Writing my way to better writing

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When I first signed with my agent this past fall, one of our first conversations was about improving my writing.  I’m a totally green writer (this first novel was my first ANYTHING since college and that was more years ago than I want to admit). So the news that my manuscript needed work was hardly a shock. 

Basically, I’m a long-winded story-teller.  It’s genetic, I blame my father.  What this meant to my urban fantasy novel was that a scene that could be expressed effectively in one page, I took up an entire chapter illustrating.  She and I went back and forth for weeks and weeks until, eventually, the first round of revisions was complete.  I cut over 10,000 words in that first round of revisions.  The result: my story was so much sharper afterwards that I had no choice but to agree with my agent – I needed to tighten up my writing.

So how did I do that?  I looked into online writing classes, but found them expensive and not really subject-specific to my needs.  I turned to my writer’s group and heard the same thing that I’d read in the FAQ’s of my favorite author’s websites:  If you want to be a better writer, practice writing!  Great thought, but I had a hard enough time motivating myself to write as it was.  How could I make myself practice writing and, more importantly, how would I get someone to read it to know if it was concise?

At the end of November, examiner.com ran an ad for local writers.  The position paid, well, practically nothing.  But the articles were restricted to 150-400 words and had to be topic specific.  I HAD to be concise if I was going to write for this website.  I chose a topic that I was already familiar with – youth sports (my kids are involved in everything!) – and applied for the job.  Within a week, I was the Indianapolis Community  Sports Examiner, responsible for providing the Indianapolis area with 2-3 well-informed, CONCISE articles each week on the happenings of youth sports in the region.

Granted, writing about community sports programs is a far cry from the sexy demons of my novel, but that wasn’t the point.  The point was to find a way to force myself to write in an engaging, succinct way.  Working for the examiner, I receive article feedback, as well as incentives, the chance to connect with other writers in my area, and am held accountable  for my weekly assignments.  I can develop my writing skills while keeping up with available activities for my kids (something I’d be doing anyway).

I’m not saying that everyone should go out and become an examiner for this website.  I’m saying BE CREATIVE.  Mix it up!  Throw a little non-fiction in your fantasy writing to keep your skills sharp.  If it helps get you closer to your ultimate goal – getting published – then it will be well worth the effort!

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