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Reading

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.

 

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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.

 

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Listen

Technically, since this is a YouTube video, I guess I should say "Watch this."  But you get the idea.

This is Eric Witchey doing a short video on writing practice: Eric Witchey, Five Minutes on Writing.   It's genius.  If you follow this advice and no other you will improve your writing.  You'll be a better writer, a more regular writer.  This is great stuff.

And if you ever get a chance to go to one of his conference presentations/classes or take a workshop with him, do yourself a favor and do it.  He's not just a prolific writer, he spends time analyzing why things work in writing, and he's very good at explaining it to others.

Go watch the video.  Then go write!

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2

Writing Practice Reasons 2

I think writing practice* is the most important thing you can do for your writing life. Of course you need to work on your stories or articles, but you need to give attention to writing for the sake of writing, too.  Just as an athlete or musician or dancer must practice regularly to keep themselves in top form and do their absolute best when it's time to perform, a writer must practice their craft so when they sit down to the page they can tell the story that is in their hearts.

So what exactly do you get from regular writing practice?  All of this and then some:

Sharpen your writing skills

Writing practice, even the most free form, stream-of-consciousness style, gives you a chance to play with words and sentences, practice descriptions, toy with dialogue. It lets you build better writing skills without the pressure of trying to become a better writer while also trying to write a story.

Learn to write on demand

Sitting down to write regularly, especially if you set a goal to write for a certain amount of time or number of words or pages each session, trains you to start writing when you sit down at the page.  Sitting down with your notebook or at the keyboard becomes all the trigger you need to let the words start flowing.

Discover your true thoughts

Writing practice lets you examine your own thoughts and opinions on whatever subject you choose to write about.  There is no influence from others besides what you bring with you to the table from your own experiences, reading, etc.  There is no need to worry about what readers will think about what you have to say because writing practice is your own personal writing and not meant for readers.  Writing practice gives you a chance to dive deep into topics and then use what you've written as a springboard for further exploration so you can get down deep into your own thoughts.

Quiet your mind

Writing practice is meditation.  It lets you clear your mind, quiet your thoughts, focus on just your hand and the pen and the page (or the keyboard and screen). The more you practice, the more you will find that a good, solid, regular writing practice is just as beneficial to your state of mind as sitting in meditation or practicing yoga.

Build a body of work

In writing practice, you write.  You write a lot (you'll be surprised how many words pour out even in a 10 minute session).  Most of it will not be useful--it will be a lot about worrying about money and your health and your dog and your job.  It will be a lot about the world around you.  But it will also be true thoughts from deep inside you, snippets of dialogue, descriptions of what's outside your window.  And all of these are things that can be used for further writing practice and also in stories and poems.  The more you write for writing practice, the more you have to draw on for later projects.

Banish writer's block

When you get in the habit of writing anything that comes to mind when you sit down in your writing spot, the habit starts breaking down any writer's block you may experience.  When you become used to keeping your hand or fingers moving, keeping the words pouring out no matter what else is going on, this carries over to your other writing.  If you become accustomed to starting to write as soon as you show up at the page, you will also start to write immediately when you show up for your story.  Giving yourself permission to write fast with no worries for content loosens you up to write whenever you need to.

I hope I've convinced you to start a regular writing practice aside from your stories, poetry, and so on.  It's really worth your time.  Give it a shot.  Try it out for a couple of weeks or, even better, a whole month.  Then stop back here and let me know how it's going.

*Writing practice is writing for its own sake.  It is letting your thoughts spill onto the page free form either by writing whatever comes into your head or by using prompts to get you started.  It can also be targeted writing practice where you do exercises to build your description skills, dialogue skills, etc.

 

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12

It was 1992.  I was back in school getting a post-grad teaching certification and taking my first steps from being a storyteller and occasional poet to being a writer.  I started taking some workshops.  And I bought some books.  And one of those books is still with me.  It's right here next to me as I type because I think it's time for a re-read.

Basics 1
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Re-reading this (and probably Wild Mind after) seems like the perfect accompaniment to this round of ROW80.  Taking my goals back to the basics, simplifying, just focusing on the process of writing practice is what these books are all about. These books are where I first learned this stuff!  It feels really good to be returning to this starting point.

I've been doing some very short journaling, mostly on the back of my collage cards, and it feels good to be connecting to my world with my words again.  I know I'm on the right track for me, and I think that's a pretty good check-in for right now.

Wishcasting

This week, Jamie asks, "What do you wish to believe in?"  Here's a little bit of freewriting to answer that:

Fairy 4

I wish to believe in magic.  In fairies and miracles and bright, shining amazement floating in glittery bubbles of fairy dust.  I wish to believe that there are secrets to the Universe, things I can catch glimpses of if I open myself up and look in the right directions.  I wish to believe that I have magic inside me that I can bring out and share with the world if I keep trying.  I wish to believe that there are ghosts and aliens and Bigfoot and wild, unknown things out there and that maybe I can see some of it while I'm here.  I'm like Fox Mulder on the X-Files--I want to believe.

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