What are a couple of things that have improved your writing

Specifics about craft, talent, technique, etc.
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Jason Parker
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What are a couple of things that have improved your writing

Postby Jason Parker » Fri Jun 24, 2016 4:47 pm

What are a couple of things that have improved your writing the fastest?

I'd like to know, really.

I see the biggest and fastest gains in my storytelling chops when I copywork. I've copyworked maybe about 400 pages by now. Everything from literary short stories to parts of literary novels to SF novels to fantasy novels.

I've seen the biggest improvement from copyworking about 120 pages of The Stand. Also, I'm having a lot of light bulbs go off as I copywork Harry Potter 5. I'm about 60 pages in on HP 5.

The only downside of copywork is that it makes you want to end your life. I normally have to take a nap after copyworking 10 pages because it exhausts me. But it has been worth it for me. I feel like I've taken a quantum leap in my writing skills, and my stories show it.

The reason why I think it works so well for me is because of principles in neuroscience. I'm basically myelinating circuits. Daniel Coyle has some fascinating books on the subject. Also, if you Google copywork then you'll find articles about famous authors who copyworked, authors like Robert Louis Stevenson and Hunter S Thompson. Many top advertising copywriters also learned by copyworking, like Gary Halbert and Brian Keith Voiles. In fact, I originally learned about copywork from a copywriting training Halbert did back in the 90s. I have been a professional copywriter since 2007 or so. Been looking to break into fiction for a couple years.

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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby amoskalik » Fri Jun 24, 2016 6:19 pm

Copywork. I had not heard of that but the concept is intriguing.
I've recently started practicing meditation for reasons unrelated to writing, but I wonder if copywork might be inherently meditative? It's worth trying.
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Jason Parker » Fri Jun 24, 2016 6:23 pm

amoskalik wrote:Copywork. I had not heard of that but the concept is intriguing.
I've recently started practicing meditation for reasons unrelated to writing, but I wonder if copywork might be inherently meditative? It's worth trying.


I bet you could Zen out on it, with awareness of your breath and all the sensations of copyworking, bringing your mind back to copyworking when you find it wandering.

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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby morshana » Fri Jun 24, 2016 10:28 pm

The Character Voice & Setting workshop by Dean and Kris was fantastic. They mentioned copyworking during the eight days I was there. I'll have to give it a try. Stephen King was listed as a great author to study, too, especially The Green Mile. wotf007

I looked up copyworking and found this:

http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/03/2 ... of-others/

ETA:

2. Handwrite. Studies have shown that handwriting provides a myriad of cognitive benefits. We actually learn better and think clearer when we write by hand. To get maximum benefit from copywork, overcome the temptation to tap it out on your laptop and utilize pen and paper instead.

Oh, nooooooooo! I can feel my hand cramping up just *thinking* about it. My hand cramps if I have to sign a check. wotf018
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Jason Parker » Sat Jun 25, 2016 2:54 am

morshana wrote:The Character Voice & Setting workshop by Dean and Kris was fantastic. They mentioned copyworking during the eight days I was there. I'll have to give it a try. Stephen King was listed as a great author to study, too, especially The Green Mile. wotf007

I looked up copyworking and found this:

http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/03/2 ... of-others/

ETA:

2. Handwrite. Studies have shown that handwriting provides a myriad of cognitive benefits. We actually learn better and think clearer when we write by hand. To get maximum benefit from copywork, overcome the temptation to tap it out on your laptop and utilize pen and paper instead.

Oh, nooooooooo! I can feel my hand cramping up just *thinking* about it. My hand cramps if I have to sign a check. wotf018


Haha. Yes, hand cramps galore. I've done it both ways and I get the most out of doing it in handwriting.

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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Jason Parker » Sat Jun 25, 2016 6:03 am

Just thought of another thing I do that helps.

After reading any scene in any book, I think about how I could top that scene. I think about what I would change in that scene to make it stronger.

I'm reading Salvatore, one of my favorite authors. Although he's one of my favorites, I almost always think of ways I can top many of his scenes. For example, I just read a mundane character description. I also just read a couple spots of low tension and low emotion. He actually writes a bunch of low tension sections in his books, and he's one of the legends.

