Strong Foundations

Lesson 3: Skill Building


Are you confident in your skill as a writer? Do you want to become a beast in the literary world?

Use these techniques and tools and watch the words begin to flow out of your head!

We start today with a look at the skill building techniques and tools that will become part of your ongoing growth as a writer. These are things that you’ll want to use continuously throughout your career.

In this post you will find out how to tap into your creative self, find the resources you need to grow your professional knowledge base, and set yourself apart from the majority of the pack that lacks your dedication.

Here we go. The first resource is…

eBooks

Huh? Not what you were expecting is it?

You’re probably thinking, “Der…of course reading books is a good way to learn…this woman!”

And you would be right. But do you know how many writers I talk to on a regular basis that tell me they don’t read? At all? 

And the excuse I hear most often is, “I don’t have enough time to read.”

Well this is why I have put eBooks as the first tool on the list. No more excuses guys, and here is why!

eBooks allow you to read…what?…can you guess?…that’s right. Anywhere! 

They are also cheap. Everybody eats, everybody goes to the toilet, everybody waits in lines, everybody has some amount of wasted time throughout the day. With the existence of eBooks the “I don’t have time to read” excuse no longer holds up.

I don’t think this needs to be argued further. As Bob Newhart says in my favourite MadTV skit…Stop it!

Writing Prompts

Writing prompts are a great way to improve your overall writing skill.

Lots of people will tell you there is no point to writing prompts—that you get enough practice by writing your novel. And you know something about these people?

They are very, very wrong.

Your brain is a beautifully complicated machine, and although we have many thoughts throughout the day, we are not really thinking all that much. Lesson 4 of this series will dive a little deeper into that idea, for now, you’re going to have to take my word for it. Real thinking is in reality very difficult and energy consuming. Most of the time we rely on patterns, habits, instinct, and reactions to our emotions to get us through the day.

So what does this have to do with writing prompts?

Creativity, that’s what.

Many believe that creativity is an automatic personality trait—either you have it or you don’t—something you are born with. But, in fact, science has shown this not to be the case. Creativity is a learned trait. It is true that some people are more inclined to it, just as others are more inclined to math. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn to be better at math.

Creativity is like a muscle. If you work it out it will get strong, if you never use it will atrophy.

Writing prompts are great workouts to strengthen (or maybe loosen is the more appropriate word) your creativity muscle. They force your brain to think in a way that it may not want to, especially if working on a prompt that disinterested you in the first place.

Writing your novel does work your creativity but only in the creative space it has become accustomed to (although there are ways to counter this, but that is for another day).

It’s like doing only yoga every day. You may become the most amazing yogi there is but pick up a barbell or run a marathon and you will quickly find out that your not quite as in shape as you thought you were.

Writing prompts work the same way. They may seem really boring and tedious at first or even super difficult. But the more you do them the easier it’ll get. You will find your ideas flowing out of you with new found speed and precision.

Writing prompts (and similar exercises) open up the imagination but they also provide endless amounts of internal inspiration for your important projects, that you never knew was there.

Another perk of writing prompts is that many online forums provide a space that allows you to post your piece and receive almost instant criticism from your peers that can be invaluable for professional growth.

(And prepares you for what your future readers/critics may say about your books).

Next.

Journaling

Yes, I’m gonna ask you to keep a journal just like a crushing teenage girl.

…Well…not quite like that.

Your journal won’t be your average contemplation of daily events or venting rants about people that have recently pissed you off. It is going to be a literary masterpiece.

This journal will be a daunting project in of itself. Every entry should be written in thought out prose with proper grammar and language use (that means no lol’s or wtf’s, millennials).

Think of it as a collection of essays and short stories. If…no, when you become a famous author, your loved ones should be able to publish and sell your journal for considerable profit after you die. That’s the dream right?

This journal (whether written on paper or digitally) will be your tool for daily writing practice and keep safe the precious ideas that leak from your head when you’re not ready to make real use of them.

My journal consists of argumentative, persuasive, and descriptive essays on topics ranging from anthropology to physics to history, religion, and beyond. It contains poems, short-stories, experimental writing in other genres, writing prompts, and interesting ideas for future work.

Your journal will become a point of pride for you.

I’ve heard of writers even self-publishing their journals in hard copy just for themselves, as for inspiration.

