2014: The year of the craft

25 thoughts on “2014: The year of the craft”

    1. Thank you so much for sharing that insight. I particularly loved this line from the Lewis quote: “If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters.” The success that is based on others’ affirmation will always feel ephemeral, while the success of working well and with integrity will always satisfy.

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  1. Andrea, this was a good, heartfelt piece. Linking childhood frustrations with crafting to adult frustrations with your craft is a nice touch.

    I’ve compared writing to athletics: you have to keep at it every day in order to get/stay in shape. But even that won’t guarantee “winning meets.”

    One exercise I do to improve my craft is to read what I’ve written out loud. The ear will often catch what the eye misses.

    The other “exercise” is a lesson learned from the ad business: When selling a product or service, think in terms of benefit to the customer.

    In writing that means asking why do I want someone to read what I’ve written?

    If I’m writing just for myself, might as well keep a diary.

    But if I’m writing to get published, there should be something in those words that the reader can make his/her own, something they can identify with.

    In the novel I just finished, I worked on themes that I thought different kinds of people could identify with. One group was fans of Jack Kerouac and the Beats. Another group were those who like to explore redemption and second chances in life. There were others too.

    But I wrote trying hard to make it worthwhile for whomever was taking time out of their lives to read my words.

    Taking this perspective made it easier to revise, particularly to cut out the parts I knew I’d written just for myself.

    Writing is hard. Fortunately for me it’s easier than macramé. Now THAT’S really hard!

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    1. Thanks Kurt. I will definitely be keeping an eye on revision techniques, including reading out loud, as I work through these books. I currently have a hard time distinguishing between what might be interesting to everyone else and what’s interesting to me. I’m often surprised by the posts that get a lot of attention, and more often by the ones that don’t. All part of the learning process. I hope you find a publisher for your book soon! Where is it set? Perhaps I could work the manuscript into my Andrea Reads America project.

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      1. Hi Andrea,

        Very kind of you to offer!

        The title is “Jack’s Memoirs: Tales From Off The Road.”

        The memoirs are a fictional account of what Jack Kerouac’s life might have been like had he not drunk himself to death in 1969 at 47.

        It opens in St. Petersburg, FL, where he lived with his mother and wife.

        After having been rushed to the hospital in the nick of time to save his life, he comes home a month later mostly healed physically.

        After a few months he knows that the only way he can continue living is to keep writing.

        But he also knows that he can no longer write as ‘Jack Kerouac, King of the Beats’ as the media crowned him in the late 50s when ‘On The Road’ debuted.

        So he hatches a plan to fake his death, with the reluctant consent of his wife and mother, who agree to go along with his story that he died of hemorrhage and subsequently cremated.

        Jack then hits the road as ‘Jack Moriarty, Travel Writer.’

        He heads north first to Black Mountain, North Carolina, then Morehead City and Cape Hatteras.

        From there he makes his way to Virginia Beach, New Haven, CT, and Gloucester, MA.

        Off Cape Ann he has a near-death experience that proves transformational.

        The book ends in the summer of 1970 just outside San Francisco.

        I’ve skipped over a lot, but after many queries to potential agents, I’ve kind of honed the ‘pitch.’

        It’s a full length novel: 500 pages/200,000 words.

        But it only covers less than a year of memoir.

        If it gets picked up, I’m prepared to write the rest.

        This is probably more than you were asking for, but it’s a pretty layered story.

        Thanks for asking about it.

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  2. I feel exactly the same way – I realized recently quantity is not going to make up for quality. Time to slow down a bit. A timely post indeed. (btw-I’m glad to know I’m not the only one to cry over rejection emails.)

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    1. YES. THIS –> “I realized recently quantity is not going to make up for quality. Time to slow down a bit.” That is exactly how I’m feeling. I’ve been feeling sloppy lately, and when I wrote this piece, I felt giddy with the idea of slowing down and really focusing on the art of writing. Good luck to you for doing the same.

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  3. Your reflection on success and failure is pretty inspiring. I love the idea of aiming for rejections, knowing that some success inevitably comes along with it. I’m going to make some writing resolutions of my own. I have the Dinty Moore book, but I’m curious to hear what you think about the other two! When it comes to doubt, I always return to this idea from Richard Bausch:

    “Here is how I mean it when I say that the doubt you feel is your talent: the whole feeling stems from having the ear in the first place to be able to tell when it isn’t singing as you want it to; it comes from hearing how far it is from the way you hope to make it sound. You can hear the difference because you have the talent, the ear. And, because the piece takes its slow sweet hard time getting right, you feel that fact as evidence that you can’t do it or won’t be able to do it; you look at the work of others, who also did it seventy-five times to get it right, and you can’t escape the sense that their smooth elegant lines are how it arrived the first time for them–whole cloth, as printed. So you turn that on yourself and start feeling it won’t ever be good enough, and the doubt sweeps in. Just do the day’s work. A little at a time. And then take yourself elsewhere in your life until the next day’s work.”

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing that quote. It reminds me of a saying I heard once, “Don’t compare your inside with other people’s outside.” Bausch is absolutely right that we see a finished product and think it just came that way, when it almost certainly went through scores of revisions to achieve that polish. And I love his insight that our doubt is a reflection of our talent. Thank you for that encouraging idea.

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  4. Thanks for this — looking forward to moving thru’ the Long book with you 🙂 Enjoy Strunk & White; that’s such a delightful tome. I also recommend Verlyn Klinkenborg’s splendid small jewel of a book, “Several Short Sentences About Writing.” I have copy I can loan you … and sorry for the sting of the rejections, tho’ it seems you are making lemonade as it were …

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  5. It’s so great to have goals. I love the start of a new year just for that purpose. I’d love to follow along with your writing groups homework exercises each week if you’ll share them with us! I actually love writing books and read hundreds of them when I first started. Typically only one specific rule would stand out for me from each book but it’s the similarities that really stick with you. Cheers.

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    1. What a great point. I think after reading several books, I will absorb basic lessons because they will show up over and over again, across the authors. As far as exercises go, we are working through Priscilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor. If you haven’t read that one yet, I highly recommend it. It is a get-in-and-get-dirty, hands-on craft book. I will be happy to post exercises here when they end up as more than a jumble of nonsense on my notebook’s page.

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  6. A friend directed me to this post, and I just love it. Your goals are similar to mine, though I’m focusing on committing to a more regular writing schedule. I think Anne Lamott said something like, if you don’t have time to write now, you won’t ever have time. And it’s true. None of us are ever not going to be busy, so you have to carve out the time somewhere. Anyway, if you’re looking for more writing inspiration, I love this post on Brain Pickings that has lots of good quotes about sitting down and doing the work to become a better writer: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/12/18/best-books-writing-creativity/ To 2014!

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    1. What a wonderful list! Thank you for sharing this. Also, I stand 100% behind the regular writing schedule. Because of a dedicated practice time, I have more material than I can work with, which is a problem I am more comfortable with than having nothing at all. Now it’s a matter of training myself to believe that refining is as important a practice as generating new material. I have high hopes for your writing practice – it feels good to write regularly, no matter what words you put on the page. Good luck to you!

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    1. It’s funny how many folks have commented that they (or their daughters) are the same way. Perfectionists, every one.Thank you for the well wishes – I’m working on a strategy for getting it done. I’m sure I’ll write about it here.

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