How Craft Books Nearly Ruined My Writing

Sarah
3 min readJan 24, 2023
Disney’s portrayal of me trying to learn the “right” way to write while my disappointed creativity looks on

I’m a nonfiction writer by trade, but my heart is in fiction.

(Or at least I thought it was.)

I’ve written and published I don’t even know how many short stories. I won NaNoWriMo last year. I have an entire five-book series in my head, just waiting to be typed out.

But lately, I haven’t been able to stay focused on any of it. I keep getting stuck. And when I get stuck, I do research. That’s what works with my technical writing — why wouldn’t it work with fiction?

I know and you know that learning the nuts and bolts of writing is key to effective storytelling. So I’ve dedicated thousands of hours to understanding how to turn that key in my creative lock.

In other words, I’ve been reading a ton of craft books these days.

You know — The Elements of Style, On Writing, The Story Grid, Save the Cat — those kinds of books.

Good stuff.

But for some reason, all that research hasn’t gotten me out of my slump. Whenever I open up Google Docs, all I see is a blinking cursor. Or worse, 52,000 words of garbage that I want to edit into oblivion.

So instead of banging my head against the wall trying to write good fiction, I decided to just sit back and read some.

Earlier today, I was reading — and thoroughly enjoying! — a horror novel about a haunted movie and came upon this line:

The diner felt like it was perched at the end of the world, gathering dust as it watched America burn. But at least it had AC.

And instead of savoring that cheeky, evocative image, my first thought was…

“Well, that’s a bit of a darling.”

😱

No wonder my own writing doesn’t excite me! I’ve been so focused on learning how to do it right that I forgot to do it fun.

I realized my nitpicking was totally uncalled for and decided it was time to do a little self-reflection. Sure enough, I actually really liked that line. It’s visual. It’s alive. It’s also pretty funny.

Who cares if it’s a little fancy?

And anyway, who’s the real audience, here? Me as a reader — not a writer.

If readers get a kick out of writing that goes against the rule books, then that’s what I should write.

So I’m going to challenge myself to break more rules.

Oh yes.

I’m talking lots of darlings, switching tenses, head hopping, flat character arcs, fancy grammar, weird punctuation, cliches, emojis, and purple prose. Three act structure? Hah!

Passive voice will be used.

I’m not dumping my craft books, of course. They’re fantastic resources and they can spark creativity. They do make writing stronger.

I just think it’s time for me to relax the leash a little bit. Take a break and see what happens. I have a feeling creativity doesn’t need to be so restrictive.

Maybe I should look that up.

PS — Doesn’t that haunted movie book sound cool?? It is! It’s a pre-release and I’m almost done reading, so I’ll be posting a review soon. In the meantime, poke around my Goodreads page to see what else I’ve been reading. It’s a real grab bag!

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Sarah

I write a lot (shocking, I know) and it's usually about animals, travel, outdoorsy stuff, and of course, writing.