A Better Toolkit: The Value of Practice Writing


by Christine Hennebury

Note: I know that a lot of people don’t like to do writing exercises, or in fact,do any writing that isn’t their WIP. If that’s the case for you and things are going well, carry on! However, if you are finding it hard to get your writing done, you might want to consider the benefits of practice.

Writing is like any other skill, it improves with practice. You can get practice by regularly producing stories and articles, but there is also value in deliberate practice for practice’s sake.

I’d like to see more writers carve out a little time to write for the sake of practicing, without a ‘product’ in mind. Writing for practice sharpens our skills, hones our ability to write on demand, and improves our regular writing habits.

Practice gives us better tools. When we use those quality tools in our stories and our articles, we will be far more effective as writers.

If the idea of writing for practice seems odd to you, consider how practice works in another context. In Taekwondo, for example, I spend a lot of time practicing.  For patterns,  I break them down  into smaller ‘fundamental’ movements and do them over and over again. Then,  I slowly go over the whole thing, figuring out how the different sections fit together. For kicks and punches, I end up doing each one hundreds of times and I work on specific parts of the motion.

In the last few years, I have come to accept the value of doing the same thing with my writing. When I joined the 10 Minute Novelists 365 writing club, I got into the habit of writing every day which felt great. Despite feeling great, I still had some frustration because I felt that I wasn’t doing anything with my writing. It was just sitting there.

That’s when I realized that ‘doing something’ with the writing was not where the value of daily writing was for me. it was about establishing a pattern, it was about practicing. It was about learning how to get my brain into writing mode.

Ever since that first year with the group, I can now ‘force’ myself to write. I can choose to bring my focus to the page – a skill I developed in the 365 group – and just start writing. No matter what the topic,  the skills I developed though practice always see me through to a finished product.

That’s just one benefit of writing practice.

Practicing All The Pieces

Being able to choose to get down to work is not the only way that practice is helpful. When I write for writing’s sake, I practice things like character development, opening sentences, descriptions, and transition lines.  It’s just like when I break down my TKD patterns into chunks – that kind of practice is not intended to be visible to others. I never write a story by saying ‘Here is my opening sentence, here is my transition, now I will add my character.’ I don’t need to consciously choose each of those story aspects because my practice has made me confident about them.

It’s much like when I do my patterns for a competition, I don’t name each move in my head. I just let my body take over and pull the practiced pieces together. When I’m writing, my practice with the bits and pieces means I have lots of skills to apply quickly to a story or article.

“Writing is like a sport – you only get better if you practice.” – Rick Riordan

 

Good Use of Writing Time

I know that a lot of us are strapped for time. When you are short on time, it might seem counterproductive to use some of it practicing. However, any time that we spend practicing makes us better at our craft. That, in turn, means that, we will be able to write more quickly and be more effective  in writing our WIP. We will have a sort of ‘muscle memory’ for better writing.

 

Ways To Get Some Practice In

  1. Substitute – Pick one of your short writing sessions each week to dedicate to practice instead of your WIP.
  2. Warm up – Start each writing session with a few minutes of practice.
  3. Pick a Time – Choose a specific time each week/month/quarter to practice your writing. Choose exercises ahead of time and dive in.
  4. Find the cracks– Keep a ‘specific practice notebook in your bag or in your car.  Do practice exercises in little crevices of time in your day.
  5. Talk it out – Try describing things aloud as you drive. Dream up good opening lines and say them to yourself while you make supper. You are still practicing, even if it’s not written down.

 

Writing for practice is a very different thing than writing for a specific purpose. Practice writing may not produce publishable material but it will make you a sharper writer.

When you get lots of practice, you will find it easier to get down to work, and you will have a very effective set of writing tools at your disposal.


Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her  hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her writing & coaching at www.christinehennebury.com  or visit her on Facebook .

 

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