FYI: Round 1 officially begins Monday, January 4th, but I had time to do this today and I know a lot of folks will be thinking about goals with their New Year’s Resolutions and stuff, so I opted to go ahead and put this out there.
After 5 years of running this challenge, I’ve done a lot of cheerleading because I think creating a positive and encouraging space for writers is important. I’ve talked about the importance of creating sustainable change, being kind to yourself, and owning your moniker of writer. You can troll back through the archives for the fluffy cheerleader posts. That’s not what I’m here to do today. Today I’m getting tough and talking about the importance of honing your craft.
We all know that continuing to write regularly is important. Getting BICHOK (Butt In Chair, Hands on Keyboard) is an essential component of improving as a writer because WRITERS WRITE. And yeah, just straight up practice should help us improve. But mindless repetition without an intentional effort to learn and change isn’t going to give you the best results. That’s like dog paddling in the dark instead of striking out with a clear and steady stroke toward a light house. You might get there. You might also drown from wasting your energy.
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume that most of you are in the same boat as I am–writing on top of some kind of day job (be that of the traditional paid variety or full-time parenting or whatever). Limited writing time means you have to make that time COUNT. And that means no dog paddling. Now I don’t mean that writing has to be this militant, all work all the time with no fun to what you’re doing. But happy, fluffy, fun writing isn’t going to make you the kind of writer who will someday be able to pay the bills. You have to TRAIN. You have to STUDY. You have to WORK. You know, like you do with every other meaningful job on the planet.
Now there are a lot of aspects of craft you could choose to work on. Realistic dialogue. Character arc. Straight up refinement of prose. But the single most USEFUL aspect of craft that I have ever learned is STORY STRUCTURE. All marketable stories adhere more or less to the same one. Doesn’t matter what the plot-level trappings are. All good stories boil down to the same recognizable structure. It’s part of how we are wired as humans.
Now writers tend to fall into one of two camps (ish–of course there’s a spectrum, but go with it).
You have your hard-core plotters (like me), who approach building a story from the ground up, like an engineer or architect.
Or you have the pantsers who prefer to reveal the story as they go, like one of those chainsaw carvers who find a bear or moose in a log.
It doesn’t matter if you gravitate toward plotting or pantsing or somewhere in between–knowing structure will improve your work. You’ll either have your skeleton from the beginning and know what to build on or you’ll know what you’re aiming to uncover in your exploratory draft. And structure is a thing that, once learned, you can’t UNSEE. In every movie you watch, every book you read, you’ll find yourself recognizing those beats. And in every one you watch or read that doesn’t work…you’ll be able to trace it back (often) to a violation of accepted rules of structure.
Now, of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but it’s that whole thing where you have to KNOW and understand the rule before you can effectively break it.
So that’s my challenge to you this round. If you aren’t familiar with story structure, LEARN IT. If structure isn’t your issue, pick some other aspect of your craft to work on. Read blogs. Read books. Watch tutorials. Go beyond your own work to LEARN STUFF. It’s time to LEVEL UP as a writer.
Here’s a list of my favorite resources for story structure:
- Story Engineering by Larry Brooks (worth getting in paperback so you can sticky tab and underline)
- The Hero’s 2 Journeys (only available in audiobook but cheap at $5.95 and SO WORTH IT)
- Channel 101 (6-parter–go through all of them–be prepared for some irreverent language, if that’s a thing for you)
With that in mind…
State Your Goals
Click here to enter the link to your goals (be sure to link to the specific page and not your main blog) and view this Linky Tools list of other ROWers participating.