I do it every time I turn in a book after its last read through. I say to myself, “Now I’m really going to learn how to write.” Then I pull the craft books off the shelf and dig in with a new hunger to learn.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But I’m noticing that I perhaps use this approach as a way to stall during that uncomfortable time when I don’t yet know a new story, when sitting with the vaguest idea that has no form or direction is hard and confusing. Crafts books are a tool I can use to sharpen what I know. I don’t ever want to think I’ve got it all figured out. But I think it’s realistic to identify in myself the hesitancy to dig into an unformed idea when I’ve just left a book that has lived in its most focused stage in my mind and on the page.
It takes time and discomfort, honestly, to move toward a new novel. Where I’ve been in full throttle mode with the previous one, polishing and emphasizing what already exists, this phase is just the opposite — a slow, unsteady discovery of characters and worlds that don’t yet live.
How do you begin with nothing? You sit with what you’ve got, despite the discomfort. Or if you’re me, you work on a picture book as a different way to stretch, while novel ideas percolate below the surface.* You read to learn but also to stall, hoping in the back of your mind that this time you’ll find the real way to write, a formula that will help you avoid the wrong turns and dead ends and out-and-out mistakes.
Then your lovely friend sends an email with these words:
It’s good to build your craft, to try and make the process easier on yourself, but be wary of the idea that there is a right way, that you have to follow a certain set of steps, that you have to know what you’re doing. You don’t. You just have allow yourself freedom to explore, courage to take risks. You have to say “Yes, I am a writer. I write. And I have something to say.” And then believe it.
Ready or not, I’m going to explore this new story, one brave word at a time.
* I love moving between novels and picture books. It’s an entirely different way to think and write and explore.