Five ways to becoming a better writer: Tuesday

Writers write, right? Here are five things you can do this week (with me) to become a better writer. And since big projects tend to scare (and excite, but mostly scare) me, we can take it day by day.

Tuesday: Compose a deep and honest evaluation of your writing. What are your strengths (setting, dialogue, action, insight)? What can you do to bring out and play up your strengths?

This is a difficult challenge. I see my weaknesses easier than my strengths, so I’ll start there first.

Weaknesses I struggle to get to the point. I struggle to end a story. I get distracted by plots and sub-plots, and I end up spending 90% planning and 10% writing. I’m too critical of my writing. Yes, this is a weakness. The writing process should be separate from the editing process, get the ideas down first, but I tend to go back and fix sentences as I write.

This makes the writing process quite long. It also makes the editing process quite difficult. By the time I have the story, I’m so sick of it from staring at it for hours, I end of shredding it (sending it to Recycle Bin).

In Afrikaans we have an expression, “wik en weeg”. I do that. I weigh my words too much, look around too much, try to be perfect too much. I freak out about split infinitives when in fact, those people who are brave (or stupid) enough to split their infinitives often get the story down much faster than me, and their stories could be more exciting.

I also won’t write the story unless I really understand the subject matter, which, especially when writing about insurance, can take me a long time.

Now for the strengths

I am a great editor. (Note how I edited out the ‘very’, replaced it with ‘damn’, then cut the adjective out altogether.) My pedantic nature is good for that, I am ruthless with killing my darlings.

I always try to be different. Has this sentence been written like this before? How can I write it better? How can I make my verbs sing, my nouns shine, my adverbs glitter?

I base my characters on real people. Some shit you can’t make up. The people I have met in my short life have enlarged my life. The people I grew up with, the people I met along the way, have all taken root in that place in my mind where creativity sprouts.

I’m good. When my anxiety and paranoia is under control, my writing is controlled, prim and proper. But when I let my neuroses fly free, I’m excellent! (I’m biased, of course).

I read. I read anything and everything. When I’m down I read Terry Pratchett, he picks me up every time. I read in English and Afrikaans, I even read in Dutch at university and German in school. I have a knack for languages. I learned Korean at a university in South Korea, and I pick up sounds like little sticks of meaning.

I use all my senses when I learn words, how it sounds, how it feels on my tongue, what the word looks like, etc.

What was the questions? (Scroll back up).

How can I bring out my strengths?

Write more. Read more. Play with sounds and meanings and pictures. Find a quiet spot once a day and experiment. Write drunk, edit sober. Trust in my abilities. Construct one character a day and make him dance in the veld. Read more. Let others read my stories. Breathe.

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