The craft of writing is a lot of hard work. Yes, those easy moments happen when the Muse shows up. But the line that separates good writers from hacks, is the line between writing and rewriting.
A good craftsman is good at working on every page, sentence, and syllable. He doesn’t just stop at the first draft, he works and reworks his material until he’s satisfied, then it’s off to the editor.
This past March I attended the Minnesota Christian Writer’s Guild Spring Seminar where we invited Bob Hostetler to be our main speaker. The seminar’s focus was on Masterful Writing. In session 3 he gave us some very helpful tips to take our writing to the next level.
Here are 10 exercises you need to master your writing. Note: These 10 exercises come from Bob Hostetler’s session from the MCWG Seminar.
1. Learn to Edit personal weakness.
Every writer has glaring weaknesses to everyone but you. Find people who can give you an honest critique. Make sure they tell you your writing stinks. We need to be looking for people who have an analytical eye to say what they like, don’t like, and why.
Learn what your weaknesses are and edit them out. There are programs out there where you can search, find, and delete most of them. I personally use Grammarly. Identify weak words and delete them. You’ll find most weak words or go-to words are not necessary.
2. Do the onscreen exercise.
The worst thing a writer can do is forget to spell check their document. Have you spell checked your document? I can’t tell you how many blog posts or badly written books have not spell checked their work before publishing. They change something after using spell check, then forget to spell check the new work. It’s embarrassing and destroys the author’s credibility.
An editor will not trust your work if you don’t practice this critical onscreen exercise and check your grammar.
3. Read your work aloud.
Every writing teacher will instruct you to read your work out loud. You will catch mistakes, tongue twisters, and know if it flows. If you want another layer of checking your work, record your reading, listen, and fix the mistakes.
- Print out a hard copy and read out loud from that copy.
- Use it to make changes.
- Then print a new copy.
4. Proofread 3 days later.
If you take the time to proofread several days after writing, you’ll catch your glaring mistakes. Waiting is important, it allows your mind to become fresh and so you can approach your writing with fresh eyes.
5. Delete all unnecessary words.
Everything you write is gold… right? Wrong! The secret to good writing is combing every sentence to strip unnecessary words.
Here are a few examples: just, that, but, and, was, were etc. These words slow down your writing. As Bob Hostetler says, “murder all your little darlings.”
Do whatever it takes to eliminate ALL unnecessary words! This process will help refine you, your writing, and your first draft. You’ll remember what you had to kill last time. In the future, you’ll skip them altogether.
6. Highlight all verbs.
Print out a hard copy and highlight all verbs. As you’re highlighting be aware of these questions:
- How many are active?
- How many are passive?
- How many active verbs can be strengthened?
- How many passive verbs can be made active?
Don’t make every passive verb active. As Yoda would say, “Needed they are, at times. As you begin this process, you’ll strengthen more than half of your verbs and tighten your prose.
- The house was buried in the snow. – passive verb
- The snow buried the house. – active verb
7. Highlight all adjectives and adverbs
Print out another fresh copy and highlight all adjectives and adverbs. Most adverbs are easy to find as they usually end in “ly”.
Crisp writing lets nouns and verbs do the heavy lifting. Try and eliminate the majority of your adjectives and adverbs.One of my favorite books is The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.
In general, nouns and verbs, not their assistants, give to good writing its toughness and clarity. Some are simply redundant and others prop up weak verbs or nouns. Take time to replace adverbs with stronger verbs.
I suggest you get rid modifying nouns in favor of a stronger noun.
- ex. She walked quietly down the hall. – weak sentence
- She snuck down the hall. – stronger sentence.
8. Review dialog tags.
Remove as many as possible. There’s nothing wrong with the word said in fiction. The way you write something should convey what you’re saying, not the use of… he quipped.
Here’s an example:
- He snatched the phone from the cradle and said, “Yeah, what do you want?”
- Convey the same meaning like this: He snatched the phone from the cradle, “Yeah, what do you want?”
By getting rid of your dialogue tags you convert your dialogue to an action beat.
- Circle each dialog tag.
- Get a feel for which ones you should eliminate.replace with an action beat and/or just leave.
- Replace with an action beat and/or just leave.
9. Eliminate cliches, platitudes, qualifiers, jargon, and overused words.
It’s easy to write using qualifiers and cliches, but they’ll either slow down your writing or make your work feel dated.
Here are some examples.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. This is cliche.
- Rather, pretty, just, very, little, really, sort-of, and a bit. These are qualifiers.
- Epic, awesome, and that. These are overdone.
Be very careful about using slang. It has milk’s shelf life. By the time it’s in print, it’s no longer used. The same goes for celebrities, I suggest you make up a rock star or celebrity. Why? The real person will be outdated when your book comes out.
10. Scan for sentence length and structure.
Print out another fresh copy. You don’t need to read, just scan. There should be a musical feel to the length of the sentence structure. It should look pretty to the eyes and should flow like a musical piece. You also want to strive for variety in sentence structure by using a mixture of short to long sentences. This will give your writing a natural flow.
Writing is hard work. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details, stop writing, and only focus on the subtle nuances. As you write using these ten exercises, you’ll tighten your work and the next time you write, it’ll come more natural. The more you practice the easier writing becomes.
Question: What one exercise did you learn and will put into action today? Leave a comment by clicking here!
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