On the surface, this seems like a really obvious improvement tactic: Study the writing craft, and you’ll become a better writer. But you would be surprised how many writers I hear from who say they don’t really like to read writing craft books. They don’t really learn anything from them.
To which I say, that’s a shame. We learn quite a lot from reading writing craft books, even if it reiterates everything we already know about story and story structure, point of view, writing great essays, writing poetry. Even if we know everything there is to know about every facet of writing, which I certainly don’t and I suspect no one does, there is value in reading about and studying our craft.
I have bookshelves full of writing craft books I’ve read and ones that are still waiting to be read. Many of them say the same things. Many of them teach on story structure and things I already know inside and out. I still read them. Why?
Well, here’s what studying writing craft books can do for you:
1. They teach you techniques you might not yet have mastered.
I have yet to attain my standard of mastery at any writing technique, which means that every time I read a writing craft book that reviews a technique, I am cementing it more in my mind. I’ve read more than twenty books on story structure. That knowing is etched pretty deep, but I’ll snatch up any new story structure book that comes out and devour it, etching the information even deeper. Do you know what happens when information is etched this deep in a brain? It becomes effortless to access it. When story structure is part of your brain’s neural network, you don’t have to think about stories anymore. You can write them intuitively.
There’s some advice that’s often repeated in business, and it’s this: In order to begin know and understand something, you have to hear it seven times. That means to even approach mastery of a particular aspect of writing, you must have read or heard about it seven times. Writing craft books can help with that.
2. You learn how to break the rules.
Of course there are rules to any sort of writing that we do. Some of us don’t like to abide by the rules, but if you want to break them effectively, you have to know them first. Writing craft books lay out all the rules. And when we read them consistently and voraciously, those rules, again, become part of our neural structure, so the next time we decide we’re going to break the second person point of view rule for an essay or a story, we’ll know how to do it well instead of doing it in a way that distracts the reader and pulls him or her out of our story. The more you understand the rules of writing, the more effectively you can break them.
3. Your brain understands that writing is important.
When we spend time learning about our craft, in addition to practicing our writing, we signal to our brain that this is important information. When we read multiple craft books that etch knowledge on story structure, on essay setup, on how to write short stories, into our brain’s neuronal structure, our brain takes notice. It says, “Hey. She’s already been over this. This must be important.” And the more we read, the more we tell our brain that it cannot get rid of these neurons, because we need this information.
Think about it like this: I took two years of high school chemistry and a year of college chemistry. I was really, really good at chemistry. But I have not used that knowledge since my first year of college, and today, the best I can do is fire off a few elements from the periodic table. I once had the entire table memorized, but because I didn’t use that information, my brain did not see the need to keep it. It’s gone. I’ve got K, potassium, H, hydrogen, O, oxygen, Na, sodium, Cl, Choride. That’s about it. Sorry Mrs. Patton.
Reading writing craft books alerts our brains that we are interested in learning more about writing, and it will supply the necessary pathways for us to grow and develop and become better writers. Before long we’ll be reaching toward mastery and writing books faster than ever before.
Next week I’ll have a list of some of the best writing craft books I’ve read in the last several years. I have many more that are waiting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. But the list will at least get you started.