The Myth of Craft

Craft. Meh

I don’t buy the myth that if only I learn all there is to know about craft, that I will immediately write a bestseller and everyone will love my books. I don’t buy it at all. Because I’ve read bad books and I’ve read good books and in the end, sometimes the craft was awesome, and sometimes there wasn’t any to be found. People who make money offering writing classes want you to believe in the myth of craft. Playing the odds, you will probably make more money teaching people craft than crafting books yourself. And there’s less fear involved. Says the grandmaster wizard writing teacher, “I will teach you how to write, but I won’t write books myself. That’s too hard and scary.”

I sometimes think what I just wrote in the ranty-paragraph above.

Not sure I truly believe it or not. I do know that more important than craft (or talent, which I’ll talk about next month) is the will to write the book. The game is for people who do it, not people who study it.

Better to write a bad book than not write the book at all.

Do you know what I think of when I hear people talk about the myth of craft? I think of the scene in Dead Poet’s Society, where Mr. Keating uses the textbook to chart the perfect poem. If we maximize plot and minimize exposition, if we chart the character arc along the y-axis, then we will have the perfect book and you will make millions!

However, let me make myself perfectly clear. I had to learn how to tell a story and I had to learn about character arc. My writing can get overblown and I LOVE saying the same thing over and over again, but in a slightly different way. I can easily gloss over details and play havoc with POV. My choreography can be iffy.

In the ten years of conferences, critique groups, and craft books, I’ve learned a ton and sometimes that really helps me. Sometimes I don’t think it matters at all. Let me repeat that. I don’t think my ten years does me much good.

Do you know why?

Because art is subjective, and I might create a perfect work of art, and people might hate it. I have two artist friends, one draws pictures that are filled with craft, the lines, the composition, all of that. They are perfect. My other artist friends draws messy sketches in a surreal kind of way, and they are far from perfect, but they have an energy, a duenda, that shines through.

So in the end, the game is writing books. Sometimes those books will hit it big, and sometimes they won’t, and I don’t know why. People who claim they do are trying to sell you something. Because selling you the dream of a successful book will probably make them more money than writing a successful book.

I will say this…before I learned plot structure, I wrote books readers couldn’t read. It was sad. My books were bad, though I loved them so. Now, I know how to hook a reader and tell a story and readers can read my books. It’s happiness, right?

No. I have friends who liked my early work better. Yes, they liked my uncrafted books when they were more about my barbaric yawp than a finely-crafted story structure.

In the end, write books. Write books you love. Write books worthy of your time. Is learning the craft of writing a bad thing? It can be. If learning craft is blocking you from the act of writing, then it is evil. Don’t use it as excuse.

As human beings, we learn in different ways. I’m a learn-along-the-way type of guy, so I wrote a book, learned a bunch, wrote the next book, learned a bunch, and so on. Other people study, study, study, and then write books. It’s all good.

I met a Colorado writer who never went to a conference, never read a how-to book, never went to a critique group. And he is far more successful than me.

There are no rules, people.

Except one.

People can’t read books you don’t write. So write books.

Aaron Ritchey

Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of The Never Prayer and Long Live the Suicide King, both finalists in various contests. His third novel, Elizabeth’s Midnight, was called “a transformative tale for those who believe in magic and in a young girl’s heart” by Kirkus Reviews. In shorter fiction, his G.I. Joe inspired novella was an Amazon bestseller in Kindle Worlds and his steampunk story, “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” was part of The Best of Penny Dread Tales anthology published through Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press. The first two books of his young adult sci-fi/western epic series, The Juniper Wars, are available now also from WordFire Press. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two ancient goddesses of chaos posing as his daughters. Learn more about Aaron on his website.

9 thoughts on “The Myth of Craft

  1. You can drive yourself nuts chasing craft, structure, and the latest hottest genre to write best selling books. Yes, you need to learn craft, yes you need to learn structure, and no, no one is buying vampire books any more. But sooner or later you have to write that book! Finish it!

    “Better to write a bad book than not write the book at all.” Truer words have been written, but not many.

  2. And to think I was going to consult a craft book today. I wanted to know where the Save the Cat-like beats should hit in a book. Ha! You saved me at least an hour. I come from an art background, after all…
    Thank you, Aaron!

  3. Love this! We can often feel pressured to change our work this way or that way because of crafting advice. Deciding what to change and what not to change is always a challenge, and sometimes one worth pursuing—but a piece like this helps one to relax a bit and just write. Thanks!

  4. Excellent article, Aaron. We were talking about this in the Tesla meeting last night. It’s hard to read some books, including those by big name authors, when their stories and premise are good, even great, but their craft is horrible. But they get published because there is something else there.

    It’s a double-edged sword, Agents & Editors want the WOW, but they’ll use lack of craft as the reason for the rejection. I’m trying hard to focus on the WOW, having the craft up there too should get me that much further…I hope!

  5. “It’s a double-edged sword, Agents & Editors want the WOW, but they’ll use lack of craft as the reason for the rejection.” This sums it up. Love this. The thing is to write books. Do it bad until you can do it good.

  6. Inspirational, sage, and timely advice for me. I may or may not be trapped in a bit of a craft quagmire because I want my first book to be the best book it can be. Now I am seeing that learning craft is good, but you can craft yourself right into a sticky tar pit of craftiness and you can craft the heart and soul right out of what you poured your heart and soul into. The art then becomes a pointless waste of time. I don’t like wasting my time.

  7. Your post is inspirational to me. I have some books on the writing craft. I get to reading them and spend too much time on “learning” the craft instead of just writing. Thank you!!

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