The Craft of Writing: An Essay

Note: A version of this essay recently appeared in “The Path.”  Originally posted in June 2011, and reposted on Alchemy.

Defining “craft,” [kraft] (n.) skill in making or doing things, with a dictionary description cannot do justice to its synonyms of abilityexpertise, and technique. To “craft” (v.), according to Webster’s, is to fashion, create, construct, shape, or hew. However, simple definitions simply don’t work for our work.

In contemplating craft, I admit I’ve always admired the ability of alliteration. There is something so satisfying about syntactically sequenced sounds—eloquent, elegant, esoteric almost. This is not to say that certain circumstances don’t profit when other practices prevail: at times, these might be rhymes, when nearly anything metrical can be electrical.

For example, in some poetry, the stanza commands a work to be seen—a structure of two lines, or four lines, or even fourteen (this last has the name of a sonnet upon it). Yet, does such structure obstruct our meaning or can the rules and the writing be intervening? I say, “yes”…when the writer consciously employs these elements as craft (or unconsciously uses them, as the case may be, when such craft is so inculcated in the writer that its use is almost parenthetical, an afterthought).

Most prose writing, too, benefits from expertise in craft, rather than following a formulaic ritual in our (a) intro; (b) body; and (c) conclusion. Such rigidity can put off readers who may feel put on by our “I.-Topic-II.-Theme-III.-Content-and-IV.-Format” format.[1]

The technique of writing embodies that spirit which pours out of a writer’s pores in a way we know is like no other. For some of us, a keyboard unlocks our craft and sets the words free. Others, like me, like the probation penne, the “testing of the pen” on paper, which often produces writing in a language that seems completely foreign to me.

When using pen and paper for the first few drafts, I can (in “revision”), go back to my original concepts to keep what I want and to physically cross out what I don’t want to keep. For my fourth, fifth, or finally final draft, I move my work process to word-processing; although, on the computer, once I’ve saved changes, I am sometimes unable to get back to what I originally

In conclusion, craft is just the beginning. The craft of writing is more than an essay exploring abilityexpertise, and technique. As for verse, we poets know it’s sometimes a fright—but to sate, not intimidate, is the reason we write. When writing in prose, almost anything goes, as long as we 1) don’t follow a formula; 2) allow for alliteration and repetition; 3) allow for alliteration and repetition; and 4) use our skill in making and doing things to set aside a simple “definition” and fashion, create, construct, shape, or simply hew the best of our craft.

[1] Note: Using “quotation marks” around “phrases” alerts readers to “something special” so the writer need not use “footnotes” or even “clarifications” in the text. (Italic text can have the same effect.)