Wednesday, April 27, 2011

ABC, W for Wie man... (How to...)

This was originally written for the letter U, but after finishing I had to admit, that the content didn't fit properly to the headline anymore! Fortunately there was a suitable letter left:

Wie man.../'How to improve your writing skills?'
One of the questions, I'm asking myself all the time. So, what can be done?

Let's assume, someone's being blessed with some basic writing skills and also have a brilliant idea for a plot, well, that's not enough! A book, a novella, a short story, whatever doesn't write itself - unfortunately! You literally have to sit on your but and practice, practice, practice or in other words write, write and write, rewrite and again write some more! And ... FINISH it!

I'm wondering, if every writer is also a passionate reader? In any case, reading could help to improve your writing skills. My emphasis lays on could, because it doesn't matter what we read, but how we read! There's normal reading, where you turn pages from cover to cover just for the sake of entertainment, and there's reading. Then you read with focus on things beyond meaning, something like grammar, vocabulary, syntax, phrases, idioms and/or expressions. Or you do some kind of research in the genre you do your own writing. You do this special filter reading and your writing can profit from that.

Additional note: It may also help to lay focus on what we read ... there's no wrong to check out some how-to-books in order to study basic writing techniques. But don't forget: Rules are there to be broken!

Why buy expensive how-to-books, when the internet is full of free writing tips? Just google 'How to become a better writer' and you get thousand of pages. My current favorite is 73 Ways to Become a Better Writer. Not to forget all those wonderful writing blogs!

On that just one word of advice: Don't make yourself crazy with ALL the tips. Just take one, maybe two tips per day and concentrate on this/them. It's like learning to drive, first you had to remember yourself to watch into the mirror before turning left or right, now you do it automatically! Hopefully!

For me it was quite a revelation, when I started book-club-e-mails with some of my friends. We've usually started with some easy questions: Did you like the book? What was your most/least favorite scene and character? Who was the character you could identify most/least? We didn't just name, it was more interesting to know the why's behind! We've also discussed various themes depending on the book. I can tell you, I've learnt most, when I had a different opinion than my book-club partners! To understand the other's point of view ... and in the following to include some of the learnt lessons in my own writing!

Second, find a critique partner/group. The problem, I've experienced is to find a good critique partner! Just to say 'That's good!' or 'I don't like that scene.' is NOT a good critique, it doesn't help at all! Some general tips for feedback:

To give feedback:
- on time
- constructive
- detailed
- appropriate chunks
- readiness declared
- I-messages
To accept feedback:
- listen, perhaps request
- don't argue, explain, excuse
- think about, change
- thank for feedback

How to express feedback:
Create a positive basis for feedback, right time/place/tone
1. Perception + I-message: I see, I hear, I feel...
2. Effect: That's how I perceive it.
3. Wish: How would we reach...?
Result: Utilize

That dialogue is miserable! - Miserable feedback, doesn't help to improve. Better: When I've read that dialogue, the messages were clear. I also perceived it a little 'naked'. How was the tone, the speed, etc. of the voices? What emotions could you hear in the voices during the dialogue? Were there any looks (or other actions) between the partners?

The best possibility to compare your skills with other writers. In addition you have to deal with given specifications, word limitation and/or deliver on a certain date. But be prepared for critical, perhaps even harsh, feedback!

Last, but not least:

P.S. I know, I still owe you two more post! I'm working on them! Please, stay tuned!


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