Improving the Craft

FMWriters is traveling the web via the Merry Go Round Blog Tour. Site members have grouped together to write monthly on themed topics and turn the blog tour concept on its head: we’re not the ones touring: you are, as you read one writer’s perspective after another. This is my contribution to the Merry Go Round Tour. Enjoy your ride. ~ Dawn

In my mind, there are three ways to improve one’s craft, and I actively participate in all three, sometimes over-indulging on one form over the others for a perspective change. There’s input, output, and one-step-removed analysis.

Input Phase: this is research and reading, but it’s also absorption of anything that can and may be used in writing. Vacationing can be input if you pay attention to details. My daughter and I went on vacation last summer and I set out with a goal of coming home with a story idea if not a story itself. So I kept my eyes and ears and all my other senses open while relaxing. And one evening it hit me. The balcony door was open, the breeze streaming in, and after a few too many kicks to the kidney from my sleeping seven year old, I stepped out onto the balcony. I was rewarded with a gorgeously dark view of the island that I couldn’t see during the day – and immediately I had a title. A story sprang forth from that. And this isn’t waiting for inspiration – I’d been feeding my brain all these details all week – and it seized upon what was different and unique.

Output Phase: Practicing my skill is necessary. Writing requires brain muscle to be exercised. I try to vary what I work on between genres, lengths, and characters. May is a short story output month. June through August is short story revision. November is for novellas. September through December is usually novel work. By focusing on one particular aspect of writing, those skills experience improvements. I don’t abandon other forms of writing during these times – they just aren’t my primary focus. In any given August, I may write a flash and a short story while revising two others.

One-Step-Removed Analysis Phase: Critiquing. Whether it’s a short story or a novel or something in between, critiquing activates the editor in my brain and looking at an unpublished piece of fiction gives me the distance to discern what isn’t working or weaknesses and strengths of the writing itself. It helps me understand what bumps there are, and like my annual glasses prescription change, reveals quirks I may be using in my own writing. Another benefit here is that when you end up trading stories, this person does the same for you and can point out what’s not working in your writing that you were unable to see yourself.

The bottom line is that if you want to improve (I do!), you have to use the skill. It doesn’t have to be the same skill every day. Variety is good – but use it. I’ve taken writing breaks twice in my life (new baby phase – it’s like going into survival mode) – and each time I felt rusty upon my return and had to work hard to get back to my pre-baby skill level. But I did and moved on past that. I’ve seen massive improvements in my writing over the years. I can tell because I have stories I’m now abandoning because there’s too much to fix without rewriting the entire piece. Instead, I have new stories, better stories to work on, all because I’m putting the time in.

Time is another consideration. It’s one of those “quality, not quantity” creatures. With my schedule (kids, work, karate), I get my lunch break at work and then about an hour each evening, sometimes two if I stay up too late. Every little bit goes a long way.

Is my approach working? One indicator is being published tomorrow in Daily Science Fiction. Work hard, play hard, and the rewards will come. I’m just starting to see them, I’m still working hard, and plan on doing so until I can’t anymore. 🙂


Today’s post was inspired by Forward Motion’s Merry-Go-Round topic, Improving the Craft “. If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and read about their ideas, then check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour..


3 responses to “Improving the Craft

  1. w00t! Clearly, you are improving at your craft. 🙂

    I like the way you broke it down. (I spend the least time on the one-step removed analysis phase now.)

    • Hi Erin. I think that makes sense. I mean, these aren’t equal part exercises. I spent way more time on output (of the revision variety) than anything else, but yet I still go through critting spurts or reading spurts. And thanks. 🙂

  2. And again congrats on the sale to DSF!

    Sometime I forget that vacations don’t mean brain-vacations. Must work more on input phase!

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