Strong routines support us through the ups and downs that occur naturally in any difficult task, so it is with writing. This article will consider five habits: write, research, craft, edit, connect. It has been my experience that these five habits support us as we work with our word sense, our voice, and hone what it is we want to be saying to the world. They help us all become better writers.
Write Every Day
Many authors on the craft of writing remind us to write every day. This is backed up by research on what makes the difference between the average chess player and the master, or the average musician and a solo artist. We all have to reach our 10,000 hours of practice before we can come become great. Malcolm Gladwell reminds us that the Beatles could only have been the Beatles because they took on gigs in their early career that made them play eight hours a day seven days a week. We need that kind of experience.
Several things may support your ability to write every day. One is to make the task comfortable, develop and use personal habits that you like. For instance Truman Capote wrote lying down, James Joyce took whole days to ponder a sentence, Stephen King writes 10 pages a day even on holidays, while Ernest Hemingway wrote about 500 words a day. These men understood the power of the tension you create by taking on a personal goal or commitment and then meeting it. Perhaps consider saying yes to one of EzineArticles “Hundred Articles in 100 Days ” challenges.
Do Your Research
Research is as important as writing, especially to the nonfiction writer. This involves more than just going to the web to look up what others say about your topic. Part of research is to read the work of others. Look not only for their use of words, their ideas, but how they back up what they say with examples or details. Do exercises drawing out what you see in words. Take notes in a notebook or dictate them electronically as you practice using words to explain visual images. Then the next time you read, be on the lookout for how other writers explain their topics, making note of things that you enjoy. Start a list of things you wish you had written.
Work with the Conventions of Grammar, Punctuation, Pace and Transition
Grammar and punctuation can be the friends of good writing. They can also seem like adversaries when we forgot to use them or fall into any bad language habits that we have developed: redundant use of words, incoherent sentences, poor punctuation, etc. Do you know what makes up a sentence or paragraph? In your writing do you lead in and transition well? Do adverbs and adjectives add unnecessary clutter to your writing? Are your sentences active or passive?
Active sentences give writing zest. It’s useful to think in terms of what we like as readers and give that back to the people who take the time to read our work. Start with something snappy, give them hints where the article or story is going, and provide a structure so that they can skim through and still get your meaning. One of my college professors told me, “Tell them where you are going, go there, and then tell them where you have been.”
Edit and Rewrite Your Work
There is no easier basic editing tool than to get into the habit of reading your work out loud as you edit. We will all hear things that we cannot see. The great author on writing, William Zinsser said the first thing you need to do was get rid of 50% of everything you write. That hones it down to a neat package, one that the reader will appreciate. Allowing your work to be edited by someone else is good practice as well and do it often enough that you begin to pick up the patterns in they find. This will help your focus and concentration both as you write and when you edit. It’s the small details that help our writing improve.
Develop and Exercise Your Voice: Connect with Other Writers
Sooner or later every writer will be admonished to, “find your voice.” In my experience one of the easiest ways to do that, is to hang out with other writers. I’ve been privileged to be part of the Cork Nonfiction Writers Group for several years now. We meet twice a month, publish our work in a regular blog, read our work to each other, and receive critical analysis of what we have read. Every meeting, whether we read or not, we come away with ideas about writing. Perhaps most important, we begin to see ourselves in the world of writers, and to understand how our voice differs from those of our colleagues.
Tying It All Together
When I look back over the list: write, research, craft, edit, connect, it seems that together they create the life of a crafts-person. While we all may aspire to greatness, we have to start by working our craft. As Stephen King reminds us – good writers are good craftspeople first.