Monday, February 23, 2015

Stretching and Polishing




What's the best way to stretch and polish writing skills? Ask a dozen writers this question and you might get a dozen answers that include:
  • Writing 
  • Reading 
  • Continued education  
  • Joining a writing group 
  • Reading writing books/blogs
  • Feedback from critique partners

These helpful tools provide opportunities to exercise and strengthen writing muscles, meet other writers, and gain valuable insight.  

Each item on this list can lead me in a myriad of directions, rabbit trails even, so I aim for "big picture" balance and assess what's applicable not only for long term growth but for current projects.  

For example, when working on an article or book draft, sometimes I use an exercise I require of my teen students

It goes like this:

Read the sentences in the first paragraph of your current project. 

List these sentences on paper, one per line. 

Examine and consider:

Do they relate to each other? 

Do they tie into the theme?

This can reveal gaps, typos, and awkward spots, or affirm that all is well. It provides a different perspective and a breakdown that makes sure the content is focused on the main theme I do this with all or various portions of a project, especially when struggling with the overall picture. 

Speaking of writing exercises - not sure if they are worth the time? E. J. Runyon offers insight in Take Your Writing Further: How to Get the Most Out of Writing Exercises. It's a quick and interesting read that hits the topic from a different angle. 

Is there anything you'd add to the list above? What helps stretch and polish your writing?  

Happy writing,

Karen


Photo credit: Free Images

32 comments :

  1. I think you've got a great list of what we need to do. And the exercise sounds like a good one too.

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  2. Interesting exercise.
    I agree that a balance of all things is needed.

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  3. Natalie,
    Thanks, I'm glad you agree! Wasn't sure if I missed something. :) Let me know if you try it!

    Alex,
    Balance is key for everything, isn't it? The wheel just can't turn well without balance. :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  4. Appreciate the tips, Karen--and E.J.'s too. All timely reminders to the projects we're working on! One exercise I do (after I get the drafts polished up a little) is to read my work out loud. That's when I hear the clunkers that need worked on :-)

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  5. I like to get someone who's a bad oral reader to read my opening scene out loud to me. I always pick up things that need fixing when I do that.

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  6. I do what Kenda suggested-- I read my work out loud. What a way to pick up on clumsy sentences!

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  7. Hi Karen! That image made me wince! I remember when I could do that, but it was a long time ago :)
    Taking a class is running about my head lately. Maybe this summer. How can I get better if I am the only one reviewing what I write? That line by line approach should work too. I am getting more sensitive to continuity in my thoughts (which is GREAT). Doing another check of that would be another way to make more sense.

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  8. Karen: I don't have anything to add to your list except to let the writing 'perk'--let it lay for a day or so and then go back and read it.

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  9. Kenda,
    Thank you! Yes, I like that reading aloud tip - such a good one that helps in so many ways. :)

    Lee,
    It's amazing what hearing our words can do for the editing process, isn't it? And it's free too! :)

    Terri,
    Yes, for sure, it helps a great deal! And the best part is that it isn't hard to do! :)

    Ceil,
    Ah yes, I could do that once upon a time too. Not sure if I still can...:) Continuity is important, and we sometimes lose sight of that, don't we?

    Cecelia,
    Now that's a good suggestion. It really does help us return with a fresh perspective, doesn't it? :) Good advice!

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  10. I remember when I could do a backbend...

    Good idea for looking at your project.

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  11. I am a big fan of reading aloud my work to help me edit and find errors. I like the idea you suggested. I have never tried that method, but it does sound like another good strategy. I have heard good things about reading backwards to find errors, but I don't think I quite understand how it works- yet. :)

    ~Jess

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  12. Holly,
    Me too! LOL Maybe someday again...:) I like this method, kind of breaks things down for you, you know?

    Jess,
    I am too - the reading aloud thing. :) It has been a huge help, and I try to get my teen students to do it. I've heard about the reading backwards thing and will do it once in a while. It was actually suggested in a copyediting class I took.

