There’s a reason why babies crawl before they walk. And there’s a reason you learn to count from one to 10 and do simple addition before you tackle calculus. It’s no different when it comes to wordsmithing; you must learn to spell, punctuate, and use proper grammar before you write your first novel. You need the three Rs.
These exercises are a set of basics that can lend serious strength to your writing ability. Writers who want to make their next story better than the last should practice the three rs every day, or as often as you can. Playing with these building blocks of writing strengthens skills that separate the mere writers from authors and can help you take your next submission from a gamble to a sure thing. Here’s how:
You had to know reading would be on the list of three rs, but this assignment comes with a bit of a quirk. Instead of reading the genres you love, grab something completely out of the box for you. Normally gravitate to science fiction? Try a romance. A fan of high fantasy? Grab a mystery instead. Don’t grimace. This isn’t for-pleasure reading, although it may turn out to be. This is reading with a purpose, like homework. You’re a writer. That’s your job. Most professions have continuing education they must do to keep current. You do, too. So stop looking like you’re sucking a lemon and pick up that book!
Two things will happen when you do this. First, you’ll be amazed at how much more attention you’ll pay to things that slip by you when you’re reading one of your old favorites. You’ll notice dialogue, plot mechanics, and writing styles with more clarity and certainty when you’re not sucked head-and-feet into a tried-and-true format–and that means you’re learning new skills and new techniques to carry into your own writing. The second thing you might experience, if I might be so bold to say, is an epiphany. Yes, I said epiphany. Reading outside your own comfort zone will make your own writing sizzle. Adding a bit of romance to your next sci-fi story or a tad of mystery to your fantasy novel will make each more dimensional, interesting, and innovative.
The next task for the day is to spend some time rewriting something you’ve written in the past. Skim over an old short story or essay or spend some time revising a chapter from your latest novel. Putting new eyes on old words can shake up your writing faster than dice in a Yahtzee cup, and who knows what lucky combination can spill out onto your page?
Okay, technically not an “R” but neither is Reading, Writing, and (ahem) ‘Rithmetic in the original three rs, so I stand vindicated. You’ve read for inspiration and skill, you’ve re-written for practice, and now it’s time combine the two and write some more. Even if it’s just a simple paragraph or one scene in your novel, writing as daily practice is undeniably essential to keeping you from stagnating. Don’t know what to write? Go online for prompts (Reedsy has a great source of free prompts in return for your email address) or download a writing app like Lists for Writers, Brainstormer, or WordPalette for a boost. If you have a friend who also writes, you can partner up and give each other a series of prompts for the week. It doesn’t really matter what you write, only that you do. I like to write one scene per day, even when I’m in the middle of writing articles for pay or my next novel. You’d be amazed at how useful these little snippets of writing can be. I’ve used them as springboards for novels, developed them into short stories, and even illustrated a few just for fun.
After you’ve completed your practice, feel free to engage in the fourth “R” — rest. You deserve it!
See you on the next page!