1. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    How do you improve?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Nervous1st, Mar 4, 2009.

    Hi everyone,

    I realise that my posts so far have been questions, I apologise. I have been reading through all of the threads with great interest but I haven’t yet worked up enough confidence to post replies yet. So, please bear with me.

    I would like to know what, if anything, you do to improve your writing? Aside from the obvious – reading and writing. Do you do any additional study? While reading my current book, I noticed there were many words I didn’t know the meaning or if I did have some idea of the meaning, I didn’t know how to use them in a sentence. So I am now making a note of all the words that I’m unsure about and then writing them up in a word doc with their meaning and examples of how to use them. So between studying new vocabulary, reading a current novel and attempting to write mine…. It keeps me well and truly busy. Too busy.

    Obviously there are lots of words, which are unfamiliar to me…… LOTS.

    Just wondering if you guys do something similar? Any particular author or text you study?

    Sigh. So much to learn.

    Oh and before anyone suggests, I have been reading in the review room. Like I said.... not confident enough to post opinions/suggestions just yet but I'm looking forward to getting involved.
     
  2. TableTop.Paper
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    TableTop.Paper Member

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    I never thought about how to improve really, I just noticed that I always did improve. I read the stories I wrote years ago or even barely a year ago and I notice there is a quite a difference in quality.

    I think what causes this is honestly plain old writing and reading. I don't think studying will help you improve, aside from your grammar and word placing and ability to mimick styles. I think the best way is simply to keep writing and reviewing/editing your own work and see what you did wrong and what you did right.
     
  3. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    One of the obvious you mentioned is reading, but it's not just reading, but how you read. Pay attention to how an author wrote the novel. Characterization--how was it accomplished? Basically paying attention to how for: pacing, dialogue, action scenes, and so on.

    The second obvious--Writing...includes editing, attempting different POVs and techniques, modeling some other writers and then adding your own style, voice, listening to input from those whose views and knowledge and intergrity you trust. Not just putting words down, doing the same process over and over without working to change and improve.

    Terry
     
  4. Dalouise
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    Dalouise Contributing Member

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    I agree with the reading and writing bit, the reading in particular. I think it's too easy to get bogged down in technicalities though, I picked up most of mine by reading novels in genres I enjoy.
     
  5. Roxie
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    Roxie Active Member

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    Reading and writing are the only way I know of to improve. Keep reading and I think its fabulous that you pick on words that you are unsure of and keep track of them - this a good way for you to grow your vocabulary and mix it up at times.

    Good luck and I look foward to seeing some of your stuff.
     
  6. Zcreative
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    Zcreative Contributing Member

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    I actually try to read novels objectively, and compare the style of writing from one author to the next. I read a few novels from the 'teen' reading section in Borders, then I pick out a Michael Crichton book my Mom was reading and there is a big difference in the style/quality.

    I've also bought a few books on the basics of writing/fiction writing. I find them helpful, and go to them for reference when quizzical about something, grammar wise or not.
     
  7. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Reading isn't as important as writing when you want to improve your writing. I know plenty of people that read all the time yet can't write at all, but it does help. You can try reading material specifically related to what you're currently writing and go from there if you need to, but lots of writing and reviewing is enough to improve. Find a way you're most comfortable with, however.

    The only thing I do to improve my writing is to keep writing. Honestly, I think I only read one book during the years I spent writing. >.> I don't study any authors or texts other than occasionally looking up words. Using a thesaurus and dictionary can greatly improve your vocabulary.
     
  8. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Most of my writing ability comes from reading.

    I also made lists of vocabulary when I was a kid, when so many words were strange to me... There are still quite a few odd words that pop up from time to time, and occasionally I look them up. I'm not sure how practical it is, though. I now find myself editing out those strange words, as they only seem to hamper the flow of things. I find that I much prefer clear communication over the purple prose style that I started with.

    I've been visiting the forums almost every day since I began writing seriously. I've picked up a lot of useful tips from general topics, as well as reviews - of my own work, and others. The best learning technique I've found, so far, is to simply analyse and edit what I have written. I look for any possible issue - anything that reads funny or seems out of place. When I'm reasonably satisfied with a piece I might put it up for review. I've had some excellent feedback and my list of do-nots is ever growing:p

    I don't make the same mistake twice, so there is no better method.

    Aside from that, and all of the obvious stuff you already know, there really isn't much to say. I would recommend focusing on quality while disregarding quantity, but there are others who would disagree. The way I see it - the more you perfect your past or current writing, the better your future writing will be.
     
  9. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    Two real time writing/critique groups -- one general creative writing and one just for novels. They do several things. First, in-depth, comprehensive crits are required for the pieces submitted. Looking at other people's work analytically increases my ability to look at my own with the same discerning eye. Second, getting feedback from others about my own work lets me know how the piece reads to the person who has no idea of the character's backstory, the future direction of the piece, etc. Third, it helps to thicken the skin, since in the groups we have a "fly on the wall" rule. While your work is being discussed, you are a fly on a wall. No defending your work, no explaining what you were trying to get across -- just sit there and listen and either cringe with the shame or melt with relief.
     
