Sharpen Your Craft

My husband and I were lucky enough to go on an actual date last week. During dinner, he asked me how my writing was going. I told him it was going well. At the time I was working on finishing revisions. I also mentioned that I felt weak in some areas of my writing (which I'm sure many writers do). He proceeded to tell me the following story:

...embellished a little for artistic purposes...

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Once, there were two lumberjacks. The first was a young man, strong and fast. The second was an older man, who had been wielding an axe for many years. The two were challenged to race each other, to see who could fell more trees in a day.

The time was decided, and the two men met in the forest. The day began, and they each went to work on their trees. As the first hour came to a close, the young man looked to see the elder sitting on one of the stumps he had left.

The young man scoffed, and continued his progress.

Throughout the day, the old man continued to sit for a time every hour. During which, the younger continued to swing his axe. He'll never chop as many as I, thought the young man. I am stronger and faster, and he is wasting his time.

When the day had ended, a moderator came to count how many trees had been chopped by each man. The winner was obvious: the old man had won.

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The young man could not believe it! "How could you have cut down more trees than I?" he asked. "Every hour you sat while I kept right on cutting. I don't understand. How could you have cut more trees while sitting so much?"

"When I sat down, I was sharpening my axe," the older lumberjack said. "Not only that, but I was resting my body and regaining my strength and focus. Why didn't you do this?" he asked.

I didn't have time," the younger man said. "I was too busy cutting trees."

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Sometimes, we as artists get so consumed with doing our craft that we forget the need to continue learning it.

My good friend Marieke (blog, twitter) actually told me that she did exactly this. Having written a novel, she realized it was not up to the standard she wanted it to be. Rather than re-writing again right away, she took time, over a month I believe, to increase her knowledge. She read from the genre she wanted to write, and studied the elements that make writing strong.

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Writing a novel takes a lot of work. It takes sacrifice on our part, and on our family's as well. (When I was staying up until 4am to finish my revisions, my house was a mess. But my husband let it go because he knew it was important to me. Thanks honey <3 ) Now that I've met my self-imposed deadline, I plan on not only querying, but studying. I'm using Christmas as an excuse to get my hands on as many recently-released novels as I possibly can.

Not only that, but we have an old literature book from a class my husband took a few years back, and a teachers manual from a school English curriculum. I plan on reading and studying these once or twice a week for the next month or so. I'll continue to outline TARGET, and read many published novels in my genre.

I have so many ideas, it's quite tempting to just jump right into the next one and believe that I'll just be better for having done it once. This is probably true to a certain degree. However, It took me a year-and-a half to actually feel finished with my first novel. I can't afford for it to take that long again. It weighed on me far too much and made me crazy. If there is anything I can learn to help me in the process, I want to learn it.

So whether you're a fast drafter, slow and steady, pantser, outliner, adult, YA, MG, or whatever, make sure you take time to hone your skills. Don't just practice your craft, take time every so often to perfect it. To learn where your weaknesses lie, and reinforce them, strengthen them. I think along with my study, I may have writing exercise contests on the blog as well. Those are always fun ;-)

Good luck, and keep writing.

-DC

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