I’ve been posting more on this blog lately. It’s not really because I like to talk about working out, though yeah, I do like to do that some. What’s really happening is that I am using 750Words.com to get in a certain amount of free-writing a day, and they’re starting to evolve into halfway reasonable blog posts rather than just personal rants.
While I will use the format for personal rants from time to time, I don’t think my writing practice is being improved by the stream of consciousness so much any more and I’m trying to write about specific subjects to write actual essays.
It’s actually a lot harder than you might think to write to a specific word count on a specific subject. Sure, sure, you can pound out a target word count of ranting in fifteen minutes or so if you’re a fast typist. But if you’re actually trying to write a coherent piece? That takes more time.
In my case, that’s okay. I’m a writer. Spending time writing is kind of like a pianist doing scales or an athlete doing drills on the basics of her sport. You do that to keep your skills up.
In fact, I’d recommend to anyone who wants to improve their writing to start just by committing to a certain word count of writing every day and then just plain doing the free-write. You really do get better at writing by writing, and you will get better just by that alone.
So, when do you jump from free-write to trying to write to a specific topic or drilling on technique? You do it when the free-write gets too easy. If you’re hitting your word count in fewer than twenty minutes on a regular basis chances are good you need something else to motivate you and keep you challenged.
There are lots of writing drills you can use to hone your skills. Blogging and essay writing is kind of my thing because I enjoy a good topic-specific piece, but it’s hardly the only thing available to you.
Do you like fiction? Challenging yourself to write fanfiction really is an amazing way to hone your skills. When my son was starting to think about his SATs and was worried about the writing portion of them, I told him that since one of his major forms of entertainment was to come up with cross-fiction stories about characters he liked and act them out in his room, what he could do is write them down. He has a running series now that he works on, though I think it’s jumped from fanfic to original fiction. His English grades definitely improved — not only the composition portion, but the literary analysis areas. So yeah, I’m in favor of fanfic as a writing exercise, even if I don’t read it.
I have a friend who challenged himself to write a short story a week for a year. He’s since turned it into a book, and it’s quite good. This is also a great exercise to hone your writing if you like to write fiction.
I think a lot of it does depend on what you want to do with your writing. I mean, professionally, I’m a tech writer. Over my lifetime of writing fiction I’ve made enough money to buy a couple of pizzas, and that’s it, so clearly I really need to work on my fiction skills over my tech writing skills. I love writing fiction. I just… well, I don’t think I’m all that good at it. Doesn’t stop me from writing it, mind. Sometimes, it’s a good and valid thing to write just for the fun of it after all.
But as I am writing this, something occurs to me. I don’t practice writing fiction nearly as much as I practice writing essays. I put out all these blog entries, and I write manuals and I write instructional pieces. That fills my writing time. Certainly anyone who knows my writing is more likely to follow blogs I write rather than any fiction I do.
Since I do have a personal Life Dream in terms of fiction, me sitting here and writing this essay as my daily writing practice is kind of silly when you think about it, isn’t it? I’m practicing essays, not fiction.
You get good at what you drill on a regular basis, after all, so the intelligent thing for me to do would be to start some sort of regular practice drilling on specific fictional techniques.