Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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February 2, 2024

The Practice of Writing: How Much and What Kind Is Needed?

By Dr. Diana Stout

Practice is how you learn, written on a napkin

When a baby goes from crawling to walking to running, rarely does she do it in a day. It’s a process of practicing over a number of days, sometimes weeks.

First, she learns to stand by hoisting herself up while clinging to something sturdy. Then, she takes a step or two around the object, all the while grasping it.

Then, she graduates to holding onto a baby walker or some other object that moves as she steps. Even as this new toddler takes her first steps without aid, she’ll fall on her behind once or twice before crossing the entire room successfully.

Is that failure? Not at all. It’s progress. It’s learning. We cheer at her success and ignore the falls. She’s practicing. In time, she’ll be running. All because of repeated practice attempts.

Practice is learning, not failure.

It’s the same process when learning to play any sport, musical instrument, or learning a craft like sewing, welding, or cooking. No one is a master on the first day. The process of learning creates muscle and mind memory, often requiring a mentor, teacher, or a master of that skill. And, more importantly, a cheerleader!

So, why is it when writers receive a critique, get rejected, or don’t know certain grammar rules, they feel like failures? That they’re not good enough? Why do they call critiquers mean? That the publishers aren’t making good decisions? Why is the self-talk so destructive?

Have you ever considered that you might not be practiced enough? That the critiquers aren’t being mean, but that they’re providing you truth and that there’s still more learning to do? Or, that you’re learning from others who might not be qualified enough for you to grow? That you haven’t found your best cheerleader?

Like any new skill being learned, the amount of time spent practicing, the type of practicing performed, and who you practice with determine how fast the skills are mastered.

Writing, like any skill, is a craft that requires practice.

So, you may be asking yourself: how can I practice more? I’ve got a full-time job and children at home, or I’m home all day as a caregiver with little time as my own. I have no money to spend on classes and conferences.

            Answer: Any writing or writing related task you do is practicing. It’s about finding places you can plug writing into that works for you, where writing becomes more of a priority than it might be right now.

Whether you’re writing a first draft—which should be the messiest of all drafts—or are editing or proofing a final draft, it’s all practice.

One important lesson I learned was to stop comparing my progress to other writers. My process and progress are my path, and no two writers’ paths look the same. So, I could see my progress, I learned to chart it, to record hours spent.

Here are other things I did and still do to increase my practice time, some of which might work for you:

Write in the moments, rather than in the hours.

When I had day jobs and was raising a family, I had little writing time. Back then, I wrote in mere minutes: at stoplights, airports, while eating lunch, in waiting rooms, even while standing in line during the holidays. Surprisingly, the busier I was, the more writing I got done.

Carry your work everywhere.

I carried a piece of my work everywhere: pages that needed editing, a beta read I was doing, writing a character journal, or dictating the dialogue for a scene. Small chunks of work that didn’t require deep thinking are perfect for writing in moments.

Today, I carry my Kindle everywhere. If nothing else, I can read how-to books. When editing, I email my final manuscript to my Kindle, where I can read it like a regular book, highlight errors and make notes, and then send those highlights to my email.

Consider reducing other activities.

There came a point where I had far too many other activities that swallowed up my free time: quilting, sewing, painting, socializing, clubs, volunteer work, family tree history, etc.

To determine which activity I’d rather be doing, I made a list, then compared two activities at a time, choosing one and crossing off the other. By the end of the comparison, writing came out as the winner.

Today, I still partake in other activities because I can’t write 24/7, but those activities occur after I’ve practiced writing each day.

I made writing a priority.

Take part in writing sprints.

One thing I learned over time is that when I had a deadline, I wrote faster. Writing sprints can function as mini deadlines. Using a timer, write for 15 minutes with no editing allowed. Stream of consciousness writing only. I found it a great way to start a project or a scene I was dreading. The time allotted becomes a mind dump for getting the idea(s) on paper, which can be edited later.

Even if all you do is write 5-15 minutes a day, it’s practice! And, you’re creating a habit. After a while, you’ll crave those 15 minutes.

Attend write-ins or create your own.

Every day for three hours a day, I meet with a small group of writers in Zoom. We chat for about five minutes at the top of the hour, then mute our microphones and hide our screens, while we write. At the top of the hour, we meet again, state how successful we were in that hour, and then repeat twice more.

That’s not to say that we don’t go down rabbit holes, because we do. It happens. We laugh, and then try again in the next hour. These write-ins are about accountability.

Several participants, myself included, have said that without these write-ins, we wouldn’t be writing as much as we are. Accountability works, even if it’s only a couple times a week.

Twice a year, I participate in a weekend write-in, where we rent a home originally meant for quilters with long tables. We usually have 8-10 participants. At the last write-in, another writer and I plotted out seven books—four of mine and three of hers.

Other times, I’ve written first drafts, outlined, or edited. My current or upcoming projects dictate what I take to the write-in.

More ways to practice writing.

Growing your writing skills involves more than putting new words on paper. It’s finding a balance of learning and practicing. Various things I do:

  • Watching webinars, taking classes – looking to learn something new.
  • Blogging – Even short non-fiction needs a beginning, middle, climax, and ending.
  • Journaling – venting or thinking on paper.
  • Becoming a beta reader – we learn faster by teaching, helping others improve.
  • Reading – as a writer observing how they create tension, voice, Deep POV, etc.

 Mastering any skill requires practice.

The more practice you achieve, the quicker you’ll master the craft, the skill of writing.

And, even after having achieved master status, I’m still learning and require practice. Ask any musician or any athlete; they’ll tell you the same thing:

Never stop practicing.

What is your favorite writing practice?

