The Writer as Craftsman

By Dan Stalker

After picking a topic and gathering some materials, the excitement began to build. A sure sign it was time to begin the next step. The fun step – writing the book.

This step is different for everyone. The important thing for me was to get the ideas and thoughts out of my head and on paper. While being careful and attentive is good, I avoided overthinking it. What helped keep it fun was to realize that this was not the book but the first draft of the book.

It is called the first draft for a reason. First drafts are not suitable for prime time. But they are great for letting the backlog of thoughts and musings and that had built up just flow out onto the page. This was the time to get it down.

The Writer as Craftsman

Then (actually, now) comes the “work” part – editing the first draft. Writing is a craft. This writer needs to become a craftsman with words, and with the rules of the English language. Talk about a challenge! While there were glimpses of this while writing the first draft, now is time to get serious!

As usual, there is lots of fluff (some would say fuzziness) in the first draft that doesn’t need to be there. Large paragraphs. Too long sentences. Adjectives and adverbs that add little. Side comments that pull the reader this way and that. Words that mean one thing to me but something else to others. These I need to avoid.

Distilling the original down to what I really want to say takes work. It takes revisiting those materials gathered earlier. Is this quote accurate? What did he mean by that?

It also means digging a little deeper – i.e., more research. How can I clarify this? What more can I add here? How does it fit wit the big picture? Does it fit with the big picture? Help me, Google. Help, help me Google.

The Craftsman’s Tools

Online tools can help. But since their entries tend to be abbreviated, I use the full versions. I need to know the precise meanings of words. Then I can choose the best word based on nuances of meaning that are not as evident online.

The most basic and most necessary tools are a good dictionary and thesaurus. Beyond these, there are two other tools that truly helped me become more of a craftsman.

One classic, tried and true work is Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Poor grammar and poor composition both tend to befuddle readers. Neither should be noticed. I want my ideas to shine, not my ignorance. It is a thin book, the writing is succinct and to the point – as should mine be.

Another great resource is William Zinsser’s On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction. This book teaches the craft of writing as a personal transaction between the author and the reader. How to get the point across with simplicity, grace, humanity and warmth. Helps me see how all the details fit into that big picture called communication.

What helps your writing? Would love to hear your suggestions.

So, this is my challenge today. You will see more in this blog as the journey continues.

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