When I first arrived at the annual Associated Writing Programs conference last week, I went in search of registration. I had no idea where it was or how I was going to get there. If I hadn’t asked more than a few folks for directions, I could have spent a good deal of time wandering down corridors that wouldn’t have brought me any closer to my goal. It might have been fun—it might even have given me the illusion that I was making progress—but it would have never been purposeful.
That’s why we talk about writing. That’s why we write about writing. To articulate something is to know it in a way you wouldn’t otherwise, to know it more deeply and with more appreciation for its nuances. AWP was three days of panels where writers did just that. They articulated. They explored, explained, questioned, speculated. They talked about craft in a way that led to a more insightful appreciation of how an artful thing—a story, a novel, an essay, a poem—is made.
I never meant to start this blog. I’ve probably said it before. I went into it kicking and screaming, imagining that the time I spent doing it would be time I could better spend actually writing. Then I found out what I should have known all along. Writing about writing improves the creative work I do on the page when I write fiction or creative nonfiction.
Try it yourself. Take a piece that you admire—a poem, a story, a novel, and essay, a memoir—and focus on a passage that you wish you’d written. Start writing about what the writer does in that passage. Then articulate how he or she does it. What artistic choices did he or she make? What sorts of effects did those choices create?
If you do this, my bet is you’ll add either a new technique to your writer’s toolbox, or you’ll hone your use of a tool you already have. Either way, you’ll be internalizing a deeper appreciation and understanding of the power that tool can wield. If you do this enough, you’ll refine your craft more quickly than you might if you continued to read and write without any conscious articulation of technique. Sure, you can’t help but get better at your craft—just as I would have eventually found registration via my aimless wandering—but this critical articulation can provide a shorter, more direct route.
Articulation lends the whole process purpose and takes you more quickly to the places you want your craft to go. Writing about writing makes us better writers because it makes us better students of the craft. David McCullough once said in an interview, “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” Writing about writing deepens your critical thinking and that deepening transfers to the artistic choices you make in your poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.