March 15, 2008

Back to Basics

Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing . For several years I have been trying to learn the craft of writing. Now, thanks to a casual mention by Robin LaFever at her Architexture workshop, I have a trusty guide...Write Away by Elizabeth George.

George doesn't write for children, but she's an accomplished author who clearly articulates the universals of writing fiction and her own writing process in particular. I get this book. I know I've read and heard much of this information before, but somehow this time I'm understanding it. Maybe I am a slow learner and I just need to read something over and over again before it sinks in, but regardless of the reason, this book works for me.

For example, I have sat in many workshops and heard accomplished writers discuss point of view, but George takes the time to define all the different types and provides examples from published books to illustrate them. Objective narrator, omniscient narrator, shifting first person and narrator as observer. I have heard all these terms, and even thought I had a general sense of what they meant, but I didn't. Now I finally feel like I'm starting to play on a level field with other writers.

Elizabeth George might even have been speaking directly to me when she wrote about first person narration, "Quite a few beginning writers employ this viewpoint because superficially this appears to be the easiest...However, this viewpoint has its disadvantages, the most notable of which is the difficulty that can arise with plotting." Hello! Has she been peering over my shoulder? I know Emelia's story should be told in first person but defining Emelia and her story continues to be a challenge. George is sending me back to the beginning of the process to do more character analysis. She promises the plot will emerge. I'm counting on you Elizabeth!

Just occurred to me that my recent attempts to learn the craft of knitting may be a very tangible metaphor for my writing. I am not a natural knitter. Years ago my sweet mother-in-law, Stella, tried to teach me to knit. After a particularly painful session with the needles, she reached over to me, put her hands on top of mine and said, "Some people just aren't meant to be knitters." Several decades later I am now trying the patience of a new tag team of instructors, Elli and Reanna.

These two teachers are also sweet and patient far. I joined their lunch time knitting class for students, and the students are clearly having an easier time of it than I am. First, there was the difficulty with slippery needles so Elli loaned me a bamboo set from her personal collection. Then they suggested that my beautiful yarn had too many strands in it, so they cast on a new row of a different yarn. They have done that several times now. Each time they start me off with 20 stitches, but somehow the number increases and the loops tighten as I go along. My teachers have sympathetically identified all of the beginner problems that are currently plaguing me, but perhaps they are just too nice to identify the real I'm a slow learner who lacks nimble fingers and obviously can't count stitches. More unraveling is clearly in my future, but I recognize that this is an essential step in the process. I'm not going to give up.

There's unraveling to be done with my writing, too. Pull apart, evaluate, start over. Repeat. I am slowly learning to hone my craft and knit my story. I'm not going to give up on writing, either.


Patty P said...

I'm running out today to buy the book...where did you get your copy?

Maggie said...

Patty--this info is probably too late to be helpful today, but I got it at Chaucer's.