Writers spend years practicing their craft before selling the first book, and in so doing, often end up neglecting some elements of their craft in favor of the ones they use most often. Through his own blog and his involvement with Writing Excuses, Brandon Sanderson has always made it clear that he believes in the power of strong craft. He claims that a writer’s craft is like a muscle; it takes practice and exercise to master and strengthen. In addition, in order to continually improve, one must constantly stretch one’s boundaries. It is not enough to be excellent with one technique, but rather a master's ability is seen in the the diversity and balance of his/her writer's toolbox.
Exercising your writing muscles follows the same rules as exercising your physical body. If you only work out your upper body, your legs will not progress. You might be able to lift a great deal of weight with your arms, but you will never be able to reach your full potential without engaging your lower body in the effort. Likewise, if you only lift weights, your cardiovascular system will not develop, and your stamina will lag. The ideal writer, like the ideal athlete, exercises all of their muscles in order to be balanced, while focusing on the areas they need most. Specialization is necessary, but should not be an excuse for negligence.
The first step to stretching one’s literary horizons is through reading. Writers should read as widely and as frequently as possible. This is not only to allow them to keep tabs on an ever shifting market, but also to allow them to absorb targeted skills. If you spot a particular weakness in your craft, begin reading a genre where that aspect is a strength. For instance, when my beta readers consistently commented that my relationships seemed flat, I started reading romances. My ability to write believable and interesting romantic entanglements improved. Intentional, critical reading is an essential tool in the writer’s toolbox, and must be developed through extensive use.
Between his work on the Wheel of Time and his own Stormlight Arhives, Brandon Sanderson has come to be known for his epic fantasy. What impresses me more than any individual work, however, is Brandon’s range. This ability is not an accident, however. Through constant exploration and focused effort, any writer is able to develop the skills to be better than they once were. I have a long way to go to stand amongst the giants, but with focused effort and intelligent improvement, I can make it. So can you.Tags: Sequence 04: On the Shoulders of Giants