Monday, April 12, 2010

Don't Just Learn the Craft--Do the Craft

For today's post I'm going to channel Yoda. As writers we are all encouraged to Learn The Craft (in suitable capital letters). It often goes something like this:

1. Observe Suzy the Writer, who is one of the 85% of people who want to write a book. Suzy has gotten rave reviews from her grandmother about her creative writing, and she's penned several stories that, face it, are pretty darn good.

2. Suzy reads many books, and finally comes across one that is so terribly, incredibly, stick-a-fork-in-my-eye bad that she is certain she can do better than that.

3. Suzy starts writing a book. Even though she doesn't realize it, like many of the masses Suzy holds the belief that good writing just flows from an always-cooperative muse and falls into glorious order, depth, and beauty.

4. Before long Suzy knows that she is oh, so wrong. Writing is more work than she thought. But she reminds herself that the one book was so bad and got published, so certainly she can work through this.

5. Somewhere in the middle Suzy gets lost and the main character that was so compelling in her head is moseying around picking up dry cleaning, having boring conversations, arranging flowers in a vase, and basically avoiding any actions that might actually interest a reader.

6. Suzy is really stubborn, so instead of quitting, Suzy turns to writing books to figure out how to fix her book.

7. After reading the writing books, Suzy realizes that everything she's written her whole life until now is complete crap. She throws her manuscript on a bonfire in her backyard, roasts some marshmallows, and starts on the next book that she just knows will be genius.

8. Suzy struggles again. She finally breaks down and realizes she doesn't really know what she's doing. She reads a whole bunch of great authors to try and figure out how they do it. Maybe she goes to conferences or takes classes. She probably reads writing blogs. She is now doing what everyone told her--she's Learning the Craft.

However, Learning the Craft isn't enough. Often we try to learn the craft just by studying it. But to when you truly learn something it is a combination of knowledge with action.

I love to play tennis, and played a lot of it in high school. And during and after college I played in adult leagues and tournaments. I used to spend time reading tennis magazines and watching tennis on TV. No one would call that Learning to Play Tennis. In order to learn it, I had to practice and play tennis. A lot.

I didn't get to the level I did just watching others play. Yes, I watched and learned and was coached, but it was only by doing that I truly learned the craft of tennis. It was through practice that I figured out how to apply my learning. Through practice I figured out how to develop strategy, the importance of ball placement, and how to spot the weaknesses in my opponent's game. I didn't just run on the tennis court and fling my racket around hoping to get lucky. Every hit had a purpose. And if it didn't, then my chances of losing skyrocketed.

You don't want to just Learn the Craft; you need to Do the Craft.


Nisa said...

Wow! That is so true. What a great post!

Angie said...

Very, very true. It is a combination of knowledge and action. The doing is so important!

L.T. Elliot said...

Amen! Way to rock it, Jaime because this is what it's all about. Learn it and then apply it!

Kimberly said...

I'm much better at the learning part. The doing? That's actual work, that is.