Why Craft Books and I Are Not Friends

It’s a pattern I can’t deny. Whenever someone recommends a book on the craft of writing, I write down the title. Then, when my well of writing inspiration and hope is unusually high, I purchase said craft book. Overjoyed at the prospect of taking my feeble writing ability to new heights, I dive in, underlining feverishly, copying quotes onto note cards using bright colored markers, and pasting endless “Top Ten Rules of Writing/Being a Writer” on my walls.


Sometimes I make it a third of the way through, sometimes I even make it to the midpoint, but I never finish. Inevitably some other activity sounds its siren call and I find myself re-shelving the craft book and rediscovering my love for cooking, biking, reading—but never writing. I somehow have never learned the skill of moving directly from a “How to Write” book to writing.


For me, there is always a level of anxiety associated with prompts, with writing tricks, with tidbits that I become convinced will reform my writing habits for good. The problem the promise any one of these tactics hold is that they also hold that looming threat of failure. I once read a Hemingway quote along the lines of, “Stop writing before you run out of things to say, so the well of inspiration isn’t empty when you next sit down to write.” I was in awe. “How easy!” I thought. “How simple!” I marveled. Yet, I refused to try it for weeks. The prospect of its potential was much more important for me to preserve than actually testing to see if it worked. Or, more accurately, see if it worked for me. As you can probably already guess, implementing Hemingway’s suggestion did not prove to be my untapped fount of writing prowess.


The Hemingway example is just one of many where I find a writing trick that I am sure will change my process from the irritable beast it continues to be, and after weeks or even months of hedging the inner voice that keeps yelling to just “try it already!” and I finally do, it never changes the fact that writing takes a lot more time, and effort, and reverence, and anger, and humility than I can give it using a tip or trick.


I’m a short-cutter. Not in the way that I do things hastily or poorly, but I like to find the fastest and most-efficient way to complete my tasks so I can get to the next item on my to-do list. I’m sure you can see (and tilt your head to chuckle at me ruefully) why writing conflicts with my inner-most desires for efficiency.  I have yet to find a way to “efficiently” argue with myself, to wrestle with the words on the page, to pick carefully through every word in my vocabulary to see which one fits this moment, this sentiment.


I’m working toward giving my writing the time and attention it not only needs but deserves, and I think part of that is my new challenge to myself: finish a craft book. I don’t think it will irrevocably alter my process, but I do think it’s something that needs to be done, something that’s important. It’s a task I’ve been avoiding for a long while so I think it’s time to tackle it.


So, dear Paper Darts readers, what book should it be?  Consider this blog part 1 of 2—I’ll be reporting back once I climb this (small, yet undeniable) personal mountain.


For reference, I am primarily a Creative Nonfiction writer, and here’s a sample of my unread craft book library:


Art and Fear, David Bayes and Ted Orland


The Art of Fiction, John Gardner


Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott


The Art of Description, Mark Doty


The Art of Recklessness, Dean Young

Caryn Wille moved to Minneapolis from Chicago to explore the world of publishing and graphic design. Caryn is a member of the Paper Darts staff helping with graphic design and marketing. Check out her website at

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