While I was in class, I learned a lot of tools to help me write beyond the classroom. The things I learned can apply to my own regular writing rituals and life.
These tools are especially useful when I’m not feeling motivated or when I want to edit my own writing.
1 – Peer Review.
This can be harder to get outside the classroom but finding other people to read and comment on your work is invaluable! Search on sites like Facebook and MeetUp to find writing groups in your area (or online ones if people aren’t really your thing).
Having an outside opinion about something you wrote can give insight into how your writing in perceived and what you may need to change to really get your reader to see your story as you do. You can also ask friends to read for you, but be sure you ask for honesty, not flattery.
Flattery builds confidence, but honest critique can build your skills.
1A – Guiding Questions.
As a peer reviewer, I found that there are a few questions that can help you get into the honest critique and give valuable feedback.
“What is happening here?” Simple, but useful for the writer to see some concrete interpretations of actions and events. Think who are the characters, what are they doing, what is their goal, and so on.
“What are two really strong moments, and one weak moment?” I like to balance feedback in workshops, start with a strength, then a weakness, then end with another strength. Try not to think in terms of how you would write it differently, but how the author uses moments to convey meaning.
Focus on specific moments in the story or poem. Don’t try to “fix” the whole thing. That’s not going to be of much help in the long run and likely to just discourage the writer.
2 – A Journal.
The practice of keeping a writing journal really changed how I observed the world around me. Just a notebook and pen, but when you keep it with you and write down everything you think of, you find some seeds for later use.
I like to make it a game. I challenge myself to copy down an overheard conversation or to describe a scene I see out the window. Make up stories about what the people around you are thinking, go people watching and see who happens by! Maybe that person can inspire you.
I once stood in a crowded subway car writing down a backstory for a punk couple standing beside me because the way the spoke and interacted with each other was different from any couple I’d ever seen before.
Or recently I saw someone smack the guy next to him on the shoulder because said guy was zoned out watching a train go by. I wrote a scene about the guys planning a heist and the distracted one was the reluctant tag-along who just wanted to escape on that train.
Let your imagination run free!
3 – Warm-up writing.
Some days, you just don’t want to write. Or you don’t know what to write. Fix that by starting a day/session/whatever with just a few minutes of writing. It can be to a prompt (more on that later), to a song, to a picture, anything. Especially if you are feeling blocked or stuck in a project, just start writing some randomness and see what comes up.
Set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes and go for it.
The only rule is: you can’t stop writing until the timer goes off.
Even if what you have after that time is nonsense, you’ve now been writing for several minutes and the chances are you can do some more about something that really matters. Some days that warm-up writing is all I do in a day, but it keeps me writing something every day.
4 – Prompts.
Writing from a prompt is not something I do naturally, and I really had to learn to use them well, but now I find that writing prompts can be a great resource when I feel blocked.
There are all kinds of prompts you can use for different projects. And every person is going to find different qualities in a prompt useful.
But really there is a lot more I want to say on the subject, so that will be the topic for next week! Stay tuned for my thoughts on Prompts (and some sample prompts that I like to use)!
There are my 4 Tools I took from writing classes, do you have more? Thoughts on what I said here? Let me know!