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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2

Ladder

I have been procrastinating on writing a new blog post.  You probably noticed that by the whole month that's passed since the last post.  I've been contemplating some big, exciting changes in the website and my coaching, but I wasn't entirely sure how to get started, so I just kept putting off writing about.

Basically the shift is going to be a shift in focus from creativity in general to topics about writers and writing and the writing life.  I'm sure I'll still throw in some posts about my other creative projects now and then; it's not like I'm going to stop painting, art journaling, taking photos, all of that because I'm shifting my online focus.  Most of that sharing will happen on Instagram and Twitter now, though, so if you like to see what I'm making you might want to follow me there. Just be aware that there will also be lots of pictures of my cats, because they're adorable!

So back to MuseCraft™.  If you don't consider yourself a writer, you might still want to stick around.  I think writing is for everyone, and I'll probably talk about that fairly often.  Think about it.  Do you blog? Post on Facebook?  Keep a journal?  You're writing.  Might as well figure out how to do it the best way for you, make it easy, have some fun.  And I think it's important for everyone to at least try out some forms of journaling, if only to stretch themselves and their limits and see how it feels, so I'll be talking about that, too.

I'll be writing a lot about journaling and writing practice because I think they are important for every creative.  I'll also be writing about things like plotting and story structure, classes and workshops and books I run across, and things like that.  And I'm sure I'll be broadening these categories and adding to them as I go along.  For now, just know that there's going to be a shift, but I hope you'll stick with me for the next phase.

 

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6

ROW80 time again?  Good!  I have so much to report!

Flare

 

What I did this week:

Writing Goals

  • Do 10 minutes of writing practice from prompts twice a week:  I did a lot of list making and note making for the new story.  I did one writing practice session to work out a chunk of the story line, though.  And I'm feeling like I'm getting a good vision of what this story is going to be and how I can make it work.
  • Read at least one page of fiction at least four times a week:  Plenty of reading this week.  I got a new book, The Wolf at the End of the World by Douglas Smith, and I read the whole thing over the past three days.  It was very good, and I feel full of story now.
  • Check in with my ROW80 team:  Yep.  I love seeing what everyone else is up to.  And right now it's exciting seeing lots of us gearing up for NaNo.

Coaching Goals

Revamping these goals because the ones I originally set aren't really workable right now.

  • Check in on the KMCC Facebook group at least once a week
  • Brainstorm for Body Pages at least once a week
  • Brainstorm for Muse Moon at least once a week

Art/Art Journaling Goals

  • Finish dowloading all Life Book 2013  lessons:  On target
  • Continue BOD; finish lessons before Christmas: A little behind but still in good shape to get it done by Christmas
  • Create a place to keep my various journals so I can access them easily: I have a great new craft table in the living room, and as of last night it's all set up and ready for play.  My visual journals are on the edge of it, and I'm hoping that will make it easy to remember to sit down and paint.  I'm not quite ready to call this goal done yet, though.  I want to set up a spot for my written journal and maybe tweak how my journals are set up on the new table to make it easier to have them visible and still have the work space all clear.

A good week all around, and now I'm finishing it out with the apple crisp I made earlier.  Hope everyone is having a lovely Sunday evening.  See you Wednesday!

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2

It's late, but I want to get at least a short ROW80 check-in written up.  But I am very sleepy, and the sound of clicking keys seems hypnotic.  I hope I don't fall asleep over my keyboard.

Bed

It was a bit of a slow week.  I came down with a really bad cold and spent a lot of time resting.  Still a little tired, but I'm much better now, so the rest was a good plan.

What I did do this week:

  • One writing practice session
  • A journaling session, but not 20 minutes.  It was enough, though, which makes me think I may adjust that goal to just be one journaling session each week.
  • Created a schedule for reading James Scott Bell's Writing Fiction for All You're Worth (my craft book for this round)
  • A few more pages of fiction reading
  • Began an outline for my new short story

I'm hoping to get back on schedule this week.  It should be a fairly quiet week, so I think things will go pretty smoothly.  I am so much looking forward to a quiet week!

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6

Wasn't it just Sunday about 15 minutes ago?  And why does "time is flying by" seem to be a recurring theme?  Those are probably questions for another time and place.  Meanwhile, how about a ROW80 check-in?

Astro Wheel

Since I'm under the weather (another cold, complete with cold sore and sneezes and sniffles!), I'm just going to do the list:

Writing Goals

  • Do 10 minutes of writing practice from prompts twice a week--Once since Sunday, and I used the name of my newest story idea as my prompt (because for some reason the name came with the idea rather than a character coming along).  So, on target here.
  • Do one session of journal writing (at least 20 minutes) once a week--I haven't done this yet.  I am going to pick a time on Thursdays for this and make Thursdays my journaling days.  Probably right when I get home from work.
  • Read (and do any exercises) one craft book--I've decided on a book that wasn't on my original list.  James Scott Bell's Writing Fiction for All You're Worth: Strategies and Techniques for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level.
  • Read at least one page of fiction at least four times a week--Most of my fiction reading this past week has been for my crit group, but there's been a lot of it.
  • Check in with my ROW80 team--I'm the roving sponsor this round, so I pick which people to check in on each time.  I've been choosing a number and checking in on anyone whose post link ends in that number.  The hardest part of this is remember which number I'm on!  Other than that, I love the little push I get from being a sponsor to check in and stay connected.

Coaching Goals

I didn't make any progress on any of these this week.  I need to reorganize and possibly to reassess the goals.  For instance, the coaching circle is actually winding up, so it wasn't a useful goal for this round.  I will have better goals set up for this on Sunday.

