By Marcy Kennedy (@marcykennedy)
I wanted to take a quick break from posts on writing craft topics and instead give you a list of fresh techniques to help you become a better writer.
Do one of these each day in the coming week, and you’ll improve as a writer in ways that can’t be learned through a book or a writing course or even by writing.
#1 – Go someplace safe and allow yourself to cry.
We all have pain inside us that we’ve never really dealt with.
The problem with this is that, unless we face our own pain, we can’t give authentic emotions to our characters. When we’re trying so hard to hide or manage our pain, we’ll shy away from strong emotions on the page. We’ll be too nice to our characters. Our writing will feel shallow. Or we’ll go too far in the other direction and our writing will become melodramatic as we use the page as therapy.
The solution is to give yourself the chance to feel all the pain you’ve bottled up inside.
Cry for the disappointments that you minimized at the time because you didn’t want others’ pity or you didn’t want your loved ones to feel bad.
Cry for people you’ve lost, whose absence you still feel, who will always be missed. Cry for all those times you wanted to grieve and couldn’t because you had to be strong.
Cry for your regrets, for the shame of your past sins, failures, and mistakes—the ones you hate to face because you’re afraid of repeating them, afraid of someone uncovering them, afraid that they’re the person you truly are.
Face the pain.
Now that you’ve faced it, you’ll be able to give it to your characters in an honest way, and you’ll be less afraid of putting the emotions they need to feel onto the page. You won’t be as afraid of hurting your characters because you won’t fear facing the pain that comes afterward anymore.
#2 – Go to people in your life and ask them to tell you your weaknesses, especially the ones you’re unaware of.
Congratulations. You’ve just experienced what it will be like to blog or have any published work available that people can review.
You will receive cutting comments. You will receive negative reviews. People will insult you and point out errors and weaknesses you didn’t know you had. Some will even call your integrity and character into question.
And it will hurt. You can pretend it won’t and doesn’t, but it will and does.
Too many authors damage their careers by lashing out when they receive negative comments or reviews. Preparing yourself beforehand will teach you how to deal with your hurt feelings in a constructive, rather than a destructive, way.
#3 – Give yourself a deadline for a big project. Don’t work on that project at all until shortly before it’s due. Now force yourself to finish it no matter how late you need to stay up.
When you wake up the next day and feel like a troll tap-danced on your face, you doze off while sitting on the toilet, and your significant other wants to know when you swapped your personality for that of Oscar the Grouch, commit this moment to memory. When you re-read what you wrote and some of the sentences don’t even make sense, commit this moment to memory. This is not your best work. It’s certainly not your best self.
Write a letter to yourself about how awful you feel right now. File it away with the drivel you wrote while rushing to meet your deadline. Any time you consider procrastinating on a project in the future, read those pages. This will teach you to plan ahead and leave yourself the real amount of time you need to do something well.
#4 – Spend a day researching topics you know nothing about.
Keep a notepad beside you and jot down story or plot ideas that pop up as you read. You’ve now discovered an unlimited well of new story ideas. You might think you’ll never run out of ideas, but after you’ve been writing for years, you will hit a point where all your ideas seem stale, old, and trite.
Developing this practice not only gives you a way to breathe fresh life into your work, it also gives you a fool-proof method for beating writer’s block. If you’re blocked, pick a random topic and go research it. Maybe you won’t use those exact ideas in your story, but it’ll jumpstart your creativity.
#5 – Carry a notebook and jot down specific details about the world around you.
The grain in the wood paneling that looks like the ripples in the sand on a sand bar. The way the rain sounds like steak sizzling in a pan. The smell of burnt flesh in the dentist office.
The body language of the couple on the park bench across from you—she’s picking at her skirt with her gaze downcast, and he has his head thrown back, laughing.
The woman with the gap between her teeth, who whistles every time she pronounces an “s” sound.
Details are what bring your story world to life. Today you’re training yourself to pay more attention and to find fresh, interesting ways to describe your settings and your characters.
#6 – Attempt a completely new skill. Now observe someone who is excellent at it (or the results of their excellence).
Pick up a musical instrument. Take a ballroom dancing lesson. Ride a horse. Paint a picture. Try to surf. Bake a soufflé.
What you choose doesn’t matter as much as the fact that this is new ground for you. And that you’ll be terrible at it. If possible, have someone video your attempt. Compare your results to someone who has worked on this skill for years.
Here’s what this teaches you—you won’t be an awesome writer the first draft of your first book. It doesn’t work that way.
In fact, you’ll think you’re ready to publish long before you actually are ready to publish. I know. I thought so too.
And that’s okay. Remember this moment. Remember what you learned.
Don’t rush to publish. And don’t stop either. Mediocrity is easy. Excellence takes time and hard work.
#7 – Pick your three favorite movies. Or pick your three favorite books. What do they have in common?
These need to be the three movies that you never tire of watching or the three books you never tire of reading. You can quote lines from them.
They might be from different genres, and at first, it might look like they have nothing in common. Look deeper. Look past the fact that one’s a romantic comedy and the other is a high fantasy. Don’t be blinded by surface elements.
Are there similarities between the main characters? Is there a common message or theme?
When you find the thread that ties them together, you’ve taken the first step in defining your personal brand as a writer. This is what you love. This is what speaks to you. This is what you need to do.
Instead of denying who you are, embrace it. The world is full of people like you, needing the same things you need and loving the same things you love. Forget about trying to please the ones who hate what you love. They were never going to read your work anyway. Trying to make everyone happy means we make no one happy, including ourselves.
Today you’ve learned to write for you and the people like you.
Do you have any other non-writing tips to help us all become better writers?
Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Deep Point of View is now available! (You might also want to check out Internal Dialogue, Description, or Showing and Telling in Fiction.)
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*Image Credit: freeimages.com/Viktors Kozers