Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sharpening the Saw

Part of the work of a writer revolves around honing the craft continuously. Show me an author who's stopped 
learning, knows it all, or is simply so brilliant they have no need for critique and I'll show you writing which doesn't grab a reader by the heart, the head and well, yes, the cajones. If I'm going to tell great stories with rich characters and tension filled pages I need to always be upping my game. But how?
Here are some of the ways I hone my craft these days.

Founded by Michael Neff, the focus of the workshop is to move toward successful commercial fiction.  To play here you need to have a desire to get detailed, objective feedback and to be pushed  past your comfort level about your writing.  I know I've had several "come to Jesus" moments with my work, taking feedback which required dropping scenes I loved, shifting point of view and ramping up the tension in my story, among other things.  Gut wrenching in the moment, but all in service to the story.  This place is hard work, but I found it to be a great place to work with other writers dedicated to putting out our finest.

Continuing Education
I took a year long Certification in Popular Fiction at the University of Washington a couple of years ago.  The class, taught by PNWA President and author, Pam Binder followed the development of a novel from concept to completion.  I found attending a class once a week with twenty other writers to be a great way to make  focusing on craft a regular part of my writing life. In addition, I got to know other writers in the area and some of those have become friends and critique partners. Recently UW asked me about my experience in the Certificate Program.  Wherever you live, there's bound to be a community college or university nearby. And if not, look for an online program.

I attend at least one conference a year to network and pick up something about the craft or the business.  This year I'm presenting with fellow Champagne Books author Audra Middleton on our experiences with Critique Group at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference.

Critique Group
Speaking of critique groups, I find a good group is a wonderful thing.  Having my work critiqued is always helpful. In the end it doesn't matter if I think a scene works. What matters is how a scene works for readers. So having other writers share their insights and experience of a scene is invaluable.  And offering critique to others also helps me keep a critical eye on my own work.

I'm just finished working with my editor on the latest Nick Sibelius novel, DIRTY WATER.  I find the editing process to always be a great learning process.  Writing a novel is, after all, a team event.  The give and take of the collaborative process requires me to think through why I'm writing a narrative or a dialogue the way I did and if I can make it better.

What do you do to hone your craft?  Anyone have a particular conference, online learning experience, workshop you feel offers an exceptional opportunity for growth as a writer?

Richard Hacker

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Big Mike said...

Excellent post, bud. I've suggested to many newbies, once you've got half a dozen stories beneath your roost, go back and re-read the first you wrote, then compare to your latest.It'll blow your mind how much you've learned, especially if you had great editors along the way.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Everything in life is an ongoing learning experience That's one of the most exciting features of being a writer: stretching; growing in the job; practicing discipline, so we can kill our darlings to make a reader's experience sterling.

When I fall in love with a set of words that should be cut -- surgically, I cut and paste them past the ending. When I'm into a later draft after rereading, I almost always delete them, something I didn't have the guts to do in the beginning. Moving them out of sight but not destroying them takes away the destraction.

Veronica Helen Hart said...

Great advice! I belong to two critique groups, each of which works in a different way. One is previously submitted material, two writers a week critiqued. The other is first come, first to read. Seven pages read out loud and then critiqued. Both serve a useful purpose. The third group I belong to, I lead. We discuss marketing, then have a writing exercise and then critique previously submitted works. One conference a year, but I'm going to add another for variety. I've been to the same one for ten years and although the speakers and agents are new each year, there's still a certain sameness about it.

Nikki said...

Wonderful suggestions, Richard, and thanks for the kind words about editing. As an editor, I learn something about writing with every ms I work on, and vice versa. I've belonged to a writing group for a long time, and it's been invaluable on both ends of the red pencil.But I'm keeping my eye out for another one, for the same reason as Veronica--change is good.

Richard Hacker said...

Thanks for the comments all. As you mention Veronica, different formats provide different benefits. I like the immediacy of reading pages aloud for critique and I've found critique of larger chunks--50 pages-- to be very instructive in terms of the structure of the story and plot development. Yes indeed, writing is a team sport.