Writing Secrets: If being a writer takes magic, here’s the spell

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

“I need to discover whether I’m a writer or not,” one of our participants said, at the start of our new Creative Writing Course. She said it in hushed and reverential tones, as though it were something magical, an unquantifiable, immeasurable gift.

I don’t deny that some people seem to be born with a certain talent, or more likely, they have read and written their way to having a certain facility with words and story-telling. But, I do believe everyone can build on their ability and become significantly better.

So, what are the most important habits to develop good writing?

Firstly, it’s not all about the story. Every word counts. Be precise, be clear, choose the strongest verbs at your disposal. Listen to the rhythm they make.

At a different level, I believe that good writing comes from reading and observation.

Good readers pick up skills and techniques intuitively. They develop a feel for the flow of language, for the magic of imagery, and for the use of quite technical aspects of writing, like point of view, even if they don’t know the theory behind them.

Active observation is another essential skill. It’s not as easy as you think. Unless we train ourselves to be aware of the scenes playing out around us, and to watch people closely, we don’t notice details.

Take people: they use an infinite number of subtle shades of expression, gestures and body language. We’re so inured to interpreting these that we hardly notice the movements and expressions themselves. Then, of course, you need to get used to finding the right words to put those signals across. It doesn’t necessarily come naturally. It takes practice.

Carry a notebook around and practise every day – really noticing the environment and the people around you. Don’t interpret. Look behind your brain’s interpretation to the facial expression itself. Then grapple for the words or images that will help us experience it for ourselves.

Those are the best ways I know to improve your writing – a little every day.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: Writing the sentence that lingers on the tongue and in the mind…

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