Writing is tough. Good writing is even tougher. It takes time to polish your craft. But if you are at all serious about growing in this area, there is no better time to start than today. You can go small or all out. It almost doesn’t matter. We are all in different places on our journeys and the key is to know where you are and what it is you want to accomplish and go for it.
Below are seven fun hacks you can incorporate into your writing practice that will make you a better writer. You can tackle just one or all eight at once. Try it, and let me know which one worked the best for you. Happy writing!
1. Journal. This one is critical. The best part about journaling is that it is structure-less. You can write about anything! One thing I found over time is focusing on a particular event and going deep with descriptions to really dig into and convey the meaning of that event is a great exercise. Describing your dreams is cool, especially if you like to write fantasy. For example, how do you reconcile a setting for action that is two places at once? You get the idea. It is challenging and really good at making you defter.
2. Morning pages. This is a practice I got from Julia Cameron and it changed my life. It is really straight forward. Grab paper and pen (it doesn’t work on the computer, you need the hand brain connection), and write three pages of longhand scribbles in one sitting first thing in the morning. This is James Joyce stream of consciousness style. Try it for a month, at least. You might be surprised at the patters you will discover in your writing. Not only does this practice do a beautiful job at purging thoughts from our busy heads, much like writing meditation, but it also serves as an insight generator. After a while of doing this, when you look at the stack of paper filled with your words, you will see what it takes to write a whole book. It’s really not that long when we are consistent.
3. Read. Everywhere! Especially the good stuff. Focus on the writers you admire and the writing style that appeals to you. And then, change course and try something new, new style, new genre. Making time to read is an investment. Reading exercises our brain in a way that makes it more agile and faster at absorbing new information. Having smartphones makes is super easy to read, but I still prefer to have some paper copy book with me when I leave the house. Waiting in a line, walking around a park, going to a café, all those places are ripe opportunities to indulge in literature. And it all adds up.
4. Write on purpose. This is different than the points above because here you are actually entering a space with the aim to create something specific. If you are still shy about writing a whole story, try flash fiction or fan fiction. Flash fiction are super short stories, almost like poems. We even have Twitter fiction these days. Try writing a story in 144 characters! That will certainly trach you to be concise, a very good skill to have as a writer. Regarding fan fiction, some of our most successful writers of today began by taking their favorite works of art and expanding upon them. The added benefit is that there are fans of those works out there who are more than willing to check out your creation.
5. Create space. I am not talking about Amazon’s self-publishing platform here but it certainly is something to be aware of. I used it to publish my first novel Moonchild. What I mean here is creating a space for your writing. Clearing your desk or a corner of your house to make a special writing for your corner might be exactly what your soul craves. Creating space is also about time. I find it especially potent to write in the early morning when much of the world is still resting in the arms of slumber and my mind is fresh. The stillness is the perfect ground for my creativity to start blooming. But I didn’t start that way. Coffee lunches between work used to be the time when I would edit and not get down to writing until the evening. Depending on how demanding your schedule is, see what works for you.
6. Start a blog. Nothing brings us closer to how we feel about our writing than hitting that ‘publish’ button. It is surely a thrill. It can be a bit scary even. But what’s wonderful about getting out there, even before you may feel you are ready, is the connection you forge with the community. If you’ve been thinking about it, try it and watch your writing take off.
7. Get feedback. This one is tricky because negative feedback can cut us off from creative flow. As writers, or artists in general, we do what we do because we are extremely sensitive. Therefore, any negative advice can quickly shut us down. So it’s best to wait with constructive criticism until you are ready and when you finally do seek it, make sure it is from another writer with whom you deeply resonate and respect. Writing workshops or meetup groups are great places to share your art because again, they tend to be filled with like-minded individuals. And in the even you do get negative feedback, use what works to your advantage and discard the rest. After all, it’s only an opinion. And only yours is the one that truly counts. Another place to share your work and get feedback is an online writing community called Figment.
For more tips on writing, check out my earlier post On Good Writing.
Why is most writing so bad? All you need to do is pick up any legal contract, academic article, or instructions for operating technical device to see an example of bad writing. It’s literally everywhere!
A few days ago I tuned into a discussion between Steven Pinker and Ian McEwan, two phenomenal thinkers and scholars. I include a short note about each below. The discussion was so captivating and filled with morsels, I listened to it again, this time with the aim to capture the high points and share with you.
Pinker opened with the question I posit above and came up with three hypotheses:
•Bad writing is a deliberate choice to confuse the reader, or to cover up lack of substance. But there are people who have great things to say but still their writing sucks, so maybe there is another reason?
•Perhaps we should blame digital media that’s forcing us to communicate in 140 characters and speak in abbreviations? But then, we don’t have enough evidence to substantiate that point.
•Final conclusion: Bad writing has nothing to do with an era, it’s always been with us, since the invention of the printing press.
So how could we remedy this malady? What are some of the techniques we can incorporate in our writing to make it better? Below are the few things I learned from the lecture, adding some of my own commentary and interpretation.
Pinker spoke partly tongue-in-cheek about the use of commas to split infinities, adjuncts, dangling modifiers and nuanced usage of words, which changes all the time, by the way. For those with insatiable appetite for such fine distinctions and controversies, I include a link to the live presentation HERE, which is quite phenomenal and entertaining.
Enjoy, and let me know whether this post was helpful to you!
A quick note on the presenters: Steven Pinker is a Canadian-born American cognitive scientist, psychologist, linguist, and popular science author of sixteen books, including the acclaimed and heavily researched tome “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” (2011). Ian McEwan is an English novelist and screenwriter. In 2008, The Times featured him on their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.” He is the author of the highly awarded “Atonement” (2002).