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  13. Karen, I like your paragraph assessment exercise. I do something similar and it never fails to work out the bugs. Informative post! Thanks.

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  14. Oh wow, amigo. LOVE this. I have never done this. But I will from now on. You are a veritable well of writing help. xoxoxoxoxo

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  15. I just read Holly's comment. Tickled me.

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  16. I'm another one on the "read it aloud" bandwagon. I've caught so many errors doing that!

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  17. Susan,
    Thank you! Appreciate your endorsement. :) Funny how a breakdown of things can help sort things out!

    Robyn,
    Hugs and kisses back at you! Glad you found it helpful. Just helps me sort through things, you know? :) As for Holly's comment - yeah, all of us, right? LOL

    Lisa,
    I know, it is beyond helpful, right? And it's an inexpensive editing tool! :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  18. I also read my work aloud.

    I've been exploring different genres and word counts. It's a way to stretch my writing. I'm also in a writing group.

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  19. I never thought to list the first few lines of my stories to help me see the lines visually, to see if they do in fact connect. Great idea, Karen. I'll have to try it. I do much in your list of things to help polish my writing. I like to read my stories aloud to hear where I, or someone else, trips up and try to smooth those parts. Thanks for sharing this information with your readers.

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  20. Medeia,
    Sounds like you have a good system. The word count thing is a help too. Writing and submitting articles can help with that too. :)

    Victoria,
    Let me know how it works out for you if you try it. Curious to see how you like it. Sounds like you have a good plan overall to stay on track! :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  21. I'll have to try this. :)

    At the beginning of every writing session, I read several paragraphs or pages of what I'd written before. Usually, I'll pick up on typos, cliches (one of my friends is always finding them in my writing), and other bits that must be edited. It also helps me pick up the story thread and continue.

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  22. I'm going to give it a try. Excellent idea, Karen!

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    1. I'm going to write down the first sentence in each chapter and see if the story progresses properly.

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  23. Nice. I always think if you can sum up your story in just a few short sentences, you really know where you're going. (Thus my love of flash fiction.) Anyone can write a cajillion words, right?

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  24. I think reading is GREAT exercise for the creative part of the brain :)

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  25. Susan,
    Yes, let me know how you like this exercise. Wonder who one of those typos finding friend is? Hmm...:)

    Joylene,
    Keep me posted as to what you think! :) Although after writing so many books, you are probably quite polished by now. :)

    Crystal,
    Ah, now you bring up another good point. Summing it up can be harder than people think, right? As for flash fiction, I think you are getting pretty good at it. :)

    Keith,
    Oh yes, I agree. Readers make better writers, without a doubt! :)

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  26. Hehe...my neighbors must be getting irritated by now from all the reading aloud I do!

    But great post as usual.

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  27. This is an interesting piece. What a good reminder for me. I stopped blogging for a year or so. May be just 2 post in 2014. I have been busy being a mum and resolving other issues going on with me.
    So when I started to blog my first post, I just couldn't a word although I had so much to write about. I thought after reading lots of baby and parenting books, I will be able to write a blog but I couldn't. I think that writing frequently is also one way to go. Thank you for the Tips :D

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  28. Kelly,
    LOL - yeah, I think my neighbors might be too, at least when the windows are open, anyway! :) Thanks a bunch.

    Nas,
    I feel the same way. I think I need to do some reading this weekend. Hope you get to do so too! :)

    Yeesi,
    You have been busy this past year. Your little one is a cutie. :) Best wishes on this new chapter of life!

    Happy writing,
    Karen

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  29. Hi Karen - it's focusing and getting on with writing - I must clear down and reset the start button ... so I can really progress and not drift aimlessly on blogging about things that interest me! Still I have an asset base ... take care and have a good 2015 - you've lots going on ... Hilary

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  30. Hilary,
    Good to see you back! Glad you are well after surgery. :) Drifting aimlessly is a hazard for me too, but sometimes it yields good things, I'm thinking.
    Take care,
    Karen

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Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!