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Three Practices to Improve Your Writing by Rochelle Melander

When I got out of bed Monday morning, I felt like I’d run a marathon or something. My leg muscles were sore, and I could barely lift my arms. I spent much of the weekend cleaning the house—squatting to dust baseboards, bending to retrieve dog toys, and running up and down the stairs to wash and put away the laundry. I exercise regularly. Why did my weekend cleaning spree hit me so hard?

In Ten Things Your Trainer Wish You Knew by Karen Asp (Real Simple, January 2012), trainer and fitness studio owner Michael Sokol said, “After doing the same cardio or strength routine three to six times, your body adapts and you burn fewer calories.” The article advised switching up routines. No wonder my body was so sore—my weekend chores gave my muscles the treat they needed.

This got me thinking about writing. I wonder what happens to writers who consistently create in a single genre? Does churning out the same kind of stuff day after day help us to flourish or stifle our creativity? I don’t think this is an either or dichotomy. Sticking with a genre or niche can help us to learn it deeply and well. In time and with practice, we do grow better. But I also know that when I try a new writing challenge, I become a better writer.  Here are three ways to switch up your writing routine and learn to write better:

*Try a contest. Last week in our Write Now! Mastermind class, C. Hope Clark talked about how tackling a writing contest can challenge us to sharpen our writing skills. No doubt. Between undertaking a specific writing exercise and polishing up the piece for the judges, we work out our writing and revising muscles. Here’s a contest from Gotham Writers’ Workshop to challenge you: write a story of your life in 91 words.

*Do writing exercises. Last November, I led several writing workshops for National Novel Writing Month during which we just did timed fiction writing exercises. Working from a writing prompt gave me the freedom to experiment in a way that I do not do when I am writing for publication. To grow your writing skills, try doing a writing exercise a day during your morning daily pages time. My favorite book of writing exercises is Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich.

*Take a class. Maybe one of the best ways to grow our writing is to invite the guidance and feedback of an experienced writing teacher. In a writing craft class, students can learn the specifics of a certain genre or dig into an aspect of writing—like crafting dialogue, orchestrating the plot, or creating voice. If you don’t have access to an in-person class at a local college or writing center, visit some of the helpful online writing communities like Gotham Writers’ Workshop or Writer’s Digest University.

Your turn: What have you done to improve your writing? Leave a comment below.


4 Responses

  1. I use to write everyday in stream of conscious style. It helps me dump out anything that my be bogging my writing down, and allows me to explore what I love and what I hate about my current project and work out any kinks. It’s kind of like talking to yourself, or a dear friend, but unfiltered and very privately.

  2. Laura Steidl

    I love to write short non-fiction stories and saw myself getting into a narrow rut. To set myself free and open new horizons, I took a poetry writing class. That opened another door to join a poetry group that encourages their members to read the poems they write. Using this peer pressure on myself helped me discover that I actually can write something besides my usual short story. Another bonus is I’m getting over being so shy about reading my work in front of others.

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