I like this approach because I think a lot of writers want to write like the legendary authors they read, but they probably don't consider how they could out-write their favorite authors, at least in certain areas.

I guess I call this method Topping It. I picked up the habit in analyzing ads. A famous ad copywriter named Gary Bencivenga would read an ad per day and figure out how he could beat that ad. That's one major way he got to be known as the guy you go to when you wanted to beat a control piece, a top performing ad. It's interesting that this method also works for scenes in a story.

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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby morshana » Sat Jun 25, 2016 7:40 am

Jason Parker wrote:I'm reading Salvatore, one of my favorite authors. Although he's one of my favorites, I almost always think of ways I can top many of his scenes. For example, I just read a mundane character description. I also just read a couple spots of low tension and low emotion. He actually writes a bunch of low tension sections in his books, and he's one of the legends.


Except that I think we want some low tension/emotion in our books so it's not all one note. Gives the reader a break. Unless we're writing a fast-paced thriller. Rollercoasters aren't much fun if they never go up and down. Though I suppose a thriller could just keep going up and up and up and up and up and up and up. wotf007
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby LDWriter2 » Sat Jun 25, 2016 6:54 pm

Taken a couple of online workshops from Dean Wesley Smith watch how pro writers do the same type of think I am attempting to do.

That last doesn't seem to be working to good though, but then the first one isn't either.
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Jason Parker » Sat Jun 25, 2016 9:26 pm

morshana wrote:
Jason Parker wrote:I'm reading Salvatore, one of my favorite authors. Although he's one of my favorites, I almost always think of ways I can top many of his scenes. For example, I just read a mundane character description. I also just read a couple spots of low tension and low emotion. He actually writes a bunch of low tension sections in his books, and he's one of the legends.


Except that I think we want some low tension/emotion in our books so it's not all one note. Gives the reader a break. Unless we're writing a fast-paced thriller. Rollercoasters aren't much fun if they never go up and down. Though I suppose a thriller could just keep going up and up and up and up and up and up and up. wotf007


I've seen two schools of thought on this.

One school says that writing novels has the same challenges as movies. You have to give your reader breaks.

The other school says that your job is just the opposite. You have to keep the tension up throughout.

That's the funny thing about writing theory. Writers don't seem to unanimously agree. Makes me wonder why I even read books on writing at all wotf001

(Note: It's Saturday night, I'm having some brews, and I hope this post is legible.)

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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby morshana » Sun Jun 26, 2016 12:00 am

Jason Parker wrote:
I've seen two schools of thought on this.

One school says that writing novels has the same challenges as movies. You have to give your reader breaks.

The other school says that your job is just the opposite. You have to keep the tension up throughout.

That's the funny thing about writing theory. Writers don't seem to unanimously agree. Makes me wonder why I even read books on writing at all wotf001

(Note: It's Saturday night, I'm having some brews, and I hope this post is legible.)


Write what works for you and have fun. wotf007

Fun, I say, FUN! *throws sparkles* wotf010

*glances back at the cage and wonders where Kitty has gone off to*

*notes missing flame thrower*

wotf005

(Note: I've not been drinking.)

*reaches for chocolate and finds it gone*
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Jason Parker » Sun Jun 26, 2016 5:12 am

morshana wrote:
Jason Parker wrote:
I've seen two schools of thought on this.

One school says that writing novels has the same challenges as movies. You have to give your reader breaks.

The other school says that your job is just the opposite. You have to keep the tension up throughout.

That's the funny thing about writing theory. Writers don't seem to unanimously agree. Makes me wonder why I even read books on writing at all wotf001

(Note: It's Saturday night, I'm having some brews, and I hope this post is legible.)


Write what works for you and have fun. wotf007

Fun, I say, FUN! *throws sparkles* wotf010

*glances back at the cage and wonders where Kitty has gone off to*

*notes missing flame thrower*

wotf005

(Note: I've not been drinking.)

