Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writers' Push-ups-Four Ways to Improve Your Skills

If you find something of value in this post, please leave a comment when you finish reading..

Jeff Bacot mentioned something akin to “nobody ever thinks about how many golf balls a player hits before teeing up for hole #1.” Practice drives and putting. Buckets and buckets of balls at driving ranges. Athletes at all levels do the same thing between game days. They practice. Drills and exercises, and then they practice some more. They identify weaknesses and concentrate on converting them to strengths. Maybe writers are no different then athletes. Both worlds are highly competitive. Both worlds feast on mistake-free performances.

You have an inkling too many pronouns end up in your writing? Give yourself 20 minutes tomorrow morning to write one paragraph with no pronouns about a person you observed the last time you were in the grocery store. Adverbs and adjectives -- you use lots of them? Tomorrow morning. Twenty minutes. One paragraph with no adverbs or adjectives: not even a hint of anything ending with a ly, describing what you ate for dinner last night. The next time you sit down to work on your novel: it’s game day. In-between it might be good to consider some exercises.

NPR had a 600 word three-minute short story contest running recently. The rules were simple. The 600 word maximum, and the completed story had to have someone arriving into a town and someone leaving a town. All the other story essentials had to be there. Theme, intent, conflict, heart, a beginning, a middle and an ending. Don’t forget solid characterization, coupled with a proportioned balance of narrative and dialogue. Make no never-mind what genre you write -- drills working within similar constraints can build word selection muscle and overall ability to better focus on your story.

Another drill was out there on-line in the past month or so, again with a max word count, but 80% of them had to be corralled in quotation marks, and the last line had to be “This is all about the bicycle, isn’t it?” Exercises are all about building skills. When was the last time you heard of a defensive safety saying to an opposing wide receiver “I can rip that ball out of your hands -- watch me do 75 push-ups in less than three minutes to prove it?” Drills and exercises aren’t about the specifics of your story or your characters: it’s about being astute and strong enough to pick the right words at the right time when working your novel on a proverbial game day.

Do real writers make use of exercises? Yep. The most famous of all. Hemingway’s buddies challenging him to write a complete short story in less than 10 words. Mr. Hemingway did it in six. “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.”

Some heads-up stuff.

The 2011 Texas Book Fair in Austin is October 22 and 23. 6th Street will be packed, as will every UT venue able to seat 100+ authors, publishers, agents, newbie writers and readers. Seriously -- do this fair at least once in your lifetime. Where else could you eat lunch, and the people at the table next to you are in an heated discussion over the use of dangling participles?

NaNoWriMo starts November 1st. 50,000 words in one month. A hugely good exercise to produce a 1,600+ words-a-day quota. Great exercise in developing stream of consciousness POV, but even better -- a great discipline to sit down for 90+/- minutes a day to do nothing else but write. The perk is Create Space will then give you a “free” perfect-bound paperback galley print version of your work, and you’ll probably have until June 2012 to submit your final draft.

Do you use exercises to improve your writing? Tell me what you do.


Member Spotlight:

George Talbot is  a member of Greater Fort Worth Writers and lives in Justin, Texas. Formerly in the field of communications, he was a TV weatherman and sportcaster. He says he is the  better-part of retired with two dogs, two horses, and two daughters. All of them all grown-up....He's the only one who is still trying to become a mature adult.

1 comment:

Ruby Johnson said...

Great ideas George! I'm like a lot of writers. Ask me to do something in 10 minutes and my mind goes blank! I'm going to keep trying though. I like putting an idea into a circle and then building from there. More like word association.

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