In her wonderful book, The Creative Habit, the master choreographer Twyla Tharpe has a lot to say about the importance to of developing their craft to artists in all fields. Outlined below are some of her thoughts, which seem very relevant to our work as writers:
When Pope Leo X found out that Leonardo da Vinci was trying to come up with a new formula for varnish instead of completing a painting, the Pope fumed, “This man will never do anything, for he begins thinking about the end before the beginning of his work.”
But our lad Leonardo wasn’t just a master artist, he was also a master craftsman. He knew that expressing his creativity depended on his ability to skillfully execute every aspect of the painting process, from mixing colors to preserving his canvasses with the right varnish.
Every great painter was also an accomplished draftsman and most great composers are wonderful musicians: they have an intimate knowledge of their instruments that frees them to create new ways of expressing their musical ideas. Bach, for example, learned how to build organs as a young man — he knew everything about their inner workings.
“What all these people have in common,” says Tharpe, “is that they have mastered the underlying skills of their creative domain, and built their creativity on the solid foundation of those skills.”
Just like other artists, we writers have “underlying skills” that we need to master, so that we can build a strong, resilient foundation for our work. We need to constantly enrich our grasp and appreciation of language, sharpen our ear for dialogue, understand the principles of the art forms we choose to express ourselves in, and even brush up on our grammar if necessary.
When reviewing a chunk of my YA novel, a friend of mine pointed out to me that I tended to overuse a particular type of sentence structure, which made my writing seem repetitive in places. I’ve taken this to heart and I’m working hard to be more supple in the way I shape my sentences so that the reader’s eye and ear will be refreshed and surprised as my book unfolds. This is a small example, but it’s an area of personal skill-building that I plan to pay more attention to. How about you? What are you experimenting with right now to improve your craft? Are you focusing on it in a systematic way?