*reaches for chocolate and finds it gone*


wotf001

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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby OldDarth » Sun Jun 26, 2016 6:55 am

Top things that have helped me:

Personal habits:
1) Reading - first as a fan and then as a student. Finding works I like and then finding out why I like them.
2) Writing - making it a habit so that it's part of my daily routine
3) Finishing stories - without a completed piece it's impossible to see what I am doing right or wrong
4) Networking with other writers

Reference Material:
1) Stephen King's - On Writing - less a technical guide and more of a look into a writer's headspace and how one should treat and approach the craft

2) Writing Excuses Podcast & Write About Dragons - Brandon Sanderson's BYU Creative Writing courses on Youtube - it's like taking a free course -the 2013 set of lectures are the best ones

3) The Story Grid - Podcast & book - the book breaks down stories into components that make it easy to identify problem/weak areas and provides tools for outlining your story - The Foolscap Method. The podcast with Tim Grahl and Shawn Coyne is an excellent journel of the triumphs and frustrations of a first time novelist trying to fast track his way while avoiding the pitfalls new writers fall into.
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Jason Parker » Sun Jun 26, 2016 8:09 am

OldDarth wrote:Top things that have helped me:

Personal habits:
1) Reading - first as a fan and then as a student. Finding works I like and then finding out why I like them.
2) Writing - making it a habit so that it's part of my daily routine
3) Finishing stories - without a completed piece it's impossible to see what I am doing right or wrong
4) Networking with other writers

Reference Material:
1) Stephen King's - On Writing - less a technical guide and more of a look into a writer's headspace and how one should treat and approach the craft

2) Writing Excuses Podcast & Write About Dragons - Brandon Sanderson's BYU Creative Writing courses on Youtube - it's like taking a free course -the 2013 set of lectures are the best ones

3) The Story Grid - Podcast & book - the book breaks down stories into components that make it easy to identify problem/weak areas and provides tools for outlining your story - The Foolscap Method. The podcast with Tim Grahl and Shawn Coyne is an excellent journel of the triumphs and frustrations of a first time novelist trying to fast track his way while avoiding the pitfalls new writers fall into.



I've learned a ton from Sanderson's YouTube courses and podcast. Especially about world building.

As for books my favorites are King's On Writing, Deborah Chester's Fantasy Fiction Formula, and all of Donald Maass's books.

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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby kentagions » Sun Jun 26, 2016 2:15 pm

Nothing improved my writing faster than finding a good reader. Orson Scott Card includes a section on how to build your own in How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy.

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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Muri McCage » Thu Jul 07, 2016 4:56 am

The single most important thing that improved my writing was growing a thick layer of discipline. As I learned to write fiction, I would start something then be all "Ooooh, shiny!" over new ideas and jump ship to start another story. Sometimes, I'd be working on three or four stories, which made it take forever to finish any of them. It was exciting, but extremely counterproductive. Eventually, I realized that I would never have any chance of success, if I didn't force myself to write a whole story before starting a new one. I'm still guilty of two at a time, if I get stuck for long enough, and I've been known to occasionally write bits of a story, a novel, and a screenplay sort of simultaneously, flipping around from one to another. I mostly finish one first now, though.

Something that's improving my writing currently is pushing myself to try new things. My two most recent stories were spur of the moment and more pantsy, where normally I like to develop an idea, plot, characterization, etc. in my head for quite some time. The one I'm working on now is well outside my comfort zone, a sort of horrorish themed, barely plotted ahead of time...thing. As much an internal study of myself as a writer as a character study. I can feel myself learning from writing it, which may be most of its purpose...at least until it's finished.
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Jason Parker » Thu Jul 07, 2016 8:41 am

Muri McCage wrote:The single most important thing that improved my writing was growing a thick layer of discipline. As I learned to write fiction, I would start something then be all "Ooooh, shiny!" over new ideas and jump ship to start another story. Sometimes, I'd be working on three or four stories, which made it take forever to finish any of them. It was exciting, but extremely counterproductive. Eventually, I realized that I would never have any chance of success, if I didn't force myself to write a whole story before starting a new one. I'm still guilty of two at a time, if I get stuck for long enough, and I've been known to occasionally write bits of a story, a novel, and a screenplay sort of simultaneously, flipping around from one to another. I mostly finish one first now, though.

