Stop Writing Now!

Or, How to Become a Better Writer in 400 Words

One thing I’ve noticed as I follow writers’ groups on social media sites is that there is an over-emphasis on posting one’s daily word count: writers are clocking their output as though they are miners getting paid by weight. But there is a huge difference between writing and discharging words. Most aspiring writers would benefit greatly by working on their skills before churning out a novel every few months. Most would also benefit by slowing down. It is not a race to reach The End. With that in mind, listed below are five things you can do to become a better writer without actually writing.

Eavesdrop. Listen to people’s conversations, not only because it will give you a valuable lesson in writing dialogue, but because it will help you objectively discern motives behind people’s words and the linguistic strategies they are using to get what the want.

Describe things to yourself. Pretend your inner writer is a blind person who is on a walk and needs to be told what is in front of them. When you come across a unique scene, take the time to write it out in your mind. Better yet, take a view you see everyday and try to describe it to yourself in a way that makes it unique.

Listen to music. Music opens the mind. I tend to listen to very loud punk when writing, but classical when I am thinking. Exercise operates the same way, and I find I can resolve narrative problems while in the trance of distance running. When these options fail, intoxication helps, though I recommend running.

Read. It is no secret that writers are great and voracious readers, but you should also be reading with a writer’s eye, paying attention to every aspect of the author’s technique. Why such a long sentence here and a short one there? Why did they decide to tell and not show when delineating a character?

Read Out Loud. Start with famous writers, ones you want to emulate, then move on to your own writing. This helps with the cadence of the language and the sentence structure. It also alerts you to words you might be over-using and unconscious patterns of construction you might be repeating. You might even read some of your work into a Dictaphone and play it back to really get a feeling for what you are writing.

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