Writing is Hard Part 7: Improving the Craft: A Self-Designed Curriculum

(Before I begin, this is my 200th blog post? Wow)


Three novels in four years, and it’s time to step back and work on word craft. I’ve found that beating my fingers against a keyboard and my head against a wall has taught me several valuable lessons about story arcs, characters, and world-building, but the actual infrastructure on a sentence level, I feel that I have been struggle to grow in that particular garden. Here is what I’ll be covering today:

  1. What I’m doing during a month of a break from novel writing and full-time employment
  2. Explaining the specific books I’m reading

Things to Keep in Mind

  • I’m in no way, shape or form a professor, instructor, or teacher of any kind
  • These are just recommendations I’ve received from others
  • I’ve read all three books except for one

How I’m Spending the Next 30 Days

If I’m allowed to be candid for a moment, but getting laid off has done a number on my psyche. It’s inextricable from the state of the world right now, and it’s hard to have hope beyond the fact that time continues whether we like it or not. I’ve had my period of mourning with (way too much) Animal Crossing and living in audiobooks. Now, I want to get back on some kind of productivity train.

For the next 30 days, starting April 21, 2020, I’ll be devoted 2-3 hours a day to learning story craft, on top of other reading. It takes the place of the time I would have spent writing a novel (which now sits with readers for feedback).

The Books

All links will be going to Indiebound. Order from indies, you’ll get backs in pretty good delivery speed and supporting the infrastructure that is books.

1. Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig

This book is a great primer on storytelling at a high level. It goes into specific elements of story craft, but starts with a perspective of Wendig’s father who had never written a book, but knew how to tell…well, a see the title.

2. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

The language in this book is a bit dated, however, the concepts are something that I haven’t visited in a while. Highlights from my first reading include the entire concept of “the fictional dream” and how all elements should work together to get at some kind of truth, be it personal or otherwise. The book in your head isn’t the book on paper and that’s okay.

3. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maas

I had gotten pretty bogged down in the details of world-building and making the story make sense that I forgotten character. The previous two works talk about character development and crafting on a developmental level, but this work gets into exercises, specific examples, and execution of said development. This had been referred to as interiority, the inner thoughts which make books such a unique medium.

4. Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin

I saved the most daunting and granular book for last. This one gets at language at a sentence level and learning how to craft voice, things which are hard to work on when you’re still focusing on big-picture things, which is why I saved it for last. I have an excess of unused notebooks, which I might use to rework sentences I had already written and make them stronger.

Next Steps

This course starts tomorrow, but if anyone has more craft book recommendations, please comment below or tweet me.

2 thoughts on “Writing is Hard Part 7: Improving the Craft: A Self-Designed Curriculum

  1. Pingback: April 2020 Reading Recap | Jo Writes Fantasy

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