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.