Saturday, 13 December 2014

Inside the Library: Improving Your Writing

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

some timely inspiration.

Add caption

Thanks be to John Finnemore (and my chance persual of his blog) for this fantastic advent calendar idea. I was just doodling on over to see any news about the upcoming final episode of the great Cabin Pressure series (which is due to air on December 23rd and 24th on Radio 4) and what do you know, he's dolling out facts and behind-the-scenes bits for each and every one of his episodes which number 26 total, well, once Zurich airs, there will be.

Anyway, I have also been at a bit of an inspiration hitch thanks to my daytime job but now, what shall follow for the twelve days before Christmas (so half an advent calendar), I will be detailing random tips, facts and fancies about everything from writing, to photography, general creativity, travel, music and fandom.

Today I would like to spotlight how I have gotten to where I have got, in terms of my writing ability. Some people say it is full of rich detail and lyricism. Others say it is tripe, typical and rather purple in its prose. Most say it rambles and I have never had anyone say it is hideous. I have been told it reads like a teenager's copy of Tolkien or my character's live like cardboard cutouts. But that's about it. So far.

Anyway, reviews and opinions on my style aside, how do you improve your writing? 

1. Read. Read. Read. Yes, that annoying English teacher you had in school is utterly correct. The best way to improve your writing is to read what other people wrote. Mind you, make sure it is a wide variety, otherwise you will end up writing like the angst-filled teens who write Mary-Sue fanfics instead of a mix between Margaret Atwood and Ed Greenwood. No, you do not have to read things labelled "classics" or "literary" only. No you do not have to give up your Forgotten Realms sagas, your Spice and Wolf light novels, your Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler) manga or your New Avengers comics.

Read a variety and then, read all the novels you can get your hands on which your target audience is reading now. That way you can develop an understanding of the tropes and tricks of the trade, as well as what your audience both expects, wants from their authors and what you could maybe push, just so you stand out that little bit.

2. Write every day. Like reading, this does not mean you have to be writing a chapter for your novel, your script, your epic poem or whatever it is you are developing, every. Single. Day. Nope. Don't dare. What you should do however is write something. It might just be an email, or a few scribbles that are pulled from the blood dripping off your forehead because that body part met a swinging while you tumbled out your house, late for work, in the morning.

Or, if you fancy a challenge, make a series of prompts for yourself to follow for two weeks straight. Find a site which has a collection of writing prompts, or a writing board, or a writer who will drop them in your inbox on a regular basis. These often only require you to write for 10 or 15 minutes straight on whatever prompt it might be. Sometimes they challenge you with a particular word count, but generally they go a little like this:

Write a scene that involves a Post-it note.
Write for at least 10 minutes. Write by hand, in your notebook.

This came from an author by the same of Sarah Selecky who is a brilliant Canadian writer and creativity inspirer. You can learn more about her here, get writing advice and sign up for her regular writing prompt emails as well at:

3. Observe. The best way to get fodder to write about. The best way to get inspiration. The best way to learn how humans react, interact and fail to act, is to observe. At all times you must have a notebook with you. One, because writing by hand always forces more spontaneous creativity and pure, unedited thought than any technology (especially if you write in pen) and two, more often than not, right when you need that phone or tablet to copy down an observation, it runs out of battery power, takes long to start up, or is a hassle to drag out. Find yourself a notebook which can fit in your jacket pocket, along with a small pen and you are gold. 

Well, mostly. For some this is an easy task because you enjoy going on walks, sitting in cafes or doing solitary things which allow you the space and time to take in your surrounding human beings. Otherwise, set aside time every few days to consciously observe. Travel is especially valuable for this. That morning commute? Observe the passengers in the public transport of your choice. Using a car? Observe the people you are trapped in traffic with (and for those occasions have a voice recorder handy). 

4. Never Edit until the Work is Complete. This one isn't quite as crucial as the top three, but is no less important. It is what often keeps many from completing their work. It is the reason National Novel Writing Month and its various spin-offs have been created. The hardest thing for a writer to do is to get that alphabet soup in the brain, in order, in sense, in brilliance, out on paper. Get it down first. Then go back and you can make it pretty. Otherwise you'll catch yourself spending days, months, even years on that first chapter, that single page, or even that single line. 

5.  Have fun. Writing is meant to be fun. It is creativity. It is unadultered playtime for all ages, any year, any place, any time. When you loose your creative drive. When you struggle to reach a word count goal. When you fail at doing a writing prompt every day, for a year; even though that was your one resolution at New Years. You must always have fun. 

If you are going to have any resolutions in this upcoming year, have fun with your writing. Write something entirely new and different, off the cuff, silly or serious. Murder someone. Marry someone. Write that childish adventure fanfic you always wanted to do with your favourite Middle Earth elves. 

In the spirit of Dory, from Finding Nemo, who says "just keep swimming." 

I say, "just keep writing. Just keep writing. Writing. Writing. Writing." 

That's all. It's that simple. Now, excuse me while I go do some of my own. (Unrelated to this blog).

No comments:

Post a Comment