I saw a question on a board the other day asking what does it mean to “practice writing”? This could be several things, but my view is that there are three things I practice. And to be clear, I think all writing is practice. Even the things I publish are not perfect. They were just good enough to publish.
Writing Science Fiction
It does not matter which genre you prefer. My preference is military and military science fiction (see an excerpt from my own forthcoming military sci fi novel). But no matter. All good writers only become good through practice. And practice does not mean just cranking out more pages. Like all things, practicing bad habits only reinforce those bad habits. We must always be self-critical when we write, and every time we write — certainly every time we proof our work — we should do our best to make it better.
The hardest thing for me to learn when I began to take writing seriously was trying to figure out how to tell a complete story. This was the hardest thing for me to learn. I had a difficult time figuring out where the end was. Like many young writers, I had dramatic scenes in my head, some of which I put on paper. That was great, but that is not a story. I even wrote several 100K word “stories” but they were inconclusive and were not really satisfying.
This is another thing I work on. This another one that may sound simple, but we are all creatures of habit, and then to do the same things over and over again. To help address this one, I’ll pick up a class work such as Dune and turn to a random page. I’ll look at how a few sentences are structured, Then I’ll turn to my manuscript and randomly land on a page. I’ll look at a few sentences and find one I can change to a structure that I don’t normally use, for instance paralleling what I found in Dune.
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs”
So says Stephen King, and I’d be reluctant to argue with him. When you write, practice not using adverbs. Force yourself to write sentences that don’t use them. You’ll be surprised by how clear your writing becomes, and how much more descriptive it will be. There will always be a few adverbs, so don’t freak out if you see some. My goal when I write — when I practice writing — is to keep them to no more than one adverb every 200 words. That may sound like a lot, but try it…you’ll find that it is harder than you think.
How do you practice your writing with an eye to improving it?