Learning Craft Through Immersion

In today’s Journal

* Learning Craft Through Immersion (Guest Post)
* Of Interest

Learning Craft Through Immersion
a guest post by Chynna Pace

I enjoy learning foreign languages, and I have taught myself Korean for the past 9 years. Recently, it occurred to me that learning a language in order to communicate fluently with the natives of that language is a lot like learning writing craft in order to convey a story to readers.

With writing, I wrote constantly for a solid decade before ever picking up a craft book. I didn’t know anything about deep POV, or the five senses, or telling the story as if I were there living it. I just wrote, had a good time, and that was that. But then, when it came to Story, I had already been absorbing years and years worth of books, movies, and TV shows. It was a reservoir for me to draw on.

With Korean, I had to start from the ground up. I pored over textbooks, took notes, and watched some online courses as well. I was in pure student mode. And in the same way that a writer needs to know the tools of writing and how to use them, such as grammar and punctuation, I needed to spend that time with textbooks, because I didn’t have the foundation yet.

Those books were essential in teaching me the basics of Korean sentence structure, the rules of informal v. formal speaking, pronunciation techniques, how to read the Korean alphabet, etc. But after that, there came a point, about a year and a half in, that I quit using my textbooks. I moved on from being a student in the traditional sense and started more of an immersive learning experience.

I watched countless Korean TV shows, some that were fictional with interesting storylines, others that were like reality shows containing more casual conversation. And when I wasn’t watching, I was listening, either to YouTube videos or podcasts, 100% in Korean. I didn’t always understand everything, but I always listened, and kept at it constantly. Then I bought books in Korean, choosing translations of favorite stories that I practically knew by heart, like the Harry Potter books, to help with reading the language.

In short, I was filling myself up with the language to the point of overflowing with it. And the natural result of that was that I learned a ton and advanced hugely in my learning journey. I talked to Koreans who swore that I sounded like a native.

I absorbed so much of the language that, several times, I accidentally answered in Korean in response to family members, or, in one embarrassing case, a random person who started up a conversation with me in Barnes and Noble and probably thought I was a nutcase when I immediately started to reply in Korean before catching myself.

The way I improved my Korean is, in my opinion, identical to the way writers improve their craft. With language learning, it’s about immersing yourself in that language and constantly absorbing it. With writing, it’s about doing the same, but with Story. Books, short fiction, movies, TV shows, even music—anywhere stories are to be found.

I used to be the kind of writer who misunderstood what it meant to actually learn, practice, and improve your writing craft. I thought I had to write every story with a craft book open beside me—or better yet, memorize the craft book from cover to cover so that I always knew how to write the “perfect story.” I was steeped in the myths, and I thought that improving my craft involved lots of edits and rewrites. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Lately I’ve been realizing that it’s not as difficult as I always thought it was. It’s actually very simple. If you want to master anything, whether it’s a foreign language, a musical instrument, or writing fiction, you have to immerse yourself in it.

Sure, there is definitely huge value in taking courses and/or reading craft books by professional writers who have been at this longer than you have and who have a huge body of work to their name. In fact, there are many courses I’d like to take if I had the money, such as the ones Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch offer.

But anytime I have noticed myself writing a lot, improving my craft, and having a never-ending wellspring of story ideas, it’s always happened alongside a constant habit of reading books and absorbing stories.

If you are a writer, you will always write. Writers write. That’s just what we do. But there is a difference between writing from an empty reservoir, and writing out of an overflow of all the stories you’ve filled your imagination with, all the vocabulary and techniques and nuances of Story you’ve retained without even realizing it.

I don’t read as much as I want to or should, but I fully believe Stephen King was right when he said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” And while Story can be absorbed in all of its forms, I’ve found that nothing fuels my writing like reading and studying other writers.

Read constantly, as much as you can, and you’ll be amazed at how much you learn and how much your writing transforms. Every time you read a book or short story, you’re immersing yourself in the craft of storytelling. Just like learning a foreign language, storytelling is, in a way, its own language. So to become fluent in it, to become a proficient storyteller, stories have to always be a part of you.

I make an effort to read something everyday, even if I’m too busy to read more than just one chapter. Most of my spare time goes toward writing, but when there’s extra, I watch a good movie or TV show and absorb Story that way too. I try my best to live a life that is both fueled by, and filled with, Story. And I always notice growth in my own writing as a result of that.

In the past, there have been techniques I’ve tried to learn by memorizing passages in craft books, but that never worked. What ended up happening was that I absorbed those techniques naturally, just by reading other writers, and not only did they stick in my head better than any memorization exercise, those techniques ended up flowing out of me and showing up in my own stories later on, without even having to think about it.

I’ve seen it happen to me over and over again, and it’s something I’ve been really excited about. Learning the craft is not hard. It’s pure fun. I don’t have to constantly worry if I’m improving or learning. If I just keep writing, reading, and absorbing Story, all I have to do is trust that I’m naturally absorbing everything I need to know.

Then I can get back to practicing, AKA putting new words on the page, which is the most fun of all.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “…warning of advanced AI as ‘extinction’ risk” at https://techcrunch.com/2023/05/30/ai-extiction-risk-statement/. If you haven’t, read Jack Williamson’s short novel The Humanoids.

See “Excuses” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/excuses/.

See “Time Billionaires” at https://killzoneblog.com/2023/06/the-time-billionaires.html.

Harvey’s Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… XXX

Total fiction words for June……… XXXX
Total fiction words for 2023………… 97868
Total nonfiction words for June… XXXX
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 109420
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 207288

Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date………… 4
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 73
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……………………… 221
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark, adherence to Heinlein’s Rules, and that following the myths of fiction writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.


6 thoughts on “Learning Craft Through Immersion”

    • Thanks, Frank. I’ve experienced the exact same thing – I always notice growth in my craft when I’m reading a lot. That, coupled with writing a lot. The awesome thing is that, between those two, it is incredibly fun to learn and practice writing craft. Pure fun.

      • Agreed. Your post was excellent! We’re very fortunate to find something that always feels like play. I wish the writers who are deeply entrenched in the myths understood this. Writing doesn’t have to be work or a chore. Once you understand that writing is playtime, you are free to go and have fun at your writing, day after day, story after story.

        • Thank you very much!! I agree! If I had to pick one thing that I could get in writers’ heads, it would be that writing should always be fun. If you always keep it fun, you will always write, and you will constantly learn and have a great time doing so. Glad it resonated with you, Frank!

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