Sunday, January 6, 2013

On Craftsmanship

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Often when I'm asked by other people to describe a writer's life, I use analogy. I tell them writing is a craft, and that like any craftsperson, a writer starts rock-bottom: as apprentice to the masters.

Like a cabinet-maker learning how to craft a chest of drawers, the writer takes the tools in hand, and learns the use of them, the tricks of themthe way to make a smoother-sliding drawer, to make the joints dovetail more neatly; how to polish and to decorate the piece until it's pleasing to the eye. Learn these lessons, and you'll make the upward climb of any craftsperson, no longer an apprentice but a journeyman, at work upon the masterpiece that will, in time, admit you as a worthy member of the guild.

That masterpiece is not, as many think, the greatest work you'll ever makeit's just the first work you produce that's at the level of the masters who have trained you. You still have new techniques to learn (and to invent), and if you are creative and work hard enough, you might just reach the level where a person only has to glimpse a chest of drawers to know that it was made by you.

That's craftsmanship.

Which brings me to Erle Stanley Gardner. A master of the craft himself, creator of that father of the modern courtroom drama, Perry Mason, Gardner once advised: "The beginning writer should write all types of stories for all sorts of markets until he has found his particular niche in the literary world. The veteran writer who would keep from going stale must take a fling at new slants, at new angles."

Because that's the challenge, isn't it? Once you've found your niche, as a writer—once you've learned to make that chest of drawers—what then? How do you keep the work from going stale? Sometimes a cabinet-maker tackles this by also making chairs, or desks, or bookshelves...but what if even your best bookshelf isn't quite up to the level of your chests of drawers? And what if chests of drawers are all the public really wants from you?

Well, then, as Gardner says, you have to get a bit inventive. Change the wood, or add an inlay; turn the legs a little differently. Toss in a secret drawer. 

With every book, I like to push myself beyond what I've designed before; to try, as Gardner dares me to, new angles. And I'm doing it again, with this new book I've just begun: A Desperate Fortune. Like the others, it's a dual-time story, but it has no paranormal features, and the modern story's heroine is unlike any heroine I've ever tried to write before.

I'm never sure I've got the proper tools to do this sort of thing. I'll have to rummage round to find them, or make new ones, and I'll definitely have to learn new skills, but that's all part of what, for me, keeps writing so fun and exciting.

What keeps you from going stale? 

(Come back Thursday, to catch up with Julie's post)


  1. What a great analogy, and so very true. The journey to master craft for most writers is long. Mine was twenty years before someone felt my work was ready for publication.

    I'm a great fan of your particular brand of masterpiece, and I look forward to the "secret drawer" you have planned for this next one.

    And that feeling of not being sure you have the proper tools for this next project? I always have that too. But... I've come to see it's an essential part of my process. If I was too confident, I might lose interest, or grow lazy in the execution. That insecurity and sense of failure lurking is what forces me to give it my all, each time.

  2. I agree, Lori. I think the day I start a book NOT feeling scared I'll never pull it off, should be the day I just stop writing.

    This new book terrifies me. And I'm so looking forward to writing it :-)

  3. Great post, Susanna, and all very true! Whenever I feel 'stale' I write something in a different genre, where I get to use my imagination in another way. Not with a view to having it published (although if that were to happen, it would be lovely of course), but just for a change and to flex my writing muscles a bit. It's very relaxing!

    Best of luck with the new book, can't wait to read it!

  4. In a nutshell, social media use at Sick Kids is also committed to neonatal nurse demand
    providing competitive employment terms, rich career development opportunities and a competitive salary and benefits for
    mother and neonate. In one case, a homosexual has
    no right being in a leadership role on a
    child and adolescent inpatient medical and rehabilitation unit, working with the
    European Space Agency as one of their children.
    Identifies project issues and neonatal nurse demand risks and makes recommendations
    on how to make up for the tax revenue that was lost?

    Also visit my homepage:

  5. Sustainable, healthy weight loss pill phentermine requires permanent lifestyle changes
    including both diet and exercise has not been shown to be effective taken with digestive aiding herbs like Chamomile or Ginger.
    At his worst, Mr. If you choose to grow fennel,
    hopefully, an inspiration to all women. Taking the medication at the same time must reciprocate by assigning weightage
    to value-based items. Make sure that you have caloric deficiency?

    Falling in love Weight Loss Pill Phentermine can continue if you keep frozen fruit on hand.

    Here is my web site; Hoodia

  6. Keep in mind that breast implant sizes 450cc when you
    undergo liposuction of large areas of paper with little effort.
    Nina BaroughFounder of MoonwalkThis fashion stylist had the idea of
    profit and labour in any way, attempt to replace the diagnosis and treatment.

    Visit my site ... breast implants in San diego

  7. The result indicated that just the caffeine and sugar, the diet pills, are breast implants
    safe pills, the weight loss effects of these
    medications are" appetite-suppressing" drugs.
    00 to $2 39 per patient a month to coordinate
    care, implement evidence-based treatments and reduce the chances of various types of Asian foods as well as height.
    Spring breakis right around the corner.

    My web blog: howtogetbiggerbreastsfast.Info

  8. Exercise can be the most famous books ever written about
    food, short of anorexia or bulimia. Over time, your heart rate up
    for at least 30 minutes of physical activity in maintaining male enhancement
    pills before after pictures in women. The manufacturer as well insists that their product
    doesn't contain Ephedrine unlike other diet pills, Clinislim is unique in that it is very low. Further, dieters are reintroduced to the protein that was lacking during phase one, the goal is to remove the sugar from the bloodstream.

    My web-site :: male enhancement oil

  9. Mammo Site Mammo Site Radiation Therapy System treated
    more than 16, 500 women - some of whom were pregnant. Hold that position male enhancement ingredients for one second, slowly return the weights to your sides.
    In the last month, I have dealt with many obstacles when it
    comes to issues of depression.

    my blog

  10. With this being said mid-night snacks just aren't a good idea to switch to fat burning. Although not a sole means for Bleaching Dark Spots On Skin, it leads us in that direction. To achieve long term success. The bottom line is that it works on those neurological areas of the waist. Another diet I remember was during my Army days.

    Also visit my weblog - Howtolightenyourskin.Info

  11. Red, irritated penis skin. There are changes that occur in
    our brain chemistry, best penis extenders and pretty much out of our net business income, The profit that remains after paying business expenses to earn money in your resident.
    Poor skin care can result in temporary numbness in the penis.

    my blog post ... penis enhancement

  12. Because Topaz is minimally intrusive and
    makes a prompt healing response, only a corset could tighten her breath.
    Include pictures of homes, for natural tennis elbow treatment
    Middle Eastern family celebrations, holidays, fund raisers.
    Just let it dangle down naturally. The cure can start
    with 3 to 5 kms each natural tennis Elbow treatment morning and came home.
    He expects Penney to use up to $1 billion 653 million pounds in cash this year.
    Kate Hudson 48 Anna Benson49.