As is true of most pursuits, the secret to getting better at writing is not much of a secret at all: do it, and keep doing it until you get better at it. In other words, you must commit to the the dreaded P-word—practice. There's no wrong way to practice writing, and any time spent at the proverbial typewriter is to be commended ... but there are certainly ways of going about it that are more efficient than others.
It's a safe enough bet that anyone attempting to write something has read something similar to it before, so they will at least have some idea of what the end result should look like. Not unlike IKEA furniture, however, knowing what a bookshelf looks like does not necessarily help you to assemble one without instructions. You might get there in the end, but there's every chance that those 'spare parts' left over at the end are actually essential to keeping the whole thing from falling over.
As a creative practice, writing doesn't exactly come with instructions ...
... or does it?
This post brought to you by guest blogger Tyrone Couch.
When I say 'intentional writing practice', rather than the popular mindfulness exercise (though it couldn't hurt to apply that here!), I mean it in the literal sense: writing with the intent to improve. Of course, that's always loosely the goal, but the idea here is to bring it into the foreground and be a little more deliberate about it.
In order to truly practice something, you have to understand how it works. To use guitar as an example, it's the difference between playing a G chord and randomly placing your fingers on the fretboard and strumming. The latter might make as much of a sound as the former does, but it's not going to get you any closer to playing Wonderwall!
In an age where we have all but unlimited access to thousands of free resources on every subject imaginable, there's really no excuse not to delve a little more deeply into the inner workings of the artform you're attempting to participate in. Even if your goal is specifically to break the mould, interestingly enough, that's something that can only be done effectively once you're intimately familiar with it.
In short, your efforts to improve your writing can (and very much should) involve reading deeply in your chosen genre or subject, but your 'research' shouldn't begin and end there. Aside from the specific tenets of your field, there is also the broader frameworks of literature, narration, storytelling, and the various techniques within each of them to consider. Thankfully, most of the legwork in analysing and collating these things was done long ago, so you might as well benefit from it!
Before I send you out into the field, I should probably give you some indication of what to look for.
Again, much of the work on this front has already been done for you: if you run a search on 'how to write a mystery novel/reflective essay/autobiography', you'll be met with an onslaught of listicles eager to present the results of their own research into the topic (and probably try to sell you something at the bottom of the page). Thankfully, you don't have to spend a dime to benefit from the articles themselves.
As with any good research session, you should visit multiple sources to make sure you get the full spectrum of advice on the subject. These can vary from general roadmaps, to step-by-step instructions, all the way to peer-reviewed papers. Keep an eye out for information that's communicated in a way that resonates with you, but don't dismiss the alternatives—variety is key!
Next, you'll want to drill down even further with 'mystery novel (etc.) techniques/plot devices'. Now that you've had a decent look at the big picture, the goal is to get a better sense of the writing tools that are commonly used in your chosen field, and potentially give you some ideas for how you might use them yourself. Identify a handful of them you'd like to see in your own work and make a note.
Last but not least, check out 'mystery novel (etc.) tropes'. Websites that list tropes often give specific examples of them being used in other media, and being able to see the many ways that others have made use of them is an invaluable resource for inspiration.
At this point, you should be able to come up with an overall checklist of the things that works in your chosen genre/topic must have. You should also be able to list things common to the genre you'd simply like for it to have, and some of the techniques used to accomplish that.
Now comes the practice.
And A-One ...
Beneath all of the items on that list, write down one way you could integrate it in your manuscript. Certain things you may only want to do once (or have already done), but identifying them and coming up with some alternatives is also good practice. In the case of techniques, try writing paragraphs that make use of them in isolation from the rest of the text.
You don't even need a manuscript in progress to practice this; in fact, you could very well use this process to plot out a new one from start to finish. You could even decide to not go any further than the checklist, and practice filling it out with a different plot each time.
While some people really resonate with this sort of list-making and organisation, to others, it's the bane of their existence. Should you fall into this category, or would simply prefer to practice as you write, that's perfectly fine, too. The trick is just to do the research, write intentionally with what you've learned in mind, and refer back to it when necessary.
In summary, the best practice is to know exactly what your work needs, and to write in full knowledge of what that is. You can approach this from either side: start with the box and figure out how you're going to tick it in advance; or ask yourself as you're writing, which boxes is this ticking? Whichever way you go about it, if you're ticking boxes, you're in pretty good shape.
And now, to try to sell you something at the bottom of the page.
Above all, we hope you found the above article helpful in your writing journey. Incidentally, of course, if you're looking for a rock-solid book coaching & writing program, we've totally got them!
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Word of the Day
Not unlike an omen, something that is portentous is a sign of a major event to come, whether fortunate or disastrous. It is sometimes used to describe ways of speaking or behaving that are self-important and/or unnecessarily serious in an effort to impress.
The regional manager's arrival was portentous of the company's imminent restructuring.
They were beginning to tire of his portentous, overzealous speeches.
"The secret of getting ahead is getting started."
~ Agatha Christie
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