If you've been doing regular writing practice for a while (see Top 6 Reasons To Do Writing Practice) you will probably start wanting to spend time working on specific craft skills like descriptions, dialogue, action scenes, etc.  Good idea! Improving those skills makes your stories better.

So where do you start? There are lots of ways to work on your writing skills.  Do a search for "writing exercises about XYZ" and you will find tons of ideas to get and keep you going.  I thought I would share one of my favorite ways to decide what skill to focus on. Bonus--it involves reading!

First, pick out a favorite book or short story to re-read. If you choose a novel, you might want to go with a shorter one since it will be easier to analyze.

Next, write a few notes about what you remember about the book. Especially make notes about the parts you really loved (and the parts you weren't so thrilled with if there are any).  If you have thoughts about why you loved or hated different parts, note that too.

Now sit down to read, but keep your notebook and pen handy. When you come across something that is really wonderful write it down.  (If it's long, paraphrase if you like). Make a note of what category of writing it is (description, line of dialogue, etc.) and why you like it. Don't forget to write down the page number so you can go back to it later.

Once you've gone through the story making notes about your favorite bits, write up your overall impressions of the book. Give extra attention to what you liked the most about it and why.  Then go through your notes to see if there's one writing area that shows up most frequently.  Maybe you love the dialogue in this story, or maybe the descriptions thrill you to your toes.  

Whatever area really stood out for you in this book, pick that as your craft skill to work on.  Find some exercises that appeal to you, and make a plan to work on them for a few weeks until you're feeling happy with your skills in that area.  Don't try to emulate the author in your writing, but do think about how that author might write the exercise and what parts of that you would like to incorporate.  

You can also do this by picking an area to work on first and then examining a favorite story for great examples of that skill.  For example, if you know you want to hone your dialogue skills, seek out a book that you remember having great dialogue and read through it to find your favorite examples.  Analyze what makes you like them, then go to your writing exercises and work on putting those qualities into your own writing.

Of course you can pick an area to work on and do exercises without doing the analysis beforehand, but I find that doing this helps me focus on things I especially want to try to bring into my own writing.  I hope it helps your writing, too.



Sharp 09

Back in June I wrote a post on reasons to do writing practice.  The first reason I mentioned was that writing practice sharpens your writing skills.

I gave some general ideas of how writing practice sharpens your skills.  Here are some more specific ideas on how to use your writing practice to hone your craft.

Before we dive in, let me say that I think sometimes you should just write. Start with a prompt or just start with a blank page and write for your 10 or 15 minutes or for your three pages or whatever marker you've chosen. Write to get words out.  Write to find out what you're thinking about.  Don't make every session about improving your craft or practicing specific things.  Let some sessions be only about letting words flow.

Now, for those times when you do want to focus more on craft, here are some ways to do it.

Sharpen Your Writing Skills:

  1. Use writing exercises from books and websites. Set up a file of exercises to use when you want to practice craft so you don't have to do a lot of searching to find something to write about.  You might want to create categories for your exercises: description, setting, action scenes, dialogue, character work, and anything you might need that's specific to your own story or your genre.
  2. Use a story generator prompt.  See my post about prompts or search for story prompts (a story prompt will give you a whole story premise rather than just an interested object or idea to write from as some writing prompts do).  Try to come up with a complete story from the prompt. (These kinds of prompts are great for writing flash fiction.)
  3. Write about your main character doing ordinary things--getting ready for work in the morning, having dinner home alone, having dinner out, getting ready for a date, preparing for a job interview, etc. Writing about these ordinary things will give you good writing practice and also help you learn more about your characters.  Then do some of these for your antagonist and other characters.
  4. Write about your main character's home, their favorite outfit or piece of clothing, their car, their desk, their bathroom.  Again, do this for other characters, too. This will give you description practice and, as with the above prompt, will help you learn more about your characters.
  5. Write about your own memories.  What did the kitchen smell like at Thanksgiving? What did your grandma's attic smell, look, sound like?  Keep a list of memories you can write so you can turn to them when you want to do this work.  Also search for memoir prompts to help you find what to write about.  Writing this will help you hone your descriptions, and it's enjoyable to visit your own past.
  6. Try out some poetry prompts.  Writing poetry, even partial poems, is great for developing your descriptive writing and for learning to use metaphors and other rich forms of language.

Writing to develop your craft isn't too much different from doing general writing practice.  It's really sitting down to write with the intent of practicing a particular aspect of writing much like sometimes a golfer goes out to play a practice game and sometimes he goes out to work on his putting.

Use these ideas to mix up what you work on in your writing practice sessions.  It will enhance your work and keep you from falling into a rut.  But mostly, keep writing.