At first, when I heard a piece of advice from fantasy author Brandon Sanderson saying something to the effect of “your first three novels will suck. period.” I wanted to rebel, tear my hair and clothing, etc. After all, it was Brandon Sanderson’s meteoric rise to fantasy stardom that I wanted to imitate, and at the time I was still on book number 2.
Looking back, I’d like to translate what he said for you, my reader: “You will only begin to understand how to write after you’ve invested a lot of words on the page.”
If you read the above quote as saying: “as long as I write a lot, I’ll eventually get better.” That’s wrong. And stupid. I’d like to borrow a tired chiché from my music education experience, which is that the “practice makes perfect” mantra is misleading. Practice makes permanent is more often true. Only perfect practice makes perfect. Which raises the question: how does one practice writing?
You could, as per my most basic interpretation of Brandon Sanderson’s thought implies, mash your face against the keyboard and pray for eventual success.
You could write like you go to the gym. If you’ve ever heard of “leg-day” you know what I’m talking about. Gym-goers focus on one specific muscle group per workout in order to give the others time to rest and rebuild. And they judiciously use rest days.
This can be mimicked to great effect in order to practice anything in your life, including writing. “Dialogue-day” and “description-day” are some of my own “workouts.” Identify different areas of your writing that you would like to work on and dedicate times to try to improve those areas. I like these exercises because they give me a dedicated space to practice my writing skills without threatening the continuity or voice of my projects. Plus, it can be really fun to write a scene using nothing but dialogue.
Keep in mind that these practice sessions should not take up a great portion of your writing time, and that despite all of this, honing your personal craft ultimately comes down to investing words on the page. Just know that if you practice intelligently, you’ll get better, faster, or your money back guaranteed.
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Don’t steal my words. They’re mine. Zachary Barnes 2016©