Art/Art Journaling Goals

Not much progress here either except for my little daily squares (I choose a color and paint the square then do a little doodle and write a word or two to give the feel of my day).  But after crit group tonight I expect to have a little play time, and tomorrow as well.  Most of this work will happen in the Thursday-Sunday time slot.

 

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4

ROW80 time. It's been a wildly busy week, but the big event I've been working on happened yesterday. It's over, and I am feeling like the way is cleared (mostly) for getting to do the things that are most important to me.  I'm feeling on the verge of a new path, and it's exciting.

Clear Sailing

A couple of writing/life thoughts before I get to my check-in.  I am looking forward to year's end.  I am looking forward to being done with NaNoWriMo.  This will be my last year as a Municipal Liaison--I really need to stop doing things that are other people's "stuff" and focus more on my own.  And doing the ML thing takes a lot of my time.  We needed someone because we were suddenly without an ML four years ago, so I stepped in.  And I stayed because someone needed to do it.  But it's time to wrap that up.

I am also thinking.seriously about whether this will be my last year participating in NaNo at all.  When it gets to be about August I find myself starting to adjust my writing schedule to try to get something new ready for NaNo, and more than once I have ended up seriously sidetracking a work-in-progress because of this.  Now I'm in a writing critique group, and that is making figuring out what to so about a NaNo story even harder to figure out.  I think I may need to just follow my own writing rhythms after this year.  I love the camaraderie, the excitement, the push, but I don't feel like NaNo is furthering my writing life any more.

But that's a decision for after November.  For now, here's a check-in:

Writing Goals

  • Do 10 minutes of writing practice from prompts twice a week--Even with the last-minute craziness that always comes during the week before a big event, I did fit this in, and that felt great.  I think my writing always gets better faster when I'm doing prompts at least a couple of times a week.
  • In non-NaNo weeks, write at least 1,500 words of fiction with a focus on improving my descriptions--I did about 1,200 words, but considering how busy my week was I'm feeling like this is a win.
  • Read at least one page of fiction at least four times a week--I spent a nice long chunk of time on Wednesday reading the next installment of Seanan McGuire's Indexing serial, and I read a few pages of the Ann Rice novel I'm plodding through (The Wolf Gift).  Not bad, and it was enough this week.  I have to make sure to give myself reading time, because I feel better, happier, calmer when I get my fiction reading time, and reading stories leads to better writing.

Coaching Goals

  • Continue participating in coaching circle--I finished my session as a practice coach this past week, and Thursday I'll have my wrap-up as a practice client, and then this goal will be wrapped up until January.
  • Complete at least a sketchy outline for my Body Pages class--Not exactly and outline, but I had an epiphany about what Body Pages is going to look like (it's going to be a blog series), so progress was made on this.

Art/Art Journaling Goals

  • Continue BOD; finish lessons before Christmas--this was the only one of my art goals I had time for this week, but I did do a birthday spread that I really like.

That's everything.  And possibly the best part--it feels like enough.  That's a feeling I don't get very often, so this is really good.  It's good to let what I do be enough (and you should remember that what you do is enough, too).

See you Wednesday!

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4

It's only been two days since setting my ROW80 Round 4 goals, but it's Wednesday and time for a check-in, so here I am.  Actually, I even have things to report.

Round 4 Goals 2

I already upgraded one of my goals.  NaNoWriMo is only in November, so the goal to complete that won't get anything done on it until then (or after November, either).  I'm going to only check-in on goals I've done something on since my last check-in, so you won't be seeing anything on that one today.  I think that's going to make things clearer.  However, if I've been missing working on a goal for a while I plan to mention it and figure out what's getting in the way.

Writing Goals

  • Do 10 minutes of writing practice from prompts twice a week--I've done this twice already.  That's in part because I'm back to participating in Book-in-a-Week (BIW), and this is the October week so I'm working to meet that mini goal.  I'm also using these writing practices as a warm up to get the words flowing for my writing group and for NaNo.
  • Read (and do any exercises) one craft book (I will decide which one and list that Wednesday)--I haven't done any reading yet, but I have almost made a decision about which book I want to read (The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language by Natalie Goldberg;
    Writing the Wave: Inspired Rides for Aspiring Writers by Elizabeth Ayres; WRITE EVERY DAY: How to Write Faster, and Write More (Rock Your Writing) by Cathy Yardley).
  • In non-NaNo weeks, write at least 1,500 words of fiction with a focus on improving my descriptions--I'm at 1,500 words already today because of my BIW work.  I'm trying not to judge myself about the weeks and months and so on where I haven't done even this much.

Coaching Goals

  • Re-read my Kaizen-Muse™ manual--I'm planning to start this one after October 19.  I am running an event this weekend and teaching a workshop on the 19th, so my schedule is pretty jammed.  This is supposed to be positive stuff, not added stress, so I'm planning accordingly.
  • Continue participating in coaching circle--I've done some e-mailing with my practice partners.  I realized that this round of the circle is wrapping up, and I don't think we're starting another one until after the end of the year, so I may need to remove this goal.

Art/Art Journaling Goals

  • Continue BOD; finish lessons before Christmas--I did a little bit of painting on a spread that I plan to finish in the next couple of days.
  • Create a place to keep my various journals so I can access them easily--I found a good place for my BOD journal but not for the really huge, fat one we made last week in one of the art retreat workshops I was in.  I'll keep working on this.

All in all, not bad for just a couple of days.  I also printed out my goals and glued them to pretty paper that fits inside my calendar so I will see them all the time, and I am starting to write things into my calendar so I have reminders each week.  I am thinking about reorganizing my Google calendar for this so I'll get pop-up reminders which might be useful.

So how's your half week going?

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