The secrets behind the practice of good writing: The writer’s holiday

 In Tips for Writers

I know, I know, it’s holiday time and you’re going to be stuck with the whole family. When will you get your writing done?

If you leave off writing for the entire break, your writing muscles will be as slack as your stomach and thighs after a full month with no exercise. But when on earth will you find the time?

The kids want to be taken swimming, and the family needs to spend time together because that’s important too. And then the relatives are coming to stay. Or we’re going to stay with them.

So basically, this blog is intended to tell you not to beat yourself up.  There is a way you can build your writing practice without making yourself completely reclusive or totally unpopular.

The trick is to keep those muscles toned without driving yourself insane trying to write anything you care about while the kids race around screaming and the aunts bicker.

One important thing, of course, is to keep reading. There’s nothing that helps writing quite like reading. Read to enjoy. Keep a book with you always for those odd moments when you’re able to indulge. My Kindle spends all summer in a zip-lock bag so I can read on the beach.

Another thing you can do is to carry a small notebook around – and use it. If you’re lying on the beach, eavesdrop shamelessly on those around you. Transcribe the exact words they use, including the pauses, the interruptions, the ums and ahs. Not only will it provide you with story ideas, but it will give you a good feel for the rhythms of real speech, which you will try to mimic in your dialogue.

Spend ten minutes a day free writing. Set a timer but not an objective. Simply start writing. It doesn’t matter what you write about as long as you don’t worry about spelling and grammar, and as long as you don’t censor or belittle yourself. You’ll be amazed how it will strengthen your voice and get you writing with greater ease and flow.

Set yourself the task of observing a setting or a group of people. Don’t just look at them idly. Watch them with your writer’s eye – and ear. Use all your senses. What does a scene feel and smell like? How does the ice cream taste?

Now force yourself to find the words to to describe what you are observing so actively. No generic descriptives. No beautiful sunsets, awesome oceans or picturesque villages. Never again. Ban them from your writing vocabulary. You are going to try to find the words which will allow us to picture the scene for ourselves. Concentrate on strong verbs and, where you use adjectives, let them specify something particular, iike colour or shape.

Have fun with your notebook. Describe interactions between great-aunt Jenny and cousin Stan. Use specific details to bring them alive.

It’s hard at first. It takes practice to observe actively and to find exactly the right words and images, but the more you do it, the more supple and powerful your writing will become.

Here’s another little exercise: observe someone – a total stranger – then develop them as a character. Decide what kind of person they are. Ask them questions (in your head, of course. You’re not going to hare across the beach and throw intimate questions at them).

Ask things like: what are you most afraid of? What do you most look forward to? What was your most traumatic incident? And so on. If you have the time, write an internal monologue as if you were them. Slip inside the character you’ve created and allow them to write about their hopes and dreams, and perhaps the scene on the beach.

All these writing exercises will make you a better writer. If you’ve got nowhere on a writing project, it doesn’t matter. You’ll be better equipped to tackle it in the new year.

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