This is Part Two in a three part series. For Part One go here:
Exercises to Develop your creative writing Part two: Improve your style
Improving your writing style is useful in a multitude of settings, not just if your are trying to improve your creative writing. A solid base of a clean and good writing style, will take some practice, but useful for writing emails at work, letters and Christmas cards to friends and family, and anywhere you need to use the written word to communicate. Although improving your style takes time, any improvements you make are instantly applicable to your day to day life, so dedicating any energy to consciously improve your writing will be well worth your time. Please see below for 8 exercises / methods to improve your writing style.
Read for at least one hour per day – Reading as much as possible will improve your writing, however in personal experience, this was most apparent when I set aside one or more hours per day to dedicate to reading. Although this seems like a great deal of time, you can rack up the reading more easily than you think, if you integrate some reading into your daily routine. Reading at breakfast, during your commute, in your lunch hour at work, while your dinner is cooking, or whilst waiting to pick someone up from their class are some of the many ways you can increase your reading time. Replacing some time watching TV and Facebook surfing are also easy ways to top up your reading to an hour or more per day. Reading this much will increase your vocabulary, and get you used to good sentence structure, and plotlines.
Read actively (with a pencil in your hand) – Whilst reading, if you read actively, with a pencil in your hand, and underline important sentences, identify pivotal points in the story, and annotate, this will get you into a good habit of being critical of your own work, and highlight to you areas where other writers make mistakes.
Join a reading and writing group – criticise the work of others – Joining a reading, and / or a writing group is a good way to meet other like minded individuals, and fitting regular sessions into your schedule to criticise and analyse text. Reading with others will help you to read texts you wouldn’t otherwise have read, and allow you to hear other peoples viewpoints about was does and does not work in print.
Be open to and listen to criticism of your own work – This is the best way to improve your writing style. Although it can be difficult to differentiate between useful and true criticism and cynicism, a good rule of thumb is, if somebody is knowledgeable and well respected, then their criticism is worth taking on board. If more than one person, makes the same observation, then this it is worth taking on board. If different people criticise different pieces of your work, with the same point, then it may be a mistake you are making often, and it is worth taking on board.
Read through and revise old pieces of work: use George Orwell’s rules, and others – It will be true once you have been writing for a while, that when looking through old pieces of work you will notice a great deal of mistakes. This is good and a sign that you are improving. Looking through and revising old pieces of work will make you more aware of mistakes you make, and give you a chance to practice correcting them. George Orwell laid out the five following rules for good, clear writing:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.
Do copy work – Although now a long lost art, copy work used to be a staple to teach reading and writing English in schools. The art of committing to memory passages of text, and rewriting them, is useful for developing use of grammar and language, vocabulary and style. To do copywork, do the following:
- Pick a passage of text you like by a writer who you revere highly, and whose style of writing you like.
During your first copybook session, commit to memory, and write out, one sentence at a time from this text.
During following sessions, commit longer passages of text to the memory, until you can recite the whole piece of text.
Try this with other passages of text.
Start a blog – The easiest way of creating a platform to practice and showcase your writing on is by starting a blog. Starting a blogger, or wordpress account, and sharing blog posts you have written on social networks, and asking friends and family to comment, is a great way to gain feedback on your writing.
Set aside some time, but not too much – Time to write is both the friend, and enemy of writing. Too little time, and you will not be able to dedicate the time needed to improving, but with too much, time will be wasted staring at your computer, lacking inspiration. Real life gives us the inspiration, for interesting things to write about, and we need time to write about them. To give yourself time to write, block out a finite amount of time in your diary, on a regular basis, and stick to it, rejecting offers of other meetings or commitments during this time, and make it clear to friends and family that you are not available during this time so you are not distracted.
Want to write about something? Gain first hand experience of it – To gain material on a topic you are writing about, it is very helpful to gain first hand experience. If the scene you are writing is about a sports club, or type of music, go to a gig and try out the sport! If your character lives in an old decaying mansion, and you are trying to write a scene about it, check the local listings to find an old decaying mansion and organise a viewing. If your character lives in Milan, visit Milan, or, if you are on a budget, get some guidebooks of Milan out from your local library. Experiencing something you are trying to write about first hand will give you more inspiration and allows you to describe it in rich detail.
What are to best methods you have found to improve your writing style? Have you tried any of the above?
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