* * * * * *

About Diana

Diana Stout, MFA, PhD

Dr. Diana Stout just finished teaching her Grammar and Punctuation Made Easy class, where participates said that she had sharpened their skills and made grammar easier, where they excitedly provided examples of their rewrites, showcasing their learning.

With the recent publication of her Gothic historical novelette, Harbor House: Say You Will in the Unlock My Heartanthology  she is practicing writing as she crafts on the sequel, Harbor House: Last Blood, a psychological thriller novel, where the story continues one-hundred years later.

To learn more about her work, visit her website: https//sharpenedpencilsproductions.com.

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17 comments on “The Practice of Writing: How Much and What Kind Is Needed?”

  1. Time! Oh, yes, the biggest bugbear ever. But we all have responsibilities outside of writing to fit our writing sessions into.
    I like what you say about not comparing yourself to others. There are two writers I greatly admire whom I 'know' online. I wish I could write like them. There's also someone who writes beautiful poetry. Mine seems bland beside hers. Your words have made me see that I'm not them, and to try to improve my writing without comparing it to theirs. I'm me and my writing is mine to improve to find my own voice.

    1. I have no doubt that your voice shines through as beautifully as those you admire because it IS your voice and not theirs. Thank you for sharing and commenting. May your writing bring you joy.

    1. You are most welcome, Deb! I can only imagine the joy you feel after a day of hard work (go teachers!) and yet still find time to write, no matter how long or short that time is. Wishes you much success as you write.

  2. This is excellent and timely! A perfect 'cheerleading', if you will. Perhaps your sage advice resonates so strongly in me because you tapped precise nails gently in place where I have previously been hammering and bending. I am an overstressed caregiver who all she wants to do is write and love who she cares for. No money to go out if I could. But you are absolutely correct. Write in the moments and practice always. and a write-in...how wonderful!! I shall practice - all of the above.

    Thank you!

    1. Hugs to you, Jennifer, as a caregiver. Not an easy job and one that can drain your creative energy. Your situation takes me back to when my kids were little, when I was always exhausted but still found time to write longhand a sentence or two having a pad of paper close by. Sometimes, it could be days before I'd type up those notes, but every word recorded was worth those few minutes.

      I'm happy that you saw this post as a cheerleading message for you. May you find many writing moments throughout your days.

    1. YES, Kay, you nailed it. Sadly, I see too many new writers not understanding the work involved, thinking their first draft is all that's needed for a publisher or reader.

      I remember taking piano lessons at 26 for 9 years and still unable to play for anyone other than myself. Why? Because I never practiced! Oh, those scales I had to play for the first few months! Thanks for visiting. Happy writing.

  3. The growth mindset is real! The ownership piece of improving our craft is so, so important in our development as writers. Feedback also matters, though, and I agree that receiving and giving feedback is an important part of the growth process.

    Where I disagree is the notion that newbie writers should accept that "mean" critiques are really just truthful. There is an art to critiquing, and not everyone can do it or do it well. Feedback needs to be given with the intent of helping a young writer improve. I believe people can take "harsh" feedback when it is given in a way that offers them a path forward. Unfortunately, There are plenty of people out there participating in critique groups and judging contests who are unhelpful, demoralizing and yes, frankly, mean.

    1. I totally agree with you, Vicki, that mean comments aren’t helpful—for any writer. I agree, too, that there are some critiquers, contest judges, and even reviewers who aren’t “helpful.” On the flip side, there are writers who claim they’ve received mean statements when, in fact, they didn’t. They received helpful comments but struggle with any kind of criticism, which sadly could be traced back to childhood upon further discussion.

      Learning how to provide constructive criticism is just as important as learning how to receive it.

      You must be intuitive because this topic is one that I'm addressing in my next post.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  4. Does email count as practice for writing? (kidding) I spend a lot of time on non-fiction and blogging these days, but I'm looking forward to spending more time working on fiction as well.

    1. All writing counts, in my opinion, Lisa. After all, we write queries, emails asking for help, for clarification, where communication needs to be well-written; otherwise, meaning isn't clear. Sometimes, emails are great practice playgrounds for cutting out unnecessary words, using the best verbs, and so forth. 🙂

      I used to go into my classroom, saying, "Are you folks, kidding me? Addressing me as 'Dude' in your emails, as in 'Hey Dude'? Writing to an English professor not caring about spelling or providing me with enough information so I need to give you a proper answer?" (It was funny, but I was on a mission teaching them about audience.)

      Loved your response!! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    1. THE most difficult task of being a writer with a life full of responsibilities. Any day where even a smidgen of writing gets done is a great day. And best of all, it's always progress.

      May more time find its way to you. All my best.

  5. What a wonderful article, Diana! So much good advice, and it's encouraging and realistic at the same time. As a writer who mostly edits at my full-time job, this paragraph really resonated with me:

    "Have you ever considered that you might not be practiced enough? That the critiquers aren’t being mean, but that they’re providing you truth and that there’s still more learning to do? Or, that you’re learning from others who might not be qualified enough for you to grow? That you haven’t found your best cheerleader?"

    It's hard to find your way through all the advice out there—so much of which is contradictory. I wish I could hug all the new writers and tell them that just as they're learning to write, they need to learn which critiquers are their best cheerleaders. Unfortunately, it's not an A-B-C, do-it-this-way process. It's a combination of experience, gut feelings, and at times, some hard lessons. But it's so worth it when you find your writing besties, because they are like gold!

    1. Aw, thanks, Linda. Everything you said, especially the last part about writing not being an A-B-C structure and hard work, but "so worth it when you find your writing besties, because they are like gold!"

      I couldn't do it without my besties! They don't tell me what I want to hear; they tell me what I need to hear. Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom with us. Happy writing!

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