Resolutions for Writers: 10 Ways to Hone Your Craft in 2013
Last year I came up with 52 writing exercises for writers. As I haven’t heard from anyone whose finished them all, I figured this year, instead of coming up with 52 more, I’d do something a bit more practical: a list of resolutions for writers, aimed at making writing as fluid as breathing. Now, you certainly don’t have to do them all! (Though you’d surely be some kind of Writing Superhuman if you did.) But picking even just one of these to commit to this year is a great way to improve both the quality and the quantity of your writing.
So, Happy Writing in 2013!
1. Make Writing a Habit
Oh, come on—you had to know this one was coming! It’s resolutions for writers, and what are burgeoning writers famously known for? (Hint: it’s not writing.) But despite the siren call of procrastination, writing really does get easier with practice--and the more you write, the better you’ll get. So try to make a habit of writing, and write for 30 minutes a day, five or more days a week. It doesn’t have to be good writing! We’re not talking publishable prose or polished poesy. Just write. Flash fiction, writing exercises, diary entries, or another chapter in the world’s greatest novel. It doesn’t matter. Anything will do. The whole idea is just to keep that writing muscle limber and maybe even beef it up a little bit, so that when you need it, it’s fit for action and ready to rumble.
2. Oh, and Make Reading a Habit, Too
Try to read at least 15 minutes of every day. Every day! (I know: that’s a lot of days.) But reading is way easy to slip into a day—especially a mere 15 minutes. You can read while eating breakfast, you can read in the bath, you can read before bedtime, and you can read on the bus, too. Or between meetings, or at lunch, or during coffee break. Really, books are so incredibly portable these days—with an increasing number of people reading on their phones—that you can read just about anywhere. And the benefits of reading? Reduced stress, a sharper mind, an enviable vocabulary, greater empathy, a steel-trappier memory, and a nimble learning capacity.
3. Keep an Idea Notebook
New York Times best-selling author Laini Taylor wrote an excellent piece for Figment the other day about keeping an idea notebook—a place for all the things that, as Taylor said, “set [your] mind on fire.” She credits her idea notebook with helping her find the story of The Daughter of Smoke and Bone--and then, to further back that up, she shows excerpts from her journal that uncannily spell out huge swathes of the story. And what a brilliant idea! Both the book, and the idea notebook. So resolve this year to write like Laini Taylor, and keep a journal filled with the things that inspire you and keep your fire burning--and see what ideas your brain has in store for you.
4. Keep a Reading Journal
Reading attentively and reflectively is one of the best things you can do to work on your writing. Your favorite books are your favorites for a reason—there is something in them that just hits all the right notes. And when it comes time to write? That inspiration is crucial. So take some time when you’re reading, and when you read a paragraph or bit of dialogue that just makes your heart sing, write it down in your journal, so you can play with it later to figure out how it works. Learn how to talk about and describe what the author is doing, and try your hand at some of the more enviable techniques yourself. Experiment with the styles and the ideas you love most, take the best parts, and roll them into your own style. (Read more about How to Keep a Reading Journal.)
5. Exercise Your Writing
We all have our comfort zones, when it comes to writing. You know what I’m talking about—there are certain things that are just easy to write, and we gravitate toward them over and over again. But sometimes, a scene needs something more. And when that happens, or when we just want to grow as writers, writing exercises are the go-to thing. Writing exercises allow you to experiment with new techniques, some of which may prove invaluable additions to your standard writing style, in a way that doesn’t impact your current works-in-progress. And even if they don’t end up permanent additions, just stretching outside your comfort zone can increase the fluidity of your writing. (As a bonus, they’re usually super short!)
6. Write One Polished Piece a Month
Few things can induce panic quite like realizing that you have to produce something that other people are going to read (perhaps up on tables, to all of their friends) and judge—on a deadline. But few things will hone your writing as well as having to produce something of relatively good quality, fairly regularly. Revision is half the writing process (and sometimes tragically more), and yet it’s a relatively rare occasion that we really and truly get down to the bones of a piece and work it over until it’s ready to present to other people. So make a point of practicing the art of revision this year—and save each essay, piece of flash fiction, or short story to a special folder. Then, when this time rolls around next year, you’ll be able to look back over your whole year in writing. (Read more about Revision.)
7. Read Inside—and Outside—Your Genre
Like anyone in love, when a writer is in love with her genre, she can tend to get a little single-minded about it. And that’s awesome! At first. But, our writing in a large part the product of what we read, and the wider your reading experiences, the more you will be able to bring to the writing table. Of course, you also shouldn’t read exclusively outside your genre! As tempting as it can be, especially if reading in your genre turns on your inner critic and inevitably makes you scrap everything you’ve ever written, it’s better to learn how to manage your critical side than to disengage with the very thing that likely inspired you to write in the first place. There’s a lot you can learn from reading in your own genre, both about writing—and also, perhaps more importantly, about your own taste. You’d be surprised how many people write a books, only to get to the end and realize they’ve written a book they’d never actually read!
8. Find a Writing Partner
A writing partner is someone with whom you can chat without fear of cruel judgment or patronizing praise. Someone who understands what it means to have a work-in-progress, and who can help you figure out why something’s not working, and how to fix it. Someone to complain about writer’s block with—and who can occasionally even help you break it. And, of course, it goes without saying that all these wondrous services are things you provide to your writing partner as well! But aside from the benefit to the quality of your work, chatting regularly with a writing partner can help keep you honest, motivate you to keep working, and can also just take some of the incredible solitude that surrounds writing away. And just chatting with a writing partner, or helping her with a problem in her book, can help get your mind in a writing kind of way, and help you solve problems in your own work-in-progress.
9. Critique and Analyze Books with a Friend
For all the people I’ve met who read fantasy, I cannot number the times I’ve run into readers with an entirely different reading list from me. In fact, counting the times I’ve read books other people have read—recently enough to remember and intelligently discuss—would be easier. It’s the thing I miss most about school—everyone was reading the same books and the same time, so you were bound to get a good book-related discussion now and then. So, ask your friends what books they’ve read recently that they’ve enjoyed—or what book they’d like to read—and then read that book. Once you’re done, take the time to discuss the book critically with said friend. What were your favorite lines? What made them work? What didn’t work so well for you, and how would you fix it? Learning how other people react to something you’ve read is super useful for a writer, as it can give you perspective on how other people would interpret your writing. Additionally, another reader may point out some bit of technique you loved so much you just experienced it, rather than dissected it, helping you to get better at the technical aspects of writing you love the most.
10. Give Back to Books . . .
. . . in any way you like. You could give a new author a chance and go to his or her reading, or you could write a review of a book you particularly enjoyed. You could lend out one of your favorite new books to your friends, or you could donate books to a local charity, school, or library. You could send a note to the author, telling them how much you love their work, or resolve to read more books to the kids in your life. You could even just resolve to buy books you love, if you read them borrowed, in order to help that author produce more awesome books. Resolve to support the things you love, so that they will always be there to inspire it.