Last week I was reading one of Dean Wesley Smith’s posts in his series called “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing”. If you aren’t reading these, you should be – there’s a ton of excellent information in them. This particular chapter is titled, “Writer’s Don’t Need to Practice“. He’s busting the myth that professional writers don’t have to hone their craft constantly.
I was a little confused at why this was a myth, to be honest. Or to be more clear, I couldn’t figure out why people would believe that professionals didn’t still have to work at writing stories – writing *better* stories. Do people really think that having a certain number of books out makes learning unnecessary for writers?
And all experience aside, nearly every writer I know is a perfectionist, or at least works hard to tell the best story they can. Will those writers ever quit trying to tell a better story? Hard to say, but I doubt it.
The thing is, in my experience, every book is different. Every set of characters are different, and each book requires a different challenge to be met on the part of the writer. This is all inherent to the writing for me – and it’s what normally feeds these writing notes. I draw off of whatever I’m dealing with at the moment in any given story, and try to make heads or tails of it while I write. That sort of thing can all be classified as “practice”, in my opinion. But it’s not deliberate – I just sort of stumble into it, and play with it until I feel pretty good about how it works.
What Dean advocates in his post is what he calls “Focused Practice”. It’s choosing one thing to work on in the next story before you even start writing, and then practicing that one skill every chance you get. Then with the next story, you pick a different skill, etc. Rather than my bumbling “stumble over it” method of finding things to work on (which I’m sure will still happen), it’s something to keep in mind for the whole novel, not just the individual scenes where things jump out at me.
I’m going to try this with my next draft. I’ll be writing some flash fiction soon, and that would be a perfect place to start, I think. I want to see if having a focus for practice will make any difference over picking things out as I go.
Have you ever tried this? How do you practice your writing?
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