Practice might make perfect, but, no matter how much we may love it, if we actually spent all of our time writing, we wouldn’t love it anymore. But writing is about more than just putting words to paper. It’s about creating rich, complex and vivid imagery. It’s about sharing what you experience with others. So, with that in mind, here are five ways to improve your writing even when you’re not writing.
1. Read the Writings of Others
Read, read, read. Getting the picture yet? Professionals study as well as practice their art, and writers are no different. Reading other people’s works gives you more ideas from which to draw. How do they use language? How do they address a particular problem you find yourself butting up against? How do they approach certain topics? What sort of topics are they even attempting to cover?
It’s easy to think we already know everything, and improvement is just about practice. In fact, we all have something more to learn. Moreover, learning from other writers can save you work. Why plod through a problematic issue, banging your head against your computer, when someone else has already managed to get around the very problem you’re experiencing?
Reading in your own genre has the most direct impact on your skills and style, but don’t think other works can’t be helpful. Remember, writing can draw on any experience. Diversity is a part of what makes good reads so rewarding.
2. Describe Out Loud
First, turn off the computer and go outside. Put yourself someplace new and unfamiliar, and then take a moment to soak in what you’re experiencing.
Now describe it. Out loud.
Authors are wordsmiths. You probably already have a great vocabulary. Now is the time to put it to use. What do you see and hear? What do you feel, both tactilely and emotionally? What sort of imagery is evoked? Go past the obvious and investigate the nuances of everything around you. Improve upon word use rather than just on words.
Describe it out loud so the words become part of the experience. How do they sound? Do they reflect what you’re trying to say? Is it soft and pleasant or strong and bold? Both can be completely appropriate, depending on the scenario.
3. Fall in Love
To be fair, falling in love isn’t something you can just set out and do. But if you are in love, remember the highs and lows and share that intensity with readers. Description tells the reader what is happening, but emotion draws the reader in to feel what the characters are experiencing.
If you’re not in love, investigate other strong emotions. Close friendships can provide the same intense experiences as love, both good and bad. You might risk your life for a friend, just as you would for a lover, which makes it just as painful when they are hurtful toward you. Improve your writing by experiencing the same strength of emotion you want your readers to experience, whatever the context.
4. Try New Things
Improvement isn’t just about better describing things you’ve described a dozen times before. This is about building a library of experiences from which to draw. Try new foods, experience new cultures, and meet new people, especially those significantly different from yourself and close associates. Take risks. The worst thing that will happen is you won’t like it, and that’s an experience in and of itself.
5. Listen to How People Communicate
You undoubtedly know that people are more than physical descriptions and verbal quotes. Now go out there and experience the nuance of everyday behavior of people: their mannerisms, accents, body language, word choice. Consider what sorts of people your unwitting subjects may be. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or not; the point is to improve your writing by associating details of behavior with larger pictures.
The mall is a great place for people watching. Find yourself an inconspicuous seat somewhere like the food court, and take time observing the hustle and bustle around you. Or, if you’re hoping to be on your feet for a while, stroll the mall while remaining aware of the people you pass by.
Great writers need more than a great vocabulary and a solid manner of writing. They need to provide the rich detail of life that drags the reader into the author’s world. To this end, get involved and gain your own experiences: meet new people, do new things, observe, examine, feel, love. Directly or indirectly, all of these things can only improve your writing skills and bring your projects a little bit closer to life.