I do a presentation on fiction craftsmanship, sometimes called technique. It’s the most boring of my presentations. It addresses the mundane, meticulous, annoyingly trivial writing practices that need to be mastered to persuade an editor or publisher to accept one’s work. In that course, I use the following quote:
“Regardless of how captivating your stories are, unless your submissions have correct formatting, your work will not be accepted by a publisher. Proper presentation is key to gaining interest from editors and agents, proving that you are both serious enough to abide by professional guidelines and respectful of both the editor’s and agent’s time taken to review your work.” —Tethered by Letters.
The writer of those words was addressing only formatting, but the advice applies to the whole of craftsmanship: without it, forget getting published.
Fiction craftsmanship, as I apply the term, includes all the pedestrian practices needed to see one’s work in print. They include formatting, copy editing, words and structure, and dialogue.
Some writers scorn craftsmanship, asserting that doing things by the book will not lead to good writing, which depends on creativity. They’re right. But without craftsmanship, a written piece will never be accepted for publication.
Other writers depend on craftsmanship to the exclusion of creativity. They remind me of singers who sing notes, not music.
Both creativity and craftsmanship are required to produce publishable writing. Creativity is innate; it can’t be learned. But craftsmanship is a learnable skill. The best writers are those blessed with abundant creativity who have done the hard work of learning their trade by mastering craftsmanship.
In short, the gift—the inborn genius for beautiful writing—isn’t requisite for getting into print. But craftsmanship is. The lesson for writers: No matter how talented you are, you still have to do the hard work of mastering craft to get published.