Friday, May 13, 2011

Determining What Works For You

When I first became serious about writing, it didn't take me long to realize I had a lot of studying to do if I wanted to master the craft. At first, it was fun, and I absorbed information like Bounty absorbs spills. But after a while, it seemed like the more I learned, the more I needed to study. I felt like I was caught up in a never ending cycle.

My head was spinning so fast that I almost missed my cue, the one that told me it was time to jump off that particular merry-go-round. The signal to stop cramming (or slow down) and start writing comes at different times for all of us, but for me, it was when I stumbled across a writing tip that had me asking, "What!? Are you serious?" (Never begin a sentence with an -ing word. I'm sorry, but to me, that's just crazy.)

The fact is, there's a lot of writing advice out there, and most of it is worthwhile and helpful. But some of it isn't. And some of it may improve one writer's style while it destroys another's.

So how can you decipher the good from the bad? Determine what will improve your writing and what won't?

I have found a system that often works for me, and it's a version of the indisputably best writing advice out there: read. Read what you like, read what you write.

When I have a writing question, I go to my bookshelf and randomly grab five or six books by different authors I love to read. Then, one by one, I open each book to the middle and read until I figure out how that author approached the issue I'm curious about. You should pick a number you're comfortable with, but if five out of six of my favorite authors are doing something a certain way, I feel it will also work successfully for me.

While this may not answer every question that comes up, I think it's a technique that can benefit a lot of writers. Not only can it help with writer's block, but it also helps personalize the information we take in to help us with our individual needs, especially if we are reading what we write.

I am not telling you to question all the advice out there. But should you come across a tip that doesn't sound quite right, I am suggesting you put it to this test, and determine its true value to you.