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  • Writer's pictureGrace A. Johnson

Ask Ann-Marguerite™: How Do I Hone My Craft?

I had not been perplexe before. I cannot afford to be stumped by a simple question. The newspaper editor was clear about our terms when I made the suggestion several weeks ago—if I am to keep up an advice column, I must be prepared to answer any and all questions. Last week’s question, I suppose, was the only exception, as M. Calvin was uncertain how I would be able to answer it.

My response went over rather well, and from then the letters flooded in. The one M. Calvin selected for printing this week is...difficult. It should not be, sans doubte, but I am struggling with how to reply.

I set down my coffee cup, bending to grab the paper once again and read over the question, brief and concise, printed in its allotted space.

Dear Ann-Marguerite,

I want to become a better writer. How do I hone my craft?


A Longing Learner

It is less that the question itself is hard and more that the answer cannot be conveyed in a mere few sentenced confined to a newspaper column. The art of writing is nuanced, so much so that it can take years to hone one’s craft. This, Je vais admettre, is not exactly what one desires to tell a person, let alone hear for themselves. The individual methods and techniques can vary from genre to genre, from writer to writer, from era to era.

In the past, there was little one could do but experience that which they wanted to write, read, write with painstaking care, edit ruthlessly, then write some more. The process was slow and many did not have the strength, the patience, nor the passion to devote so much of their time, effort, and heart into such a venture. The research for one novel alone was extensive and could span a lifetime. The market of the last millennium was limited and very few books, no matter how good, made the cut.

Now, en revanche, research need not be done in libraries or through experience. Resources, from old books to newspaper articles to blog posts, are available online with just the push of a key. The market has expanded, oui, and self-publishing has done anyway with all restrictions on content, quality, and other elements the traditional route was so strict on. Classes for creative writing are offered in schools, and veterans authors are now sharing their secrets to success. Communities of writers, readers, and editors allow for easy critiquing, feedback, and support. Social media is the numéro un marketing outlet, entirely self-directed. Writing contests give writers feedback, encouragement, prizes, and critical acclaim early on in their careers. Writers are no longer impressed upon to figure things out for themselves, neither are they constrained to a specific market or genre.

Anyone can be a writer.

Cela dit, not everyone can be a good writer.

I lay the newspaper down on my kitchen counter and head directly to my pantry. Uncertainty makes me hungry. In fact, most everything makes me hungry, but I would not call that a noticeable fact, as I am still petit for as much as I like to eat.

My neighbor Madame Abreo brought over a fresh batch of canistrelli while I was out this morning, and I have been craving a taste of the shortbread for hours since I have returned. She baked it with anise, exactly the way I prefer it, and when I bite into my first cookie, the flavors explode in my mouth, distracting me from the myriad of to-dos and concerns.

Until the sight of my typewriter, left on the table earlier ce matin, catches my eye. A blank sheet of paper is wedged between the rollers, awaiting with patience the moment I come to write.

The caliber of growth differs across genres, levels of experience, time constraints, and many others. Some writers need to enhance their voice and develop it into a unique writing style. Others need help with the technicalities, such as punctuation and language use. Other still perhaps want to better manage their time, create schedules, and write larger projects. Some need to grow in the authenticity of their work, the accuracy of their research, or the originality of their stories.

It would take me an entire year and thousands of sheets of paper to give advice for each category.

To put it simply, I would encourage one to write. Continuously. Religiously. Without ceasing. To grow, one must be proud of their writing and never become discouraged by their stories, the quality of their writing, or any other aspect that may not be parfait. Giving up is not an option.

Even while invested in a love affair with their writing, however, they must come to it after completion with the eye of an editor—sharp, piercing, unbiased, and just. The author himself must be prepared to blot out, scratch off, cut out, and restructure his work from the foundation up. The heart needs always to remain, oui, but an editor strives to strike out everything impeding, overshadowing, or distorting the heart, be it incorrect grammar, confusing sentences, plot inconsistency, or something else. Once the book has been purged of these inhibitors, the heart can truly shine. The author can polish their characters, their message, and their plot until their true intentions are clear.

Read, most importantly. Even before putting pen to paper, the foremost endeavor any human being should engage in is reading. For writers, all of the learning, research, and information that could ever be gathered throughout hundreds of separate mediums are obtained through reading.

Regardless of the particular area of one's craft they desires to hone, these three rules always apply: Write full of passion, edit without inhibition, and read to gain knowledge of everything.

As I reach for my fourth cookie, I realize I have already composed my response.

Eh bien, c'était facile.

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