Finding The Flaws In Your Writing Practice

I have found a flaw in my writing.

More specifically, I have found a flaw in my writing practice. It is found in the word ‘practice’ because that is the specific aspect that I am NOT doing.

I watch artists Kathleen Jennings (@tanaudel), Terry Whidborne (@Tezzabold) and Eric Orchard (@Inkybat), post their samples and sketches on twitter, or works in progress. I love seeing the behind the scenes look at their art.

But it made me realise what I DON’T do. I don’t practice my writing. I don’t experiment with ideas, words, sentences, phrases, paragraphs, characters. 

I am NOT practicing.

You’ll have to excuse this hack for a moment because he learned something that you all probably already know. I’m hearing the chorus of, “Well, d’uh!” resonate, accompanied by a slow clap. 

I expect to turn up to the page of a current work in progress and produce words of reasonable quality in the initial drafts before tidying them up in revisions.

I’m surprised I didn’t cotton on to this earlier; as a drummer, practice is essential to becoming proficient (but then I don’t practice nearly enough in this area either). I’m a slow learner.

Some might argue that the act of writing the story, the initial phases of writing and editing is practice, and I would agree. However working on a specific project means your focus is on the established parameters. Practice for practice sake means you can attempt new perspectives or styles without the constraint of an existing work.

So, what can I do to improve? Here are a couple of practice strategies.

1. Morning Pages

Morning pages, the downloading of the mental jumble, is a good way to seek clarity and I know of authors who use it to find their focus and clarity before returning to their current WIP. 

2. Copying

Write out a passage from your favourite author. See how and why it works on the page.

3. Sketching

Another is to create sketches, like an artist practicing a certain pose or facial feature. Tumblr is funny for that; seeing artists strike odd poses for reference.

I want to take an idea from my notebook, or a line or poetry and write, free-association, or timed, or thematic, or stylistic.

And then I will leave it. Words without context. Sentences without a plot. Characters without a complication. They will be the equivalent of an artist’s sketches, the woodcarvings of the carpenter, the drills of the athlete, the rudiments and scales of the musician.

All methods have validity. You need to work out what helps your own writing. 

I am going to try Number 3 for a while, in the spare minutes here and there in the day and see how it goes. I will let you know how it goes.

What do you do for practice?

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6 responses to “Finding The Flaws In Your Writing Practice

  1. You make a very good point. There is a school of thought that says exercises are bad for writing, because writers become enmeshed in the act of fulfilling the requirements of a writing exercise and don’t learn to move beyond them. But I think we’re well beyond that starting point now — or the fear of being trapped in that cycle. A little practice as a daily meditation wouldn’t be such a terrible habit to cultivate.

    I think poetry originally was practice for me – just a place to riff, short or long. Tiggy started me off with haiku when I hit the start of my second break down and I couldn’t face writing fiction any more. I had no emotional attachment to haiku at all – so I could just do it imperfectly and have fun. And then it became a little more serious — I started ‘writing’ poetry, rather than just knocking around with it. I still like the act of just shifting words around on a page – like when we were doing ‘haiku becomes tanka’.

    Years ago, I worked part of my way through Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Wild Mind’ which was 10 minutes of stream-of-consciousness writing. It was at the same time I was first penning scenes for what went on to become Elyora. I’ve also got The 3am Epiphany which is full of weird and wonderful exercises intended for no more than half an hours writing. It wouldn’t hurt to open them both and see if they are a good fit again.

    As an aside, in terms of daily practice, I’ve journalled every day I’ve been able to this year. In the past I discounted personal writing as ‘proper writing’ which was rather disengenous of me (to say the least). I look forward to the time I spent with my journal (and the notebooks I’ve been sharing with Rus during our sabbatical). It means I get close to writing every day, even if I don’t look at a piece of fiction for weeks. The ability to sit and write continues to be honed.

    Now I rejoice in every moment my ‘pen’ hits the page and words come out, whether its personal reflection, fiction in whatever guise, edits, letters, postcards — whatever gets (and keeps) the words flowing, for however short or long a time.

    • I’ve never done the daily practice; intend to but never established it. Need to make a couple of times a week for it to happen, along with progress on WIP. I can see how exercises could become a fulfilment of itself unless the writer is able to see beyond the exercise and the application to a WIP.
      Need to crack open my copy of 3AM Epiphany and give it a try.

  2. I don’t think this approach to practice is obvious at all — maybe it’s me about myself, but I’ve always felt like writing was subject to fickle muses and innate talent (both hogwash in their own ways) than, say, performing arts (music, acting). So it never -quite- occurs to me to approach writing with the same discipline I had when teaching myself guitar (one hour of practice every weekday, without fail, after homework was done). I mean, it’s just something I -do-. Which is nonsense; no amount of talent will add up to anything without skill and discipline behind it.

    I’ve always envies artists, taking notebooks out and sketching things around them. But why envy them? I may not be able to draw, but that same spirit of spontaneity can be serves by spending a few minutes a day following those same impulses.

    So thank you for writing this. 🙂

    • As a drummer, I should know all about discipline and practice *cough cough* but the same principle should apply to writers: take an idea and write a few sentences or a paragraph, explore an image, emotion, scene, response etc. I know I need to be doing this. Skill and discipline trumps talent. The talented get that way by skill and discipline.
      I am so preaching to myself on this.

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