I’ve written a couple of times in the past few months about my efforts to implement tips recommended by the pros to improve my writing. Today, I want to continue that conversation.
In Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life, Doug Wilson advises aspiring writers to keep a commonplace book. A commonplace book is a journal for jotting down ideas, quotes, turns of phrase, etc., for future reference.
Inspired by unusual names on campaign signs and billboards during a recent road trip to Montgomery, Alabama, I began creating names for new fictional characters. Those names went into my commonplace book. (I’m not sure when these characters will come to life. I’m thinking they may show up in a comic mystery set in a small town in the deep south. Or maybe not. We’ll see!)
Several successful writers say it is important to always be increasing your word power. Read a page of the dictionary every day. When reading for pleasure, look up unfamiliar words and learn their definitions. Learn the meanings of foreign phrases commonly encountered in English literature.
I’m not quite up to reading a page of the dictionary every day, so I subscribed to the Word-of-the-Day over at merriam-webster.com. Many of the words in my email inbox each morning are familiar, but I have learned a few new words, too. (Those go into my commonplace book, BTW.) About once a week, I’ll play one of the site’s words games, take a quiz, or check out a build-your-vocabulary link. This is a fun way to build word power, regardless of your vocation!
Read, read, read. Without exception, reading topped the must-do list of every successful writer. At the beginning of the year, I set a goal of reading two books per month. A quarter of the way through the year, I’m clipping along at an average rate of one book per week. Fiction, technical books, biography, theology – I am loving it!
This discipline has not been without its surprises. Most of my favorite writers are dead, so in an effort to be aware of what’s coming off the presses today, I visit my local library about every fourth book and pull something off the “New Book” display. A couple of weeks ago, I came home with a new release, and three chapters in, I found myself smack dab in the middle of graphic, hardcore, gay porn.
I was unfamiliar with the author, and nothing on the cover or the book sleeve warned me what I was getting myself into. Ai, yi, yi – how I wished I could unread what I had read! I slapped the book shut and ran it back to the library as fast as I could. (Needless to say, I won’t be rating or reviewing this book on Goodreads, unless it’s to say: “Warning!”)
One author recommended having an accountability buddy – someone to check in and see if you are making consistent progress on that manuscript. I have friends who participate in writing and critique groups, other friends who meet with a buddy to write together at set times.
I don’t have a writing group, but I do have a committed, enthusiastic cheerleader. A couple times a week, my daughter asks me, “How’s the book coming along?” She encourages me to “hurry up and finish!” because she is eager to read the story herself. That, folks, is so incredibly motivating!
These tips – keep a commonplace book, build word power, read more, recruit a buddy – are great tips for writers. But they are great tips for non-writers, too. Whatever your vocation, give them a try!