Because nobody comes to this as a finished writer. Even multi-published authors are still advancing, learning new writing techniques, honing their craft.
It’s a lifetime endeavor.
But whether you’re brand new at the art, or a seasoned pro, these exercises focus on how to improve writing skills. And I still use them to this day, and have my writers do so as well.
1). Write a short story about your main character(s), not to be included in the book.
This is far back-stage information, and you’ll learn a lot about your protagonist and antagonist this way. Where their motives came from. Who they were before. How they evolved into the person in your story.
In so doing, you’ll open a door to a deeper creativity—which is what all great writing is about.
And you’ll have an ah-ha moment—where you realize you’ve just learned a lot.
2). Write an existing scene from a non-viewpoint character’s perspective.
This needs to be a secondary character—one whom you don’t see as integral to the story. (Of course, they’re all integral—and you’ll find that out through this process as well 🙂 )
Because what this teaches you, starkly, is that all secondary characters think the book is about them. Without question. As soon as you give them voice, you’ll see that. And bring them much more richly to life.
Which opens up another creative window that you’ll have for not only this book, but all subsequent ones as well. That skill never leaves you.
3). Take an existing chapter (just a scene usually isn’t enough for this one) and change the character viewpoint from first-person to third-person. Or vice versa—the opposite of whichever you’ve initially written in.
Oh, my, does that force you to bring an entirely new set of skills to this process! Especially if you’ve staunchly stayed in one vp or the other.
You have to find creative ways to convey what you’ve already oh-so-wonderfully brought to the page. You learn more about your character, even if you thought you knew him inside and out. The muse has a way of exploding into a scene when asked to see it differently. She’ll respond in spadesJ And you’ll learn so much.
I harp on this a lot, I know, right? But as you’re learning new skills, trying to grasp them, it really makes things easier to see how other authors have accomplished what you’re setting out to do.
You’ll also be amazed at their foibles. I always laugh when almost invariably my writers tell me, “You’ve ruined reading for me—I’m constantly seeing the issues now!”
But I also promise them, “The joy will come back. For now, keep critiquing!”
5). Read your work aloud.
There’s just something about the auditory response that makes things much different on the page from simply reading silently. It’s one of those other-side-of-the-brain issues. And what “sounded” like beautiful prose in your head often aloud comes out clanking and dull.
This also helps you to see those places that were clear as spring water in your mind, and somehow translated to the page in a mucky bog.
6). Listen and critique others reading aloud their work.
Usually you need a writer’s group or workshop for this. I’m not really talking audio books, as by then (hopefully!) those tomes have been polished to perfection. But rather, listen to works-in-progress and begin to “hear” the flaws.
What I’ve seen happen countless times is that an issue a writer has been struggling with becomes crystal clear while listening to another’s read.
Another ah-ha moment!
7). Let the manuscript sit.
For so many writers, this one is difficult indeed.
Because I mean put it aside for a substantial amount of time. If you finish the first draft and jump right straight into revision, you’re seeing with old eyes.
In other words, you cannot see the issues.
During this time while you’re letting yours lie fallow (at least 2 months. Yes, that’s what I said—two months), read. That’s a great time to give yourself permission to do so.
And write. Just not on this book. Write something entirely different. For example, if you’re writing a novel, during the hiatus, play around with short stories. Or even articles or blogs. Just a different form entirely from what the main work is.
This stretches the writing muscle, and that’s always a fabulous thing. You always come back a stronger writer, better at your craft.
Then when you’re ready to dive into revision, you’ve learned new skills as well.
Did you notice that not once have I mentioned how-to books? I’m not a big proponent of them, although there are a few I do recommend.
But that comes later—down the line. You want to get this manuscript in the best form possible, doing all of the above, before you start listening to a lot of folks giving advice on exactly how to do things.
Because we don’t want to stop your creativity at this point for any reason in the world.
All of the above helps you to massage the muse, and she will respond with such bursts it’ll amaze even yourself!