Something that's improving my writing currently is pushing myself to try new things. My two most recent stories were spur of the moment and more pantsy, where normally I like to develop an idea, plot, characterization, etc. in my head for quite some time. The one I'm working on now is well outside my comfort zone, a sort of horrorish themed, barely plotted ahead of time...thing. As much an internal study of myself as a writer as a character study. I can feel myself learning from writing it, which may be most of its purpose...at least until it's finished.


Funny, I'm the opposite.

I'm always pantsy.

I have trouble starting stories, but once I've got about 10 pages, I can go forever on that one story. I get a million story ideas a day. I have trouble selecting the one to start once I'm between stories. So I might go a week without writing in between stories, yet I never have trouble with writers block or anything once I've got about 10 pages down. I think it's because it takes me a while to get a feel for the characters. I usually have a situation or a problem as the crux of the story and some idea of characters and I pants it from there.

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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby LaurieG » Sun Jul 10, 2016 1:15 pm

Jason, you already listed my #1 recommendation, which is Donald Maass ' book, Writing the Breakout Novel. The points in it led to my second Finalist. I also like the book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. This one gets into the little details, while the first is broad strokes, like plots and such. It has the most useful data on characterization I've ever seen.
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Jason Parker » Sun Jul 10, 2016 1:55 pm

LaurieG wrote:Jason, you already listed my #1 recommendation, which is Donald Maass ' book, Writing the Breakout Novel. The points in it led to my second Finalist. I also like the book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. This one gets into the little details, while the first is broad strokes, like plots and such. It has the most useful data on characterization I've ever seen.


That's great about your success with the Maass book! That makes me hopeful about my future WOTF submissions. The most useful technique I've learned from his books has been Micro Tension. I seem to use Micro Tension on almost every page.

Thanks for pointing out Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I've heard of it and was wondering if it's good. I'm normally disappointed in writing books. Not that they're bad, but that I usually learn more from reading actual novels.

When it comes to characterization, I often struggle. I've learned the most about characterization, probably, from reading John D. MacDonald and J.K. Rowling. It's something I've been working on a lot lately.

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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby J'nae Rae » Sun Jul 10, 2016 6:44 pm

What's improved my writing, one is my Writing Group in San Diego. We started in 2004. The other funny enough was finding out I was diabetic and getting my blood sugar under control, as being able to focus was difficult and general brain fog hindered creativity.
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby LaurieG » Sat Jul 16, 2016 5:01 am

J'nae Rae wrote:What's improved my writing, one is my Writing Group in San Diego. We started in 2004. The other funny enough was finding out I was diabetic and getting my blood sugar under control, as being able to focus was difficult and general brain fog hindered creativity.



Yes, medical stuff can really mess up your head. 3 years ago I had some injuries and surgeries that damaged the nerves in my right leg. Narcotics and other med barely contained the pain. I thought, 'Well, I write sf, let's see if my stories turn hallucinogenic. That might be fun.' wotf004 Nope. Nothing. My brain, between pain and drugs, was mush.

I submitted a couple stories, straight R's. Luckily, the nerves continue to heal, though at a glacial pace. I'm on very low level med now and pretty comfortable, so my brain is working again. It's slower than it used to be, but it functions. wotf004
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Jason Parker » Sat Jul 16, 2016 5:22 am

I had a couple years where I was in constant agony. Basically bed ridden. Hated the pain killers. Foggy and depressing.

The only good thing that came from all that pain was that it put things in perspective. I had always had the desire to write fiction since I was a kid, an unexplained desire that hasn't gone away. But I didn't really persue it because of my career in another field.

Ever sense all that pain the only good thing is that I've been in "I'm not effing around anymore mode" ever since.

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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby J'nae Rae » Sat Jul 16, 2016 11:10 am

LaurieG wrote:Yes, medical stuff can really mess up your head. 3 years ago I had some injuries and surgeries that damaged the nerves in my right leg. Narcotics and other med barely contained the pain. I thought, 'Well, I write sf, let's see if my stories turn hallucinogenic. That might be fun.' wotf004 Nope. Nothing. My brain, between pain and drugs, was mush.

