Monday, November 29, 2010

Writing Is More Than Using Technique

Writers love attending writing conferences with sessions on craft. I hear them leave sessions time and time again using phrases such as "I've got a new technique to use in my next story."

We see this also when writers are diligently following agents on Twitter or reading their blogs. "Agent X has some great techniques on ..."

What I want to say here is that using technique is one thing, but understanding technique is something completely different. I want to first stress that I am using the term technique here in a broad sense that implies a set of skills or tools used for crafting a story. These would be things that you often hear writers talk about as being "tools in his or her writer's tool box."

More often than not, I read submissions that writers are using technique, but unfortunately really don't see what that technique is doing to their stories. In other words, I see writers that don't understand "why" the technique is used or the impact using that technique has on the reader.

Writing is not simply about following a set of rules and guidelines to achieve a story. Creating a novel is not simply about putting words on a paper or creating a 90,000 word document. it requires an intrinsic knowledge of the human language and story telling. It involves something that is really internal.

Let's return to that toolbox analogy. Sure you may have a hammer and a screwdriver, but each tool really does have a different purpose and use. Even the different size heads on those phillips head screwdrivers has a different purpose. The same goes for writing. Just inserting a technique is not going to always yield you the response you were shooting for.

There is a point that writers need to achieve before all of this technique becomes "internal." There isn't one right or wrong path to achieve this, but there is one right moment. It is that moment that using technique becomes something that "just happens." You may even do those things that you were told "are not right" during those sessions, but in this case, it does work. It is right.

Now please understand that I am not advocating for just "doing whatever you want." The guidelines and the skills we talk about in sessions really are important. The techniques we write about here on blogs do have purpose. The key is knowing WHEN it should be used and WHY it works.

I think the big thing I want to push you to do this week is to "learn" the technique. "Learn" the skills, but internalize it. Understand it.

Ooooooo, this is sounding so Wisdom Teacher like, but hey, that's what it will take to survive in this business.


1 comment:

  1. I think writers get to a point, though, where the "new techniques" are really just more of a new way to look at techniques I was already doing. I may have instinctively been doing several things to make my hero likeable, but then I see a craft seminar which codifies the technique and I can say "Wow, I was doing A, B, and C, but I never even thought about D and E! There's my problem!" Then in the future if I can tell my manuscript isn't working, I will have one more tool to diagnose the issue.

    I do agree that it's an issue of practice - but as a writer, I never know when my technique isn't practiced enough until some time in the future when I've learned more and I look back at my earlier work and then shove it farther under the bed :-) If every writer waited until their craft was perfect before they submitted, we'd all be sitting on twenty years' worth of manuscripts . . .