Radio Free Bard

Be a better writer in one easy step.

Posted in Writing by radiofreebard on November 13, 2008

I was told today that my article on curing writer’s block had made it to the top of Reddit’s writing section. Thank you to everyone that voted for or commented on the article. I’m glad people feel that there was something to take away from what I’d written. I’ll aim to be as useful in the future.

As you can tell from the title of this post, I’m about to claim that there is one simple thing you can do to become a better writer. Before I share with you my opinion on the topic, let me qualify my position first. The list of things you can do to improve your writing is limitless. The only limitation to this list of methods is your imagination.

There is however, one thing that you absolutely must do or none of the other techniques will work.

Write more.

There is nothing more valuable to your improvement as a writer than practise. Reading more will help, having more criticism will help, any number of activities other than actually writing will help. Keep in mind, however, that all they are doing is helping. An Olympic sprinter can eat all the fruit, work all the muscles or study all the theory that they are able to find. None of this will help if they don’t sprint. Likewise, nothing can help you if you don’t write.

The example of a runner is an apt one. Time must be taken from their day to run, it can’t be exercised without that commitment.  There are many types of running, from short distance sprints to long distance running. While the majority of their practise must be in their chosen discipline, they must train in all distances to a certain extent. There are many ancillary activities that can and must be done to improve a runner’s abilities as a runner.

I’m not trained in human movements and couldn’t tell you the exact physiological processes involved in a sprinter’s training. I know enough, however, to see the link between the mental pathways formed when an activity is repeated over and over again. A writer must write over and over again to reduce the mental effort required to write. That practise needs to be forming good habits and you can’t form good habits without consistent writing.

What to write and how to write it

If you’re just starting out as a writer, it may be premature to focus heavily on a single writing discipline. Too many new writers hold to a mistaken idea that there is a single ‘real writing’ and everything else is somehow less valid. The obvious problem here is that everyone has a different idea about what constitutes ‘real writing’. Is it novel writing or short stories? Is it poetry or is it journalism? Is it fiction or non-fiction?

Your credibility is greatly diminished unless you can capably write most, if not all, of them.

The great advantage in this is that it allows you to practise writing what your mood tells you is appropriate. Flexibility also increases your usefulness to potential employers; writer’s generally don’t start as chart toppers.

Several specific tools I’d suggest for keeping in practise include:

  • Keeping a daily diary or blog,
  • NaNoWriMo,
  • Writing a letter at least once a day or writing two or three lengthy emails a day,
  • Finding a household item and writing an advertisement for it,
  • Disregarding context and writing out whatever lines of dialogue pop into your head,
  • Watching a movie and writing a review for it,
  • Brainstorming a page worth of novel, story or movie titles,
  • Trying to write your inner monologue,
  • Having someone sit in front of you and painting a portrait of them using only words,
  • Decorating your body with words using a felt tip marker,
  • Forcing yourself to use Write or Die for at least 20 minutes a day.

There are many more but hopefully this list will keep you busy until the list is expanded. I’m going to post this list on a permanent page on this site so that it can be updated and added to as contributions from comments or my own ideas come in.

I would appreciate any comments or ideas for additional activities that could be added to the list. I make no promises as to whether or not any individual idea will be added but I do promise that any idea submitted in comments will be attributed to the person that made it.

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