I enjoy walking for exercise. I have a balky knee, which keeps me from doing what I really love, running, but I continue to putter along in a less impactful way. Before my knee went bad on me, though, I ran pretty seriously. Slowly, but seriously. I ran in half marathons. And one of the things I learned in my quest to become better at running is that you don't always have to run long distances to improve. When I was training, in fact, I would only run long one day a week, with shorter, specific types of runs other days, rest on others, and cross-training on still others. Cross-training is doing other kinds of exercise that improve you in your chosen sport. There are specific exercises you can do to make your body more ready to run long distances.
The same is true for writing. If you're a novelist, like I am, in order to get better at that, the primary thing you should probably do, and I know this isn't exactly groundbreaking news, is write novels. But it's by no means the only thing you have to do. In fact, I would argue it's not the only thing you should do. Just like distance runners do specific kinds of runs and specific kinds of cross-training on days they aren't running long, writers should be doing other things regularly to improve in the type of writing they consider their primary writing mode. Here are three things I argue will improve your primary writing.
1. Write If you're new to this blog, you may think a small child has broken in and taken over this guy's computer. But here's what I mean. You don't need to write on your novel every day. But you do need to write just about every day. One of the things that has made the greatest difference in the quality of my writing has been the fact that I've begun writing for a magazine. I started out writing book reviews, but have since branched out to play reviews and even general articles. I had no idea I was capable of writing non-fiction at all, much less do a decent job of it. But my editor says I'm actually good. And the bonus is that it's improved my writing on the days I'm working on my novels. I can't quantify it, but I can say that I approach my books with greater confidence and enthusiasm now that I've been writing in other modes on off days. So, if you can't get a job writing something else, then just do it on your own. Start a blog. Go on Pinterest and find writing prompts that you can use. Write poetry. Write letters to the editor. Write. All writing improves all writing.
3. Live intentionally There's this image of the writer as a hermit who lives holed up in front of a keyboard or a pad of paper doing nothing but writing, but I think we can all agree that the best writers are not just those with the best vocabulary or ability to turn a phrase, but also those who seem to have something interesting and unique to say about the human condition and about how we relate to one another. In order to do that, it's probably best if you actually, you know, relate sometimes with other people. Human people. Meat world people, not just the ones we make up in our heads. So go places. Do things. Live. Talk to people. Laugh. Cry. Get angry. And pay attention. Take notes. Listen to what people say and how they say it. Write it down. Notice how people treat each other and how it affects them. Write that down too. Those are the things that will make your characters come to life when you get back to your keyboard or pad of paper.
So those are my ideas for becoming a better writer. Probably not new ideas, but how many of those are there? What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Qualify? Additions? I'd love to hear from you.