“If you are going to be a writer, there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you are not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know the effort is real.”
When someone asks what I do, I resist saying that I teach people how to write. They already know how. What I do is show how and why it works. I demonstrate how to see what’s on the page, listen to what you have written and why patience counts even when it feels uncomfortable. I prove that writing gets better with practice. I make a place where together we can see why some things work and why some don’t. I help bludgeon away adverbs and overblown adjectives. I show why verbs matter, why clichés aren’t your best friends, why behavior and dialogue need each other and how writing with your senses connects with the reader. If this sounds like editing, it’s because it is and that’s the closest I can come to a definition.
A long time friend of mine who is a wonderful actor and writer, (his cooking running a close second,) told about being invited to Julia Child’s kitchen for dinner when she was hosting master chefs on her television show. He said he asked her why in her recipes she didn’t use “dash,” “dollop,” “pinch,” or any of the commonplace shorthand for measurements. She told him she firmly believed that cooking was a fundamentally democratic activity and as such, everyone was entitled to exact measurements. She was talking from true teaching. True teaching doesn’t show off or elaborate. It doesn’t puff up the teacher or the student. It isn’t about personalities. It demonstrates sound principles in practical language and easily understood examples. It’s craft.
It’s seductive to fall in love with the mystery of creativity; acting, writing, painting—you name it. The only real mystery is talent. The rest is “exact measurements”. If you have those you can spill things, mop them up, know how begin again. In writing, “exact measurements” get you through draft after messy, chaotic draft and on to the core of your work which was what called to your heart and mind in the first place.
Craft is the engine of process which lends shape to imagination and keeps it in motion.