Welp, I’m a junkie. Not the gross, bad kind that steals from family and mortgages the farm, then hides in rundown houses to get high. No I’m the socially ok addict. The kind who is hooked on a substance that can bring both great joy and great pain.
I am a writing craft book addict.
I find when I start to question my skill, or get a harsh critique, or get yet another rejection, I turn to my addiction, and the knowledge is helpful and motivational and almost comforting. Yes, I am doing it right. But that’s when caution is necessary because it’s easy to confuse activity for progress.
The monkey on my back isn’t all bad. Some of the joy: finding the exact way to tweak a work-in-progress, locating a unknown problem and being able to fix it before it gets worse, stumbling upon a gem of knowledge that makes ‘POV’ or ‘pacing’ or ‘show don’t tell’ make sense, and using rhetorical devices to empower your prose and make your writing smooth.
So this seems to be all roses and sunshine and unicorns and rainbows. And it is, for a while but as with any addiction, there is a dark side.
The obsession takes over as a hint of shadow reveals itself. Every book or class starts to take precedence over the actual writing. Three new paper books about pacing sit on the shelf, two on Kindle, and still you want to interloan more. You get so involved in learning and how it’s done, but never have time to apply the tools your work-in-progress.
How do you kick or at least manage the addiction?
Pick one technique. Study it, then use it on the very next project. Let that knowledge build and next time add a new layer. My last short story, for example, was a practice session on deep characterization.
Look over critiques for what specifically has been addressed as a problem and ‘focus read’ about that.
Pick a chapter in a craft book that applies to your goals and skip or skim the rest. If characterization is not a sticking point for you, then don’t read a hundred pages about deepening character. Skim to the section you need work on, like speeding up a snail’s paced novel, or making your openings pop.
I can’t kick my habit. Heck, I don’t want to. But I do want to control it, and twist it to my will, so that the learning process isn’t only educating me and making me a better student, but with application and a daily word count goal. The craft books are making me a better writer, as well.
Now pass me ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King, I need to get my fix.