2.14.2014

The Craft of Craft




I speak frequently at various children's book writers and illustrators conferences and have become something of a craft junkie.  While I thoroughly enjoy talking with authors and illustrators about the business of publishing and the market place, I'm relishing more and more the opportunities coming my way to talk with authors and illustrators about the craft of writing.

I aspire to be a writer--beyond the occasional (very occasional!) blog posts--but please don't go asking me what I want to write or what I'm going to write, because I just don't know yet. I have ideas. I have stories. I have sentences. I have characters. They're swirling. They're churning. They're waiting. And while they're waiting for me to get cracking, I'm finding it utterly inspiring to my writer self to be able to think about, teach, and practice the elements of the craft of writing with other writers at all stages of their writing journeys.

"Craft" stems from a Middle English word that means strength, skill. By definition craft is both skill and strength. How splendid then to have opportunities to strengthen a skill and better our craft. The more skilled, the more strong. The more strong, the more skilled. I am chasing every opportunity I can to work on craft. And as I help strengthen the craft of others, I feel my own craft being strengthened at the same time. The crafting of our craft never ends. And that's the beauty of it, as it opens us up to surprises about our stories and ourselves.

I'm delighted to be speaking at several craft-based conferences this year, including on the faculty of the Ventana Sierra Advanced Writers Workshop in Carson City, NV, in June (http://ventanasierraworkshops.com/):





and as the teacher for the Noepe Center of Literary Arts Children's Book Writing Workshop on Martha's Vineyard island in July (http://noepecenter.org/emma-dryden-childrens-book-writing-workshop/):

                                                     


I can't wait to dig in with manuscripts, ideas, suggestions, writing exercises, writing tools, conversation, challenge, inspiration. Into the garden of craft we will go, turning over the earth, planting seeds, cultivating, and growing. What surprises await us?



17 comments:

  1. I know you’ll help a lot of writers at your craft presentations and workshops, Emma.

    I’m just preparing to teach ¾ hour sessions on creative writing to groups of 60 fifteen year olds and on editing to a group of 50 seventeen year olds. It’s a shame I won’t be able to talk for long to any student, but I it will also be stimulating to me because I know that creativity is infectious, and many of them will have wild imaginations. At lest I get to hear about a few of their ideas. And talking about some of the characters and the plot of a story I have started will inspire me to write more of it over the following weeks and procrastinate less.

    I hope your stories crystalise and progress well, too.

    All best wishes

    Peter

    PS I rarely critique other people’s works because I find it somewhat frustrating – and I only ever look at picture books. I nearly always want to re-write sections my way, and actually do that to show what I think will be an improvement. I say ‘use anything I have given you’, but just when I think it’s ‘perfect’ they feel that they must change it again and ask ‘Is this better now?’. I usually say, or feel like saying, ‘I still prefer my version that I sent you’.

    Maybe in a post one day you can tell us how you go about critiquing as compared to editing.

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    1. Peter, Good luck with your classes. How wonderful to be instilling creative inspiration and discussion among 15- and 17-year-olds!
      As for critiquing, it's very important to allow the writer's voice and ideas to remain true to the writer's vision. One downside of authors critiquing other authors can indeed be just as you describe - an author prefers how they would write it to how the author's written it, and that is not a helpful critique for that writer. Critiquing is something of an art, and I think it's a matter of figuring out the best way to ask questions of the author, make suggestions to the author, and identify weak spots and strengths in a manuscript in terms of how you as a reader have personally experienced that story without overwhelming the writer with all the ways you might do it differently. This is akin to good editing, where an editor asks questions, makes suggestions, and identifies weak and strong spots all within the context of knowledge of the intended audience, the marketplace, and more. Thanks for your comment!

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  2. I admire your commitment to craft, Emma. Do you have a go-to book about craft you'd recommend? Also what an impressive profile Lara O'Brien wrote on her blog about working with you!

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  3. Oh, thank you, Sangeeta! I don't generally have a go-to craft book...In the past few years I've been compiling craft articles, writing exercises, posts, and how-to articles that have turned into an over-stuffed folder on my desk that has actually become my go-to "book," if you will. I often turn to the following craft book list from Free Expressions, which is run by the brilliant editor and story developer (and writer!) Lorin Oberweger: http://free-expressions.com/books-on-craft/

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    1. Sangeeta2/15/2014

      Maybe you should turn that over-stuffed folder into a book! Thanks for the helpful link and response.

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  4. You're such a wonderful teacher, Emma. I look forward to learning more at my next conference with you.

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    1. Thanks so much! Looking forward to seeing your next story and your next story...

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  5. Dear Emma,

    You chose a lovely well-crafted illustration for your title "The Writing Craft". The little girl absorbed in her writing with her wispy hair suggests some kind of inner electricity, which is so much a part of the process. The detail of the books piled behind the sheet of paper shakes up the composition and suggests her environment and inspirations.
    Who is the illustrator?

    Thanks for all the great info you send us through cyberspace.

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    1. I wish I knew who the illustrator was for that image. Isn't it lovely? As far as I could tell, it's in the PD, which is why I didn't credit it, as I couldn't find a proper credit. It's certainly in the style of children's illustration from the early 1900s.

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  6. Oooh, I can't wait until you teach a writing class over here in the NorthWest...Hurry up Emma!

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    1. Thanks, Robyn. Besides being at SCBWI in LA in August, I hope there will be opportunities for me to delve into craft with authors out in the NW soon!

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  7. enjoy your teaching as well as your own pursuit, Emma. I find that teaching makes me re-learn all of what I have absorbed at one time or another.

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    1. Yes, that's it, Carol! Thanks!

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  8. Thank you for this piece, Emma. I agree with Robyn in that I wish you were teaching somewhere down South! I, too, hope that you enjoy all of your teaching and that soon your characters and your ideas will meld to inspire you write your own story!

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  9. Great post, and so true -- the teaching or sharing of the craft really strengthens my own work in so many ways. And the surprises! Oh, the surprises...

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