Friday, May 4, 2018

Stealing the Best and Leaving the Rest

A year or so ago, I went to a friend's house. We were making supper together, running our mouths and generally having a great time. Until she tried to clean a head of cauliflower. She had an itty bitty cutting board and a tiny, dangerously dull paring knife. I watched her hack away a green leaf or two for several seconds, my heart in my mouth, as she complained about how hard it is to cut up cauliflower.

Terrified that she was going to slice off a digit, I stopped her and asked if I could cut up the veggie while she moved on to other things. She gladly handed over the knife and the innocent head of cauliflower. I brought out the cutting board I'd brought - one at least three times the size of hers, and I brought out my 8 inch Shun knife. (Yes. When someone asks me over to help cook dinner, I do take my own tools.) I turned that cauliflower on its head, set my knife against the stem and sliced the whole thing in half like it was soft butter.  Within 120 seconds, I had the cauliflower cored and chopped, ready for the pan.

My hostess said bad words and demanded to know what she'd been doing wrong. The answer was simply: Wrong tools for the job.

Writing training, to me, is precisely the same. If you've never seen anyone take apart a book the way my hostess had never seen anyone take apart a big vegetable, you'll never know that your tools are inadequate to the job you're trying to do. So I'm always interested in how someone else approaches the task of building a novel and a career.

For me, as I take a writing class, I remind myself that I'm sorting through someone else's toolbox, just trying the tools on for size. Some don't fit my hand and never will. Others kinda sorta fit and might actually fit perfectly once I level up enough to need them. On rare occasions, I find a new tool - a new way of approaching story, a question for a character sketch that lays that person out for me. Whatever it is, I have zero compunction about picking up that tool and claiming it as my own.

My Zen attitude was hard won over several years, though. Used to be, I'd go to a workshop and come out convinced that I was doing writing all wrong. It would send me into a tailspin for weeks. I don't know when and how it changed, but I finally wised up. I wasn't doing anything wrong. I was simply doing things my way - and possibly with faulty tools. The people teaching workshops weren't there to judge my methods, they were merely sharing what worked for them in the off chance that someone else could use it, too. Now, it's all listening to presenters talk, picking up books on craft, and making sure I get words every day.

Where you go to learn depends entirely on what you're wanting to level up. I DO recommend pacing yourself. Work on one thing at once. Don't tackle deep POV the same month you're working on eliminating telling words. Trying to pay attention to everything at once is the road to perdition.

I go to Mary Buckham and will take just about any class she has to offer because I've learned that Mary speaks my language and has the unique ability to break down story, character, scene and sequel, and hooks in a way I can process. This is thick stuff, though. Light 'n fluffy it ain't.

Conferences - especially the conferences aimed at the business end of writing. If I were looking for an agent or a new editor, I'd go to RWA National. I'd go to workshops and I'd pitch. But those aren't my goals now so I save my pennies for the annual NINC conference. It is jammed full of workshops and presentations from various vendors who work with the indie published authors. It's the place where indie authors gossip and chat about business. I learn more in those three days than I do almost a year long.

The hard news, though? There aren't enough tools in the world will change it if you don't write the thing.

Learn craft, sure. But above all, learn yourself.