Now, I’ve addressed the heart several times in painting with words, but now we must talk about the painter’s hand. I will admit that I struggle with mastering the skill of writing. Just the other day my agent, as gently as she could, told me that one of my books lacked believability and that my secondary characters were flat. She was referring to the skill of writing. There is a marriage between heart and skill when it comes to any form of artwork. The heart and the craft are both indispensable. For without the heart there is no art, and without the skill there is no art.
I have struggled all my life to write well. Technically speaking, I am not the best writer to learn from. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are not my strengths. I also struggle with Plot, Structure, Setting and Character. And such weaknesses hold me back from conveying my heart on the page.
Have you ever tried drawing a picture that never looked the way you wanted? You try and try but the angle wasn’t right. The shapes were not consistent enough? So many books I write, I write beyond my skill.
And until one learns the art of drawing, any attempt to recreate that picture in our heads will prove frustrating. I often feel the same way with writing. And many times the kind of writing I wish to create falls short, because I lack the technical skill. So, what do we as writers need to do in order to grow our technical skill? Read, Learn, and Practice.
- First, read and read a lot. Reading will expose the writer to many kinds of writing styles and techniques. If we think of writing in terms of art forms — there is sculpture, oil paint, water color painting, woodcut, charcoal, etc — each form is different and requires different skill sets. Which art form are you? Booksellers usually lump different writing forms in terms of genre. Do you write popular fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, romance, or memoir? Each of these genres is like a different kind of art form.
- Second, go to writing workshops. This is equivalent to attending school or an art class. At a writers’ conference you learn from master writers. You then become the apprentice. Attending conference exposes you to the different art forms and informs your own writing technique.
- Third, write. Experiment with your own style and voice. My idol, Kate DiCamillo, before she wrote The Tale of Despereaux, read many classic fairytales and books written in the omniscient point of view. Then she applied her learning to the page. The result was a Newberry Award Winning book. Likewise, MT Anderson did the same with his award winning book The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing. Both of these writers immersed themselves in a different style of art and then picked up those very tools and used them to create astonishing works of fiction.
If we neglect our technical skills as writers, I fear we limit ourselves to the kinds of art we can create. Some of us dream of painting magnificent frescoes of gods and angels on plaster ceilings, but the ability to do so is beyond us. I do not believe such a dream is out of reach if we purpose to read, learn, and practice.