My husband and I read The Legend of Sleepy Hallow with our kids every October. This year as we were reading and discussing the character descriptions with out four and five year old I realized something. I have crappy descriptions in my writing! Not just characters either. I may only write as a hobby, but that's no reason to be so crappy at it.
Luckily I have wise friends with degrees in writing.
I brought some samples to go over knowing well enough it wasn't praiseworthy literature.
We went over areas in need of imagery on the first two pages- oh man, there was a lot of red on that poor paper. We basically took shot holes in all the descriptive absence. I'm pretty sure I would have been devastated and maybe drown my sorrows in some full body Pepsi- not the diet nonsense- if my friend weren't so wise and insightful.
Instead of leaving me with my war battered pages she gave me some suggestions.
It was one of those, "oh yeah" moments. Where you realize there is more you can do to improve your ability in the moment. It's probably common sense to any true writer, but I don't have an editor, publisher, agent, or teacher from whom to seek guidance.
I'm literally just tapping at a screen determined to improve with the resources I can scrounge up. Why you wonder? Because I currently do not have the skill or ability to garner attention from an agent, editor, or publisher. And I live in a tiny little valley without face to face teaching access. I could take an online course, but I don't want to pay for it. I'm a frugal mother of three kids under five years old. It shouldn't shock anyone that I choose not to foot the bill for writing seminars and classes when I go through 144 diapers a month. I love reading other people's blogs with insights, advice, and inspiration though.
Back to the point. It occurred to me in that moment that practicing was different than typing project efforts into my hard drive. Still, my thick intuition prevented me from figuring out what qualified for good writing practice. I'm pretty sure my friend was wondering if I was suffering an absentee seizure at this point. I hadn't moved for a full two minutes while processing the idea of practice.
She suggested any of three quick writing drills.
1. Describe a setting.
You don't have to be too flowery, simply set the scene in a real location that you know. You can make this exercise more difficult by refraining from using any common explinations, such as 'there is a lamp on the table next to the chair." Find a more captivating method to explain the same thing.
2. Five Senses Object.
Pretty straight forward. Take a small object and describe it using all five senses. It doesn't all have to fit in one sentence. Be as imaginative as you can in comparisons.
3. Metaphors and Similes
Take an object or setting and describe it using only metaphors or similes. You cannot use any words indicative of what the object really is. For instance, if you have a blue pen you can't say 'it's a blue pen'
I'm also a reader. Not voracious, but I read when I get a chance. If there's a series I really love, I might neglect cleaning some bathrooms or folding laundry in order to finish the book. My friend suggested that instead of consuming the story and getting lost in it, I mentally process the writing style, technique and imagery.
That is difficult. When the writing is good, I just get lost in the story- I completely forget I'm reading- so it's difficult to remain aware of the writing process. When the writing is less good I notie the process and think to myself, 'why are they telling me that? I want to discover it through the actions of the characters and developing plotline! Does the author think I'm too stupid to figure this out without spoon feeding me this information?"
I'm looping from aiming for the story distracting me from the writing and the crappy writing distracting me from the story.
So I've been practicing.
I was thinking 2 a days. Two rounds of practice every day. Or maybe 3 a days when I don't have to work...
Realistically I have only managed 1 a day. My first mistake might have been in phrasing my writing goals similar to my workout goals. I have only managed 2 a week workouts with a 1 a day goal...
Even though my practice hasn't been as frequent as I had hoped, at least I'm still working on something to improve my skill.
I've also been reading some of my beloved authors. Unfortunately I'm sucked into the events already and now have to go back and pick it apart better...
Drill and Practice.