I used to think that writing was somehow a gift and you were just supernaturally blessed with the mystical power of word manipulation or you weren’t. As a cocky teenager, eager to be better at something than everyone else, I believed I was blessed with that power. But for years I wrote, and stopped, and wrote and stopped and…well you get the idea. It went on for a long time. Too long. I would get to a point in my writing and just give up. It was flat. It was dull. It lacked that spark of life, that glowing ember of radiance that so many of my favorite authors made look like second nature with their prose.
As I’ve grown into a more humble and subdued version of
myself—who thankfully doesn’t feel as arrogant or cocky about that “gift”
anymore—I’ve learned that it’s so much less about raw talent and so much more
about work work work. Hard work. Mind-numbingly tedious work at times.
And incomparably rewarding work at others.
Since we’re all locked down and in need of stimulation—yay government-imposed isolation—I thought I’d share a few things that have helped me develop my voice and improve my skill. And yes, adult me realizes that writing—just like any art form—is a skill. One that can be developed with time and practice. And yeah, work. So here are three things you can do to improve your writing without actually writing.
Having trouble coming up with what a scene looks like in the background? Haven’t figured out what makes your character stand out physically or aesthetically? Plain old writers’ block or boredom? Try grabbing a pencil and doing a few rough sketches. Maybe you’re not a drawer, maybe you have trouble with stick figures. But drawing, just like writing, just like any art form is a skill that will improve if you persist and practice. And even if you never become Picasso—at least it will get your creative juices flowing.
Are you having trouble completing a manuscript or writing project? Are you having trouble understanding why you’re getting negative feedback? Maybe you just want to make sure your words sing off of the page before you submit them for publication. Whatever the reason, we can always improve. One way to do so is to record yourself reading your work out loud. Then, sit back and listen to it. Hear it in a new way for the first time, with fresh ears. If you don’t catch a few mistakes or places of awkward wording, congratulations, you’re ready.
It’s the last on the list, but certainly not the least. If anything, this step is crucial and probably the most important one you can take as a writer. What better way to discover your style, your voice and your story than by taking in as many as you can? Specifically, I would say if you’re writing a book, to read books in your genre. But reading of any kind, whether it’s for pleasure, education or anything in between is a great way to hone your skills as a writer.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and try some new things; see if they don’t help the words spring forth from you like a fountain. Good luck and stay safe.
Here’s an example of me getting my creative juices flowing; this is my main character, Jack. She’s always confused. It is also proof that anything can improve with practice. It took me almost two weeks to get Jack just right. But she is who I want her to be, now.