I work slowly and casually on these projects (it’s not like there is a deadline on hobby writing). It sometimes takes me a week or two to finish a few thousand, or even a few hundred, words.

Just do a little bit every day, even if it is only for a few minutes during a lunch break. 

However you choose to keep your journal, the important part is that you do keep one. Practice is vital for growth.

Which bring us to the next tool.

Online Resources

You can practice writing every day and certainly you will get better, but unless you are pinpointing and addressing your mistakes you will continue to make them again and again.

That’s why it’s so important to edit even your practice material. The more content you create and review the more likely you are to catch mistakes that you often make and fix them before getting to the important stuff.

The tricky thing (or great thing depending on who you ask) about fiction writing is that many of the “rules” we grew up with can be broken for stylistic choices. While that is perfectly acceptable, you can easily find yourself in trouble when you don’t know the rules that your breaking in the first place.

What you see as a creative, snappy, renegade sentence, your editor/agent/reader may see as a fugitive grammar rapist that should be shot on first sight.

There is a fine line between rebelliousness and stupidity, and readers are pretty open-minded but only within reason (even less so for self-published authors).

Just as ignorance of the law is no defence in front of a judge, ignorance of grammar, punctuation, and syntax rules will not save you from the wrath of your readers.

But let’s face it. The technical side of writing can be pretty boring to learn, but it’s the best thing you can do for your career.

Try reading a page from the Chicago Style Manual website every night before you go to bed. And who knows, maybe it’ll send you peacefully into sleepy land like a nice glass of red.

Or, for those of you that just can’t stand reading about the rules, subscribe to grammar websites like Grammar Girl, Grammarist, or Daily Writing Tips (this one even offers daily tests to review and improve your skill).

You can also get grammar apps on your mobile devices, or sign up for classes on Coursera and Udemy (some free, some not). Find daily practice on Memrise or any one of the numerous options available online.

The web is full of resources at your disposal, the hard part is not in finding them but buckling down and truly-honestly taking advantage of them. You need to decide that writing is important to you and worth the investment of your time and effort.

So say you are levelling-up you grammar skills, writing every day, journaling, and producing more content than you ever thought possible.

How do you know if what your writing is actually good . . . like to other people? How can you be sure you’re not the tone-deaf contestant on American Idol with the unfounded confidence of Mariah Carey?   

Outside critique, of course!

There are too-many-to-count websites out there that allow writers to post their work (poems, short-stories, full chapters, or even full books) for feedback from other writers or fans of a particular genre.

Websites like Critique.org & Critique Circle ask writers to join workshops where groups review and give their thoughts on each other’s work. In my opinion these are the best kinds. In the workshop environment you get more detailed feedback from people that have a vested interest in giving you constructive help. The downside (for some) is having to take the time to do the same for others. However, reading other’s work from the same genre can be very helpful as well.

There are also places like Scribophile and Writers Café, that are based on more forum type communities that are open to feedback from anyone interested. The upside is that you do not need to invest any time (if you don’t want) other than posting and waiting for comments. The down side is that sometimes it can take a while for someone to read your work and their feedback may not be very helpful. You’ll notice it’s all very positive and supportive, which in my opinion is nice but not all that helpful for improvement (though I’ve noticed both platforms have been improving steadily).

My humble advice is to search the web and find the countless like sources, explore them and decide for yourself which one looks best suited for you.

Conclusion

Skill building may not be as romantic and exciting as developing and writing your novel but it is an integral part of doing just that. I’m assuming that you are here because you want to write a great book. No. A magnificent, imposing, impressive, awe-inspiring, grand, splendid, majestic, sumptuous, resplendent, prominent, eminent, important, distinguished, illustrious, celebrated, honoured, acclaimed, admired, esteemed, revered, renowned, notable, famed book!

Go Go Gadget Thesaurus!

If you want that book of yours to be all those things above than guess what? You need to be continuously skill building.

Prep your journals, subscribe to the appropriate web resources, and most important, start reading and writing. Then, you’ll be ready to move on. 

Next week, in Lesson 4: Beating Writer’s Block and Improving Creativity with Better Brainstorming, I will drop some knowledge about how your brain works, and how to use it at full capacity in everything you do. 

See you then!

Remember to leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

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