If you’re reading this, I assume that you’re either a writer yourself or someone who knows one; perhaps even a published one. If you answered yes to either of those questions, then you’re in the right place. In my experience, there are three fundamental things that every writer – be it a seasoned professional or someone just starting out – needs to know.
This article will discuss those three things, as well as some common mistakes that even professionals make. By the end, you’ll feel confident enough to tackle any piece of writing with confidence.
If you’re not sure what the craft of writing is, here’s a bit of a definition: the craft of writing is all of the various tasks and activities that an author performs to bring a manuscript from idea to finished product. This includes things like researching the appropriate history for your set of characters, figuring out the best way to structure your story, and of course, drafting the actual manuscript (hopefully with some help from an editor).
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time for some good ol’ fashioned craftsmanship.
This is often referred to as “doing the groundwork” or “digging for dirt.” I think that the worst thing that any author can do is to sit down to write without having first done their research. (And no, this doesn’t mean going on Google Scholar or similar sites to find a few dozen articles on the topic when all of your material could have been found in a single place.)
Even in the early stages of a novel, it’s essential to do your research. This will help you find the appropriate history for your characters and settings, and it will help you ground the story in reality. You don’t want to start writing about a magical realist author and have your story seem like it could have happened in another dimension or in a parallel universe where witches and wizards walk the earth alongside normal people. (While creative writing and originality are certainly valued in today’s world, a little bit of historical research never hurt anyone.)
Sometimes, this will mean going to the library and looking up books on your own. But it can also mean going online and finding an encyclopedia, a blog, or even a wikipedia page that’s relevant to your story. Ideally, you’ll find a good mix of all three. (Just remember, the information that you find online can be disputed or changed at any time, so always cross-check your source.)
This one may seem obvious, but putting too much “style” into your writing can actually hurt your book rather than help it. Just like with the craft, there’s a right amount of “style” for each piece of writing; just like with a painting, the fresher the paint, the more vibrant the colors will be.
Broadly speaking, there are two different styles of writing: academic and creative. Creative writing is all of the various tasks and activities that fall under the umbrella of “artistic” writing, such as fiction, poetry, and drama. (Non-fiction, including journalistic articles and research reports, is often considered to be more of an academic exercise.)
In creative writing, there’s no such thing as a mistake or an error. Every word, every sentence, and every punctuation mark is intentional, and it all comes together to create a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts. In creative writing, everything matters, and everything must be done perfectly. (At least, as far as you’re concerned.)
In creative writing, there’s also no such thing as a “mistake” – every word, every sentence, and every punctuation mark are carefully crafted to tell a specific story and to evoke a certain response in the reader. So no matter what, when you’re writing creatively, you’re doing it for a reason.
In non-fiction, the style that you use will depend on what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re writing an academic article, you will need to stick to a certain tone and format, and you won’t want to veer too far from the norm, lest you affect the validity of your argument. (Creative non-fiction and academic non-fiction are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they can and often do blend together. For example, an author might use a fictional persona in their academic article, but they will certainly want to inject as much of their personality as possible into the creative writing portion of the same article.)
There are three important things to keep in mind when thinking about craft, style, and research:
- They are all necessary
- They are not mutually exclusive
- They are not alternatives
If you want to improve your writing, you must master all of these things. (No, the craft, style, and research do not need to be mastered in that order – you can certainly learn the craft first, then figure out the style, and finally, go back and research the material that you’ve gathered.) As you practice, you will find your own unique way of putting all of these things together into a cohesive work. (And then, you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.)
To close, here are some important things to remember:
- Never stop learning
- Be proud of your work
- Have fun