How to Get the Most Out of Your Writing Practice

writing practice

What’s your writing practice?

Young and aspiring writers often contact me to ask what they need to do to become professional authors. The simplest answer is to read and write as much as possible. But I like to place special emphasis on the importance of getting plenty of writing practice.

In the early days of self-publishing, we saw heaps of books published by writers who hadn’t yet put in the practice required to produce work that was of professional quality. Some of them admitted they were publishing first drafts without even bothering to reread what they’d written, let alone polish it, and that’s the mark of an amateur.

There’s nothing wrong with being an amateur. We all start somewhere. And there are readers out there who will buy, read, and even enjoy written works that are unpolished, terribly flawed, and peppered with typos and bad grammar.

But professional writing reaches for higher standards. That’s not to say it has to be fancy or academic or elite. But it should be clear and concise. It should make sense. It should be compelling. It should be the result of adequate amounts of writing practice — the practice you put in to sharpen your skills.




Get the Most Out of Your Writing Practice

For those who are at the beginning of their writing journeys, let’s look at some of the best ways to get the most out of your writing practice:

  • Acknowledge your current skill level. Whether you’re a beginner or intermediate writer, it helps to understand and accept your abilities. Know how far you’ve come, and you’ll have a good idea about how much practice lies ahead for you. You’ll also gain a sense of your strengths and weaknesses and what you need to work on in order to produce better writing.
  • Be willing to practice for the sake of practice. If you study creative writing at a university, you’ll get a lot of practice through your coursework. Otherwise, set aside time for writing practice that is not aimed at publication. Writing exercises are ideal for this.
  • Find projects and exercises that complement your skill level. There are hundreds of books, blogs, and websites that are packed with writing exercises (including the website you’re reading right now). You can even pick up high school or college textbooks if you want a more structured or academic approach. Be sure to scan through the exercises to make sure they suit your skills and your goals.
  • Challenge yourself. If all you do is write Shakespearean sonnets, your writing will eventually grow stale and you’ll become a one-trick pony. Look for projects and exercises that require real effort.
  • Take your time; don’t rush. When you’re writing strictly for practice, it’s tempting to hurry because it feels like work and you want to be done with it. But you will get more out of your writing practice if you slow down and focus on what you’re doing. Pay attention to the details, refine your sentences, and give your writing the attention it deserves.
  • Try new things. I can’t recommend this strongly enough. Most of us have a niche — we want to write poetry or science fiction. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when you never step outside your favorite forms and genres. But doing so will broaden your skills and result in fresh writing that isn’t weighed down with tropes, formulas, and stereotypes.
  • Always polish your work! It’s easy to finish a writing exercise and be done with it after the first draft. After all, it’s just an exercise, right? Wrong! Revision is an important step in your writing practice. Don’t skip it.
  • Show your work to a friend or mentor. Find a reader or writer with a good eye and ask them to look over your exercises and offer some feedback. You don’t have to get feedback on every exercise you do, but it’s helpful to get an outside perspective on occasion. Again, if you’re in a structured program, you’ll get feedback from your instructors and peers. Writing groups are also a great way to get feedback.

Even people who are dripping with talent or born prodigies must practice in order to become truly proficient at their trades. Practicing doesn’t mean you’re trying to become an elitist or a snob. It simply means you want to reach a point where you can produce quality work, writing that is worth reading. If you put in the hours and the work, you’ll feel good about sharing and publishing your writing.

How often do you practice writing? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share with other writers who need writing practice? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

Comments

6 Responses to “How to Get the Most Out of Your Writing Practice”

  1. Marcy McKay says:

    Wonderful insights, Melissa. Thank you. All of your suggestions are great, but “Take your time; don’t rush” made me think, YES! Since anyone can publish anything these days, the only standout is the QUALITY of the writing.

    Too many new writers rush to get their name out there, long before it’s ready. Bad idea.

    You give wonderful tips to us all, regardless of our skill level. Thanks again.

    • There’s definitely a movement for fast writing in indie publishing. Some authors can pull it off, especially if they are highly skilled or full-time writers. But there’s a difference between writing fast and rushing a project through the writing and publishing processes. The key is for every writer to understand his or her process, skill set, and weaknesses. Some writers cannot put out quality work if they write fast.

  2. Krithika Rangarajan says:

    Lovely – I would strongly encourage budding writers to enter contests or participate in challenges! The simple act of showing up every day and sharing your work will give you the courage to move ahead.

    For instance, I help my friends with their blogging and transcription needs. But, since December, I have been entering in ONE writing challenge every month. This gives me the opportunity to shake my own creativity cells into action, while putting my work out there for everyone to judge….scary, but rewarding 😀

    Thanks a lot #HUGSSSS

    Kitto

  3. Thanks for an excellent post. It’s so simple, to get better at something, you just have to put the work in. It sounds easier said than done, because sometimes it IS hard to make the decision to work to begin with.

    -Acknowledge your current skill level: I know I’m good at dialogue, but lack in setting and description, which is why I bought a the whole Write Great Fiction Series by Writer’s Digest to study setting and description in greater detail (pun SO intended!).

    -Be willing to practice for the sake of practice: I learned to be okay with just writing for fun. Not everything needs to be published or even read by many. In fact, that’s what first drafts, I think, are meant to be. Practice before you put more methods behind the madness of your story.

    -Find projects and exercises that complement your skill level: This just reminds me that I haven’t done any of the exercises from the writing guide series I bought. All I did was highlight important points and decided I should to the exercises before I hop onto the 3rd draft. Thanks for the reminder!

    -Challenge yourself: that’s what journaling is for, in my opinion. It’s easy enough to make up the trials and tribulations of a fictional character, but to process your own journey is often more difficult.

    -Take your time; don’t rush: Yeah, I’m still struggling with not looking at the clock while I write and get stuck. I keep thinking, “500 words? But I’ve been here for an hour.” There are times where I can get the minimum word count goal in a half hour, but I need to respect that some days will offer different speeds.

    -Try new things: Yep, this helped a lot which is why I was able to go through so many different genres til I found I liked. I went from medieval fantasy, to psychological dramedy, and finally found something more simple and even more effective; contemporary young adult.

    -Always polish your work!: YES! totally. Going back to reread and rewrite is always fundamental. Write the first time to feel it and to just let it out. Going back to it allows you to see if you’ve made syntax errors on account of the heat of passion.

    I think the simple act of admitting defeciency is the fundamental way one even improves, not just in writing, but in life in general.

    • Wow, these are excellent insights, Marlon. I too struggle with setting and description. I think I’m in a hurry to get to the action, which normally happens through dialogue. I’m working on a project now through which one of my goals is to strengthen the setting and description. I’m also reading books that are strong in these areas and have found them immensely helpful. Thanks again for your comments — great food for thought.