Wednesday, August 4, 2021

IWSG: Craft Books: Thinking ABOUT writing, or writing?


Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

August 4 question
- What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it you learn something or you are inspired to write or try the new technique. And why?

The awesome co-hosts for the August 4 posting of the IWSG are PK Hrezo, Cathrina Constantine, PJ Colando, Kim Lajevardi, and Sandra Cox! Be sure to check out what they have to say, and visit other writers in the blog hop!

I don't read a lot of craft books anymore, though once I did. They are a pleasure, and can be inspiring and encouraging, as well as instructive. 

But I don't read them very often anymore. 

It's not that I don't still feel like there's a lot to learn about writing life. I definitely do!…it's more a matter of time management and HOW I do my learning these days. 

Since my first novel was published in 2015, I've considered myself a professional writer. Currently, I stuff a full time writing life into part time hours, working 1-2 hours a day during the school year and 4-8 hours a day during summer hiatus, so that my day job (teaching middle school) can provide money, insurance, retirement plans and other staples of stability. 

It's not enough time for all the work of writing, rewriting, networking, marketing, etc., but it's what I can afford (literally, in the dollars in the bank, sense of "afford"). Plus, I'm finding there's something to be said for "hands-on" learning or "on the job" training. Theoretical consideration and hypothetical situations will only take you so far. 

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So, while I loved Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Stephen King's On Writing and Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones when I was younger, it's been years since I read a book on the craft of writing, though there are plenty of them on my bookshelves still.  

That's not to say I'm not studying. I just tend to combine that with other tasks these days. When I get stuck, I read a few articles or posit a question to one of my writing communities to get real-time advice from others in the thick of the struggle themselves. I learn by doing and by talking to others who are doing. 

For Lamott, King, Goldberg and other giants of the field, my level of struggle is a memory. They no longer worry about building an audience, navigating the shark-infested waters of publishing, or balancing quality with quantity of output to keep a career from languishing. 

For others in The Writing Tribe, Works in Progress, or Area 42 (three of the writing communities I work with), that battle is being fought right now, and for that reason, the advice is very pragmatic. These groups linger less over the philosophy and ideals and concentrate more on the practice. 

If I let myself wander down those philosophical paths too long, I find I just stay there. I spend a lot of time thinking ABOUT writing instead of actual writing, and that might feed my practice in the long run, but it doesn't feed my career here in the short run. 

So, once again, I'm back to seeking a balance, this time between thinking and doing. 

How about you? Do you fall into research rabbit holes as easily as I do, and spend too much time thinking ABOUT what you want to do instead of doing it? Or have you found a better balance of learning and doing? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! 


  1. I love your response to the question. Sometimes we have to stop the 'researching' and just write. Perhaps write a whole bunch! I think the questions to a writing community is a very pragmatic way to handle things. It is focused (which reading a book wouldn't be) and personal (they know you warts and all as it were, not that I'm saying you have warts).

    1. Definitely. But it does take a while to get to the point where you've developed that kind of community.

  2. Ah, "to be or not to be", to purloin the words of Shakespeare. To be a writer is to be in a constant state of flex, I've learned. Such is the lot of the 'secretaries of life'.

    So, I do the best I can to seek balance in all aspects of daily life. No 'rabbit holes' for me. My family won't allow it (wink-wink)

  3. Balancing thinking and doing is the smartest strategy, although tough to do. And, yes, I've fallen into research rabbit holes. Especially lately on topics I find interesting and important.

  4. I enjoyed all the books you mentioned. I definitely go in stages of when I read craft books and learn from writing.

  5. I would probably benefit from doing more research before jumping into the writing part of things. The balance is still a work in progress.

  6. I do my fair share of thinking about, but doing is another matter. :-)

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  7. Great point, Samantha. Hands on really is the best way to learn. I used to write a novel, read a guide, revise, and repeat. And I learned a lot that way --applying what I learned. But yeah I don't read nearly as many anymore.

  8. Definitely I fall into research rabbit holes, Samantha. And I'm forever trying to find balance. I don't spend much time thinking about writing. If I've got time to think about it, I can write. Kudos to you for writing while teaching ~ That is not easy! I have Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird" and Stephen King's "On Writing" and Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones" on my writing bookshelf. They are well read and well loved. Happy IWSG Day!

  9. I really like Bird by Bird for when I just need encouragement to keep going, but those philosophical books are sometimes-reads for me.
    I also have to balance writing with full-time teaching and mothering, and it's challenging. That's part of why I'm a pretty show writer.
    I have taken more time to read craft books this year, mostly because I have a good friend who keeps loaning to them to me and they have inspired me to keep going and/or improve my writing.

  10. I'm trying to learn how to paint (acrylics, watercolour, and now pastels) and consequently inundating myself with how-to books from the library. If I find a particularly helpful one which I can also find for a good price, I buy it.

    My major gig is cartooning and I have bought SO many how-to books (and read even more from the library again). My personal truism is that any book on cartooning, no matter how bad, will contain at least ONE useful pointer or insight new to me. So yeah, I don't think I will ever be done with reading how-tos...

  11. Writing and having a day job is challenging for sure.
    I spend a huge amount of time researching.
    Have a great reading/writing day. Thanks for stopping by the blog:)

  12. I spend too much time on the patio thinking about writing rather than jumping into it. It's work - of a sort, but not tangible, and tangible is what I'm after, after all.

    1. Contemplation and planning are well and good, but sometimes we all have to get our feet wet.

  13. I must admit, Samantha, I spend a lot of time thinking about writing instead of actually writing, too. It must be the nature of the beast, that beast being a writer. All best to you!

  14. Like you, I'd rather write than dive into reading about how to write, though I love advice -- and from those more pragmatic resources (online writing communities, writing magazines, newsletters from writing gurus, and feedback from writing friends). Yes, I'm retired, but challenges still remain for 'best use of time' given any stretch of crises that emerge, not the least being (sometimes) stamina. So I applaud your emphasis on balance. Persevere!