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  • Maggie Eliot

Eat Your (Craft) Veggies!

When I first started writing fiction after years of writing for the stage, this word kept coming up in all of the writing groups, classes, blogs, etc.


CRAFT.


And with it came all kinds of reverent gravitas. "I need to work on my CRAFT", "She has such a lovely understanding of CRAFT", "That workshop taught me so much about CRAFT". It became one of those words that when repeated too often, starts to lose it's meaning. And it only reinforced my feeling of being an outsider in this fiction world. Real talk: I didn't know what the hell people meant when they said it. And to be even more honest, the bit I could pick up through context made me certain it was something I wanted nothing to do with. The real truth here, is that as a 100% pantser, I don't want to be bothered with thinking about things like structure or conflict. I just want to start at the beginning and tell the story until it's over. Much like Eric Cartman from South Park singing "Come Sail Away" from start to finish. So CRAFT, to me, is very much the brussel sprouts of my writing life. SO good for me, and a real pain to force myself to have.


I'm currently working on a romcom that I'm pretty excited about. I just got out of a semi-blocked phase. It was the type where I convince myself the book is utter shit and am unable to write a word, until I go back, read some of it, and fall in love all over again. But on the heels of that great "I'm totally not a hack!" moment, came the dreaded 50k slump. Around the just-after-halfway point, I tend to slog a bit. And here's where all the plotters have every right to be like, "well, if you'd made a plan you wouldn't have that problem". And honestly, they'd typically be right.


But on this book, I actually have a plan. I even thought through character goals and motivations. I have a great climax to work toward and some fun opportunities to bring a lot of characters together, which feeds my love of ensemble cast stuff. So, to be fair, I actually do have a lot of CRAFT at work here. I'm learning and growing, friends. I swear! The real problem is that I'm just a little tired of the main characters and their feelings. I have a feeling my malaise comes from the fact that these characters are right on the verge of growth and transition and that I'm just getting impatient for their motivations to shift.


Another major challenge for me in improving my CRAFT is that I'm terrible with reading non-fiction. So any of the amazing books on writing that other authors recommend in critique groups, classes, and writer's groups are probably delightfully informative, transformational tomes filled with useful knowledge. But the moment I start reading something that isn't some kind of fictional escape, I get as squirrely as a bored kid during Sunday mass. I can't sit still. My mind is all over the place. Sometimes the only remedy is to simply read the book out loud. And if I'm having a really tough time engaging with the material, (ohmygodicantbelieveimsharingthis) I'll draw on my inner actor and read out loud with some kind of dialect; another point of focus to distract me from the petulant kid in me who refuses to learn something.


Fortunately, I feel like enough of this knowledge is seeping through the cracks of the stubborn anti-learning dam I've mentally erected. Attending groups with edifying conversations about writing, authors, and industry is definitely tricking me into learning CRAFT. And, as with any skill, I'm sure continually writing is going to teach me a lesson here or there. A good 10,000 hours goes a long way. I have a feeling I've probably reached that mastery number already. But, of course, I'm far too easily distracted to take the time to calculate that ;)

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