How to write a book? Practice to improve your craft

Writing Practice, Sci Fi, Writing Science Fiction, Writing Sci Fi

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.

It was not until a writing teacher (it happened to be James Gunn, the sci fi writer and historian) told us one day something like this: ‘A story is about someone who wants something, fails three time to achieve it, each time more dramatic than the last, and then succeeds and reaps a reward for succeeding.”
I thought that simplistic, but also very helpful. I’d probably heard it many times before, but for some reason it stuck this time. So I set out to write such a story, only this time I wanted to keep it short and simple. Doing that — practicing putting a short story together with this structure  — greatly helped me improve my story telling.
On reflection, I think that was probably terribly simple advice. So of course now when I write I make my stories longer and more complex, with subplots and twists. But the general structure Gunn described is still there.

Sentence Variety

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.

I don’t have to spend a lot of time doing this. But an hour of this and I’ll have put 15 or so newly structured sentences in a manuscript that are fresh to how I write. A little bit of that can go a long way. Over time my “tool box” of divers sentences structures has grown, so this is another thing I practice.

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs”

Stephen King, Adverbs, Horror, Writer

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?


How to write a book? Practice to improve your craft
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How to write a book? Practice to improve your craft
Stephen King argues that when it comes to writing, adverbs pave the road to hell. But before we worry about adverbs, writers need to practice if they want to learn how to write a book.
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Tiffany Allen
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