Ever since I signed with Joan, writer-friends have asked, “How did you get your agent?” They don’t want to hear about the mechanics of querying. They know those already. What they’re trying to ask seems to be, “How did you get your writing to that next level?”
That’s a hard question to answer, but I can point to one thing I consciously did: I kept a log.
Beginning in January 2010, I dissected every book I read into its constituent elements. Plot, character development, narrative arc, setting, dialogue. I picked apart what worked and what didn’t. I noted where I stopped reading and why. I explicitly lined out how I thought the writer was using specific elements of craft and what the effects were.
And then I applied them.
My log is a crappy composition book I bought for $0.59 when school supplies were on sale. Keeping a paper log does three things for me:
1) It makes the log easy to maintain; I just keep it with whatever book I’m reading.
2) It allows me to be completely honest in a way I wouldn’t feel comfortable with if I were posting my comments online.
And, most importantly:
3) Carefully analyzing and recording exactly what’s going on in another person’s work crystallizes my understanding of that element of craft. Just thinking about reveals or backstory and recognizing their utility is great, but for me, committing the mechanics to print makes it useful. In other words, writing it down makes it stick.
Collecting my thoughts on craft makes me more deliberate in my application of these techniques. It also makes me look important when I carry a notebook around.