Perfecting your craft

A large part of being a writer—whether you’re published or not—is working to improve, to perfect your craft. One of the biggest obstacles for many beginning writers doing that is that they sometimes get so obsessed with getting published that they forget about the writing.

It took me twenty years of striving to make my first professional fiction sale. I know how you feel—I felt it. I was desperate to get published and that’s part of why it took me so long. I kept getting distracted from perfecting my craft. From writing and writing and writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. From reading and studying the best (and worst) writers I could. I was more obsessed with seeing my name in print than I was with becoming a better writer.

I didn’t figure that out until I was in my thirties. Co-incidentally that’s when I started getting published.

Once I became a published writer I spent even more time perfecting my craft. When you’re a pro you start getting editorial letters and dealing with copyeditors and proofreaders. All of whom work to make your books as good as they can be by, yes, pushing you to further perfect your craft.

If you think that perfecting your craft is some annoying thing people who don’t want to publish you tell you just to keep you out of print, you’re wrong. They’re telling you because it’s at the heart of being a writer. No publisher worth their salt publishes a first draft. Those professionally published books, even the ones you hate, were edited and rewritten and copyedited and proofed.

If you are unprepared to work to make your book better and to improve your writing skills then maybe you don’t really want to be a writer?


  1. Brent on #

    *hugses* This is SO good to hear. I’ve lately decided that I’m not going to worry about whether I EVER get published, I’m just going to try to write and make my writing better. Eventually, if I do a good job of it and STICK WITH IT, someone may decide that what I have to say is not only worth reading, but written well enough that it’s worth publishing.

    I would like to be an author (a writer who gets paid). But I’d rather be a good writer than a poor author.

  2. jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    I added a little rant of my own at my LJ.

  3. beth on #

    I agree entirely. Perfecting craft is the most important thing a writer can do. I was like you–just wanted to be published. I still want to be published, but at least I’ve learned that publication = the result of work, not just writing “The End” at the end of the ms.

  4. Eric Luper on #

    Some of the arguments many aspiring writers use (and I’ll admit these thoughts used to cross my mind a lot) include “Gosh, there are so many BAD books out there; my writing is at least better than those” and “I had better submit more. It’s just a matter of finding the editor who understands what I’m trying to do.”

    Bad books on the shelves are still a mystery to me but I have long since grown past that urge to compare my own writing to the other published stuff. Sure it’s a matter of taste and of a marketing department’s confidence in how a book will be perceived and a business department’s opinion as to whether or not the book will bring in dollars…

    But there is nothing that will ever supplant good storytelling and quality of writing.

    People argue that these talents are innate, that you are a born storyteller or not, but I disagree. Sure, there are people with natural talent, but these are things that can be honed with diligent study. And that means hard work.

    The trouble is that a huge percentage of aspiring writers (along with aspiring singers, dancers, artists, musicians and athletes) are in love with idea of success but don’t want to do what it takes to get there. That’s why so many people just play video games about them (Tiger Woods Golf, NBA Live, DDR, Guitar Hero, etc). Too bad there isn’t a Superstar Writer video game. It would thin out the flock!

    Remember, even your favorite author was once a crap author. There is no magic answer. It’s all about persistence.

  5. Amy on #

    Agreed, agreed. I’ve been writing since I was really little, but I’ve finally gotten far enough into the process to get notes from an agent, and even though no one LOVES hearing what’s not good about your writing, it’s amazingly helpful. Also amazing is how much it applies to not just that project but the others I’m working on.

    (Of course, it also took me until my 30s to figure this much out. Worth the wait.)

  6. Patrick on #

    why is this not about building an arc?

  7. Becky on #

    Can I share this with my students tomorrow? They were whining up a storm in class today about the peer review and revising process I want them to take their personal narratives through. *sigh* Maybe hearing this from a professional (some of whom have read your books) will sit better than their “teacher”. 😉

  8. Justine on #

    Patrick: why is this not about building an arc?

    It is. You need to read more carefully.

    Becky: Of course you can. I’d be honoured.

  9. liliya on #

    I think if you really care about being a writer you’ll prefer being a good writer over being published. There’s so much satisfaction when you get to the point of knowing that what you’ve written is not just as good as you can make it but maybe better than you ever thought it could be – when you get to that point you almost forget the pain of the last months/years/decades spent getting to that point. And if the writing really is good it will get published. I’m sure it’s the same for any art or skill – such things have got to be worth perfecting in their own right.
    Also – if you publish some crap, that crap is going to have YOUR NAME ON for ever afterwards… !

  10. Patrick on #

    Oh SNAP! You meant an Advanced Reader Copy when I meant great big boat full of animals! YOU Tricky writer with those letters!

  11. Steve Buchheit on #

    I think this goes for any profession. If you’re not willing to make it a continuous improvement process (or at least an “evolving with the business” process) why not just go flip hamburgers? For me, at least, writing is still a second job (commercial dove-tails into my day job and freelance design), or third depending on how you count, and I do it because I love it. It was when I realized I was doing enough “work” at it that I wanted to be published and that’s when the real work began. I’d like to keep it that way; write because I love to do it, get better because I work at it, get published because I work harder at it.

    With anything there is “The Wall.” Marathon runners use this analogy all the time, but it’s also true with any endeavor (including relationships). Before “The Wall” things are easy and you can get through will little input or concentration. Then you reach a point where you have to make a decision, to either stay where you are or drop whatever it is, or do you put a lot more energy/time/etc into it to push past that wall and become better/develop a deeper understanding/build a relationship. I think that’s the difference between a hobby and a profession/advocation.

  12. Katherine Sparrow on #

    This rings really true for me. I try to separate in my head the work of writing from my intense desire to get it published. It doesn’t always work, but I try to banish all publishing thoughts while I am writing.

    It is astounding to me how endlessly difficult and tricky writing is, and how much there is to always improve on.

    Thanks for putting your thoughts out there. It’s good to hear from an author on this issue who has published some excellent books, and is still working on getting better.

  13. Rosario M. Hawkin on #

    Hi nice post, i read your blog from time to time but i was wondering something. I also run a blog on a similar topic, but i get 1,000’s of spam comments and emails every day does that happen to you.. Any ideas to stop it? I currently have commenting disabled but i want to turn it back on.. Thanks!

  14. Tad Markus on #

    Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

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