Things I’ve Learned as a Writer: Craft

I am currently knee-deep in my newest manuscript and the process of writing it is reminding me of some points that I’ve always known, but sometimes forget as I tinker away. Last night, as I finished up writing, I thought it would be a good idea to share these small, yet, tantamount points. They are notions we always know, but sometimes ignore or don’t remember. I hope this can be helpful and if anyone else has any others, I am curious to know what they are. These things I’ve learned as a writer are specific examples. Many times we hear writers give advice to write every day or a good writer is a voracious reader. These are valuable bits of advice, but what I present here are targeted toward the application of craft.

+ Character names are important. This means so many different things. Firstly, unless for a purposeful reason, each name should be distinct from one another. Of course, we all know like seven Kevins in our own real life, but within the realms of fiction, the reader needs to be able to distinguish everyone. I recently changed a character’s name, because having Margaret and Martha always together was too much, especially, with both women purposefully being similar in characteristic; I needed their names to be different. Names are important. They tell the reader information about the character which isn’t explicitly said. In The Castle, Kafka just gives his protagonist the single initial K. as the character’s name. He is a mystery visitor in this village. K. seeks the government official Klamm, who he believes will help him find a way into the castle. In German, Klamm’s name is similar to the word for clamp or to fasten. The reader would have doubts about this government official being able to help K. get in to the castle.

Real time is not always essential. I sometimes find myself stuck. Not stuck where I can’t write anything, but a stuckness that comes from not having the action move forward enough. I take a pause and realize that it’s not always essential to have the momentum of the novel move in exact time. Sometimes, you can move to the next day without first going through every hour of the characters’ day. We don’t always need to see every footfall the character takes to get from point A to point B.

Jumping scenes. What I mean by this is sometimes we can’t always write page by page. If you feel like information and words aren’t coming out the way you want them, moving to another scene in the manuscript is a good idea. However, I give warning here as someone who partakes in this often during their writing process: make sure you have a clearly organized chapter outline. By moving forward in to a different point in the manuscript, you yourself could become even more lost. Try it. See if you like it. If it works, congratulations! With a careful outline, writing out of order can be a real boost to getting words on the page.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Everyone will have typos and grammar mistakes. Sometimes focusing on correcting this at the time the mistake was made can be a hindrance to productivity. Everyday, I start with a blank slate in a simple text processor. Once I moved my writing outside of the powerful word processors we’re used to, my words and imagination came flying out. At the end of the day, I take what I’ve written from the simple text processor (which has barely anything–no spell check, etc.; it’s literally a grey background) and copy/paste it into my manuscript, which is in my regular word processor. There are always a few little red lines under words and some of them are under words I know how to spell. It is inevitable when one is caught up in creativity to transpose some letters or hit the wrong key. Stop the fussing over these little mistakes that can easily be fixed at the end of the day or during redraft. I once worked as a research assistant to a novelist, whose manuscript had typos. He worried about them afterward, so he could get the words out now. It’s something most people don’t think about; even the smallest break in your writing groove can be detrimental.

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3 comments

  1. I’m not an established writer or anything, but I do like to dabble occasionally, and I find character names to be incredibly intimidating. Currently on the little project I’m working on the character is MC (main character) until I can put in the time and effort finding a worth name she deserves.

    1. I’ve changed my character’s name twice and I’m not feeling these names like I did the original. Like titles, we should think over their names until we get it just right. I might just go back to the original.

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