Where should you be focusing your energies and time as a writer? Should you be working on craft or marketing?
I’m going to tell you right now, my answer is not the popular one. My favorite retreats and conference sessions have always been those led by my fellow writers and illustrators. I want to hear how other people work. What takes them from fizzy new idea to finished manuscript? How do they focus their rewrites?
For those of you who don’t know, for 10 years I was Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Regional Advisor for Missouri. That means that I was responsible for sending out the quarterly newsletter and scheduling writing events. At the end of an event, I would pass out a questionnaire. What did you think of today and what do you want to see tomorrow? Even if they loved learning about poetry from Constance Levy or mystery writing from Vicki Erwin, they also wanted to see the same things at future events. Agents and editors. They wanted access to markets. Craft might have been what they needed but it isn’t what they wanted.
And to a point, I see the logic in this. Even if you write like Hemingway, you need to do who wants to publish Hemingway.
But the problem is that you first need to learn to write like Hemingway. Really. You need to study your craft. Here are five tips for my fellow craft hungry writers.
Read. Read works that are similar to what you want to write and those that are not. What do these writers do well? Study those techniques. What doesn’t quite work? Take a hard look a these pieces too and figure out what you would do differently.
Study how-tos. Check out some of the best how-tos on writing. Everyone has their favorites and mine include Writing Picture Books, Writing Metrical Poetry, The Plot Whisperer, The Emotion Thesaurus, and Novel Metamorphosis. It doesn’t do any good to just gather such books. Read them. Apply the techniques. If they include exercises, do them.
Write. The only way to figure out if you’ve learned anything is to write. Writing is a practice intensive vocation. Write, write and write some more. You’ll either figure out that you don’t really like to do it or that you are getting better.
Rewrite. It doesn’t do any good to write one story after another. Although some first drafts are really good, none are perfect. You have to learn to compare the story you intended to create with the one you got down on paper. Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis is a great tool for accomplishing this.
Rinse, lather, repeat. That’s my quirky way of telling you that step #5 is to keep doing steps 1 through 4 again and again and again. When you’ve honed your craft, you’ll actually be ready to take advantage of any market news that comes your way. Until then? You may have a market, but you won’t have a market worthy manuscript.