  10. Aeroflot
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    Aeroflot Senior Member

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    I bought this book called The Making of a Story and it's really good for beginning writers I think. It is definitely more helpful than any creative writing class I've taken, and I've taken three in three different universities. It gives examples from great authors and asks you to identify how an author writes the story, and then after that there are exercises that honestly jog the brain.

    But besides studying, you can read tons of books. Pay attention to the way the author structures a sentence, how often that type of sentence is used, when it is used. Beginning with something small like that will definitely help. For instance, short sentences work well when you want to give off the impression that something is happening very quickly. Stuff like that. But don't analyze every sentence or you'll probably get bored and tired and burnt out. I know I find myself even critiquing movies now and it's not so fun, but it's awesome that I'm able to see things. It's like being able to play your favorite song on guitar for the first time and can see that all the emotions created by the notes are just a series of up and down strums or arpeggios. It's kinda sad actually lol. For me that's the price of wanting to really learn a skill, but maybe other people can get away without having the luster go away.
     
  11. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    Thanks for your replies, I will certainly take what you have suggested on board.


    Aeroflot - Thanks for the book suggestion. I assume this is the one by Alice La Plante? In any case, I looked it up this afternoon and purchased it online. Unfortunately with international posting it'll be a month away.

    Ok, so off to the review room I go.....
     
  12. Ghosts in Latin
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    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

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    Aside from reading (with intent for improvement) and writing (with a similar intent), I find that studying the English language in general helps. It allows me to tighten my grasp on the technicalities and mechanics of things. It's sometimes surprising how the smallest change in the structure of a sentence can improve it greatly.
     
  13. Aeroflot
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    Aeroflot Senior Member

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    Yeah that's the one. It's pretty big so it should keep you occupied for a while =P
     
  14. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Since you don't want to know the obvious, I'll not talk about them. One thing that has taught me a lot about, not writing necessarily but story-telling, is watching a lot of movies and even listening to the writer/director comentaries on the DVDs. Along with all the good language stuff, most good books are also great story-telling. Paying attention to how people talk in the real world is great for authentic dialogue. Listening to the dialogue in films will help you create realistic dialogue that moves plot forward. You can hear how real people say the words, learn what sounds authentic and what doesn't, and when you can get away with something not to realistic.
     
  15. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I'll go with what some others have said (even though you aren't interested in hearing it) and say that writing--a LOT (one of my storylines is over a million words so far, and that's just one of them)--has helped me improve. Improvement in my writing is something that happens so gradually I don't even notice it until I look back on writing from several years ago and see how I've changed. So if you're expecting your writing to get better really fast, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. (Plus, your post seems pretty coherent and well written. What kind of book are you reading that is so full of words you don't understand? Maybe they're words that most writers have no NEED to use in their work. It's good to learn new things, but don't think that just because you don't know what a word means, you must learn how to use it. Maybe the writer you're reading is just really pretentious.)

    I learned the basics of grammar and sentence construction way back in junior high school. Then I forgot the WHY of the rules, and what they were called (I can't tell you the names of grammatical rules and parts of speech to save my life), but I remembered HOW they work, and that's what matters. English class didn't teach me how to write, though, it just taught me how to write a sentence and spell words and use punctuation. I read books, and that helps, but mainly that tells me how OTHERS write and what's considered publishable. I took creative writing classes, but that just taught me that writing teachers are very biased in favor of particular things and you have to learn to judge for yourself. I took literature classes, but again, that just taught me what the teachers themselves like, and what might be considered publishable, but might not be along the lines of what I myself would like to write. I've been critiqued and have critiqued others, and that too can help, but it mainly taught me that writing is very subjective and what somebody will loathe, another person will love. I've learned that just because somebody says something is great, or something is lousy, doesn't necessarily make it so. Again, a lot of it is a judgement call.

    The most improvement and learning I've gotten has come from just writing, and writing, and writing some more, for years and years and years. I don't even consciously set out to improve (if I did, I'd probably be disappointed since it's so gradual)--I just write, and improvement happens as I go along. It's practice, and I'm still learning.
     
  16. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    What I often do is read parts of a best selling and award winning novel. First I just read the damn thing, then I study parts of it. I like to see how they handles certain aspects. This also motivates me to write.

    I have been studying Borne Identity lately and Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler. I study everything I can in the book. The opening, the middle, the ending, how they develop characters, etc. I also pay attention to how they transition and how they construct sentences. What emotions they convey. The balance they use between narration, action, dialog, and introspection.
     
  17. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    I like looking at the first chapters, particulary of an author's breakout novel. Something got it out of the slush pile.
     
  18. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    First you read your work as a reader would.

    And then, you edit as if it weren't your own.

    If you do this, you won't just improve--you'll excel.
     

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