funny moment when we were both standing by my writing book at the conference bookstore, and she looked at me and said, "This is yours? Weren't you were in my workshop? Why were you in my workshop?"
Which brings me to today's topic.
Just because you know something, doesn't mean it's not a good idea to brush up on the basics or explore how other writers handle a technique.
My days can get a bit busy. When they do, I look for ways to trim down the To-Do List, and sometimes that means I disregard my own advice and skip steps I know I need to do in my writing. Like do a scene goal check, or an edit pass to shore up dialog, or write a book map before I dive into revisions.
Every time I skip such steps I regret it, and it causes me more time in the end because I didn't follow the process I know works for me.
Five Benefits of Getting Back to Writing Basics
1. It helps you focus on a technique or specific aspect of writing
Workshops, conferences, and reading about writing helps remind me of the steps I might be tempted to skip when I get busy. Sitting in on a session about ten ways to create characters lets me focus on my characters for an hour and think about what I've done with them. Have I fleshed them out enough? Did I push myself to make them as compelling as possible? Could I do more with them or are they solid as is?
Even something as simples as reading a blog post allows you to pause and consider if you're building your writing on a strong foundation, or if you slapped together a weak frame that will hurt you later.
2. It gives you insight into how others handle that writing aspect
Everyone has their weak spots, and those are great areas to study and brush up on the basics from time to time. Hearing how other writers approach that aspect provides opportunities for something to resonate with you in a way that strengthens your weak areas.
A visual learner might attend a workshop that uses a lot of charts or graphs and finally "get it," or someone who absorbs better through reading might see the right blog post with the right examples that makes a technique clear. You never know what might click for you, or what might inspire you to try something new that kicks your writing up a notch.
3. It lets you look at a writing technique in a different perspective
One of the things I enjoyed about Klein's workshop is that she has a literary style, and the books she acquires lean toward literary fiction (no matter what the genre). Her approach looks at deeper thematic elements of the story, the big philosophical questions a plot-driven gal like me only explores up to my metaphorical knees.
This different style made me look at my own work in that light and I was able to pull some wonderful aspects from it for my current WIP. I'm never going to be a literary fiction writer (nor do I want to be, that's not my style) but I do want to bring out the richness of my story to the best of my ability. Bringing in a different perspective allowed me to do that.
4. It helps you grow as a writer
There's always something to learn no matter what stage you're at. What we write, how we write it, what we want to say with our writing changes as we grow as writers and as people. Seeing what others are doing with our medium keeps us informed about the possibilities in our art form. It gives us ideas on what we might try, new genres or stories to explore, new techniques, or new ways to approach old techniques.
Doing the same thing all the time encourages us to be lazy not push ourselves as artists. But it's when we push ourselves that we find the best parts of our stories.
5. It's fun
If you're a musician, you go to concerts and hear other musicians play. Dancers see ballets, film makers go to the movies, so why wouldn't writers hear other writers "perform?" Sure, we read, but there's also an educational side of writing that's just as much fun. Hearing a master of the craft speak can be as inspiring to writers as musicians who hear a world-renowned sympathy play.
I love talking with other writers, discussing writing and story development, and hearing other authors and editors speak. It energizes me, even when it's on a topic I've taught workshops on myself. It's just plain fun.
Every writer is different, but we all bring something to the world of writing. Learning keeps us growing as writers and keeps us pushing the limits of what we can do.
How often do you brush up on the basics? Do you study craft for fun or just to learn something that has you stuck?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions!
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
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