I submitted a couple stories, straight R's. Luckily, the nerves continue to heal, though at a glacial pace. I'm on very low level med now and pretty comfortable, so my brain is working again. It's slower than it used to be, but it functions. wotf004


Glad you're on the mend. Hope your nerve continues to heal.
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby J'nae Rae » Sat Jul 16, 2016 11:12 am

Jason Parker wrote:I had a couple years where I was in constant agony. Basically bed ridden. Hated the pain killers. Foggy and depressing.

The only good thing that came from all that pain was that it put things in perspective. I had always had the desire to write fiction since I was a kid, an unexplained desire that hasn't gone away. But I didn't really persue it because of my career in another field.

Ever sense all that pain the only good thing is that I've been in "I'm not effing around anymore mode" ever since.


Sorry it took that to give you a kick in the pants. But, keep it up. wotf009
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby storysinger » Sat Jul 16, 2016 12:37 pm

I went through a painful time in the last couple of years too. I'm convinced that my immobility helped me become more focused on writing. I'm talking about the days when my armpits were tender from the crutches I used to move from one room to another. Now that I've recovered my mobility I have to schedule my writing sessions because I love being able to walk. I do enjoy crafting a good story though so I spend a reasonable amount of time in my home office tap tapping away searching for the next cerebral gem lurking within my brain. wotf007
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Jason Parker » Sun Jul 17, 2016 4:34 am

J'nae Rae wrote:
Jason Parker wrote:I had a couple years where I was in constant agony. Basically bed ridden. Hated the pain killers. Foggy and depressing.

The only good thing that came from all that pain was that it put things in perspective. I had always had the desire to write fiction since I was a kid, an unexplained desire that hasn't gone away. But I didn't really persue it because of my career in another field.

Ever sense all that pain the only good thing is that I've been in "I'm not effing around anymore mode" ever since.


Sorry it took that to give you a kick in the pants. But, keep it up. wotf009


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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby rharp » Mon Jul 18, 2016 7:21 pm

All great advice from everyone. I ditto Donald Maass--he is amazing!! I got to eat lunch with him at a conference one year, and he was so inspiring. He's passionate about what he writes, and spot on. His "Writing the Breakout Novel" was my life-changing writing book. A must read for any novelist. And I also love Steven James's writing book. He's a fabulous writer/teacher if you ever get the chance to go to one of his classes or workshops. wotf008
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Jason Parker » Tue Jul 19, 2016 4:27 am

rharp wrote:All great advice from everyone. I ditto Donald Maass--he is amazing!! I got to eat lunch with him at a conference one year, and he was so inspiring. He's passionate about what he writes, and spot on. His "Writing the Breakout Novel" was my life-changing writing book. A must read for any novelist. And I also love Steven James's writing book. He's a fabulous writer/teacher if you ever get the chance to go to one of his classes or workshops. wotf008


Thanks!

I like James's book too.

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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby LDWriter2 » Thu Jul 21, 2016 4:35 pm

Kinda of surprised that this has started up again. Which isn't a bad thing it would help-encourage most people.




But for me, to be honest I am not sure if the things I listed here and a couple I didn't list have improve my writing. They are suppose to and do for most writers but wotf017
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby LaurieG » Thu Jul 21, 2016 5:32 pm

rharp wrote:All great advice from everyone. I ditto Donald Maass--he is amazing!! I got to eat lunch with him at a conference one year, and he was so inspiring. He's passionate about what he writes, and spot on. His "Writing the Breakout Novel" was my life-changing writing book. A must read for any novelist. And I also love Steven James's writing book. He's a fabulous writer/teacher if you ever get the chance to go to one of his classes or workshops. wotf008


Lunch with Donald Maass??! Envious!!! wotf022
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Re: What are a couple of things that have improved your writ

Postby Jason Parker » Tue Jul 26, 2016 4:22 am

Reading Techniques of the Selling Writer and a Perry Mason novel right now. Seeing some improvement by writing in MR units.


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