Copied from a letter I just wrote to a friend:
I have been thinking a lot about writing, and getting into some good conversations about it, and doing some good reading about it. It's making me realize just how little I know about the craft and process of creating a book. I know it abstractly, in broad strokes, but not the nitty-gritty. And some of what I think I know is wrong, which is actually great, because the stuff I'm unlearning is stuff that was holding me back. I'm doing a lot of poking at outlining right now, for example, and unlearning all my notions about how one goes about making an outline--it's not the same thing as a synopsis at all! It's a crafted piece of writing, the way the book itself is a crafted piece of writing, but using a totally different skill set. And there are lots of different possible ways to craft an outline. You can write it start to finish, or you can develop a set of hypotheses and test them (a notion that made me really get the idea of doing preliminary character sketches first, because in order to do plot-chemistry with your characters you have to understand their characteristics and how they interact and what makes them explode), or you can develop your outline as you're writing the book and let them argue with each other, or any number of things. I could even make a flowchart outline with images for the scenes instead of words! I didn't know any of this, really, and the idea of outlining is now much more interesting and appealing than it used to be. It feels like a useful tool instead of building a cage that my story is trapped inside of.
So in retrospect it feels sort of silly to say "I started actively trying to learn things and lo! I have learned things" but the best thing I've done for myself as a writer is to approach it as a student instead of a hobbyist--to think about it every day, and seek out new knowledge and relate it to what I already know, and scrawl angry notes arguing with books on writing (the one I'm reading now asserts that no one will care about your characters until they do something interesting, and that is SO BACKWARDS and made me SO MAD that I nearly crossed it out in the book itself, but I settled for complaining in all caps in my little writing notebook). And it doesn't feel like a delaying tactic, partly because I'm constantly trying to apply what I'm learning to the projects I'm working on, and partly because this skill-building and analytical thinking is so clearly necessary as a precursor to writing. Like learning good form before lifting heavy weights.
Speaking of which, writing in that little notebook is hard on my arm, and I did a fair amount of it tonight after going to a really splendid panel on transgressive fiction (Ellen Kushner, C.S. Pacat, Sarah Rees Brennan, Damon Suede, Marie Rutkowski, and Eloisa James--stunning lineup, wonderful conversation). C.S. Pacat said some useful things about developing and maintaining tension as a matter of writing craft and I wanted to make sure to write them down before I forgot them, and then I just kept going because it was a long subway ride back to Brooklyn. But then I got home and did a lot of editing and now I really need to stop typing and go to bed.