By: Michelle Gunnin
“Writing structure is logical. Writing method at its best is instinctive. That way you get the benefits of both styles – improvisation within calculation.” ― Stewart Stafford
I don’t know why it is writers don’t always think of what they do as a craft. I guess because there aren’t paints, glue, or brushes involved, we put our work into a different category. We don’t think of it in the same way as an artist or a musician might, but we should.
How do those other craftspeople get better at what they do? They practice, analyze, and try again. It is a cycle of constant improvement. They are stretching themselves by trying new colors, or a different instrument.
Writing is a Portable Craft
Our tools as writers are few, paper and pencil, or a computer. Those are the only things we need.
1. We do not always have to be shopping for better or more supplies.
2. No studio is required to do what we do.
3. We can take our work everywhere.
4. Napkins are a suitable canvas for our words.
Writing is one of the most versatile art forms there is. Yet, we still don’t think of it as a craft which requires developing.
We have the practicing part down. We write often. Many of us have tried to create a daily habit of writing. Some of us have a word count we try to reach each day. Others pick a specific time of day to write or a particular place.
Over time, with practice, we know our writing will improve. Anyone can look back and see the development experience brings. Even the young children I teach get better just by doing the writing. However, if we really want to dig deeper and hone our craft, we have to do more than just write.
Analyzing the Writing Craft
We have to analyze. The writing of others, yes, but more importantly, our own. Analysis requires a different kind of thinking. When we read another author’s work, we enjoy it. When we analyze it, we take it apart to find out why.
1. Why was it so enjoyable?
2. What kind of figurative language was used?
3. How did the characters interact with one another?
4. What was the plot twist that kept us guessing?
Analyzing requires re-reading and paying attention to literary devices while doing so.
The same is true when we read our own writing. As writers, we have to analyze our work to make it better.
Maybe it is easier for me to see since I teach young children. They want to be finished with a piece more than they want to improve it. They do not care if they use the same word 14 times in the same paragraph, they don’t want to go back and think of another.
Every sentence can start with the same three words, and they won’t even notice it. Teaching them the process of analysis is one of the hardest parts of educating young writers.
One way to do it is to have them read their writing to me out loud or to have another person read it to them. This makes the words on the page mean something, and it is easy to HEAR the parts which need more work. It is a step by step progression to teach them to transfer their analysis into their work.
As an adult, I hope it comes easier for me to look over what I write and be honest about it. I try to weave in several different ways to look at my craft to make it better. Here are a few of them.
1. Look at one thing at a time.
It is hard to analyze every portion of your writing in one sitting. It is more helpful to choose one element and read just for it. Similar to how you don’t edit until everything else is finished.
2. Check for repeated words.
Once I was editing a paper for a friend, and she had used the same word 24 times on one page. I advised her to get a thesaurus. She was unaware of it until I pointed it out. I always go back and analyze my word choices.
- Do they make sense?
- Do they flow?
- Did I use a good variety?
3. Check your verbs.
- Are they strong or weak?
- Do they paint a picture, or are they vague?
One way to practice this skill is to write a piece without using adjectives. It is hard, but it requires you to focus in on strong or active verbs. Strong verbs are the foundation of the picture you are trying to paint. Without them, it will be bland and colorless.
4. Check sentence structure.
- Do you have a mixture of simple, compound, and complex sentences?
- Do they all begin the same way?
Use a chart if you have to for each sentence. Write down the first 4 words, the verb, the subject and predicate, the pronouns, the adjectives, and if your sentence is simple, complex, or compound. When you make a chart like this, areas where you do the same things over and over show up quickly.
5. Check your tenses.
I tend to go in and out of the present and past tense. It is one of the things I HAVE to check with every piece I write.
6. Check your voice. Each author has a unique voice and writing style. It is what makes us who we are as writers. However, sometimes, our own voice can override the voice of a character. Make sure your character has his/her own voice and doesn’t use yours.
7. Check character development.
One of the ways to accomplish a character having their own voice is to make sure the character is well developed. Doing a character sketch before writing helps with this. Even if you don’t use all the information, it helps to know more about your fictional character.
- What were the family relationships like?
- Do they recognize their fears?
- What are their strengths and limitations?
Writing all of it out before the story begins helps you “get into character” when you are writing their dialogue.
8. Check for redundancy.
Sometimes I say the same thing several ways. Usually, it is because I am not precise in my language. When analyzing for redundancy, I typically have to take all the different ways I expressed a thought and combine them into one well written precise phrase or sentence.
9. Check your pronouns.
Making sure pronouns are clear. It is one of the things children miss the most because they know who they are talking about. It doesn’t occur to them, I don’t know the person. If the reader doesn’t know who “he” is, they will have a hard time following the story.
10. Check your figurative language.
- Do your similes make sense?
- Does your alliteration work?
Imagery has to paint a picture with words. If it doesn’t, it defeats the purpose of using it in the first place.
11. Have someone else analyze your work.
This is hard because it requires vulnerability and risk. You know the friends you have who will be honest with you. Trust them to give you feedback and then really look at it. Sometimes we are too close to the work to see the places it needs to be brushed up.
The main thing to remember when doing analysis is, to be honest. I sometimes hold off and put my piece away for a bit. Then when I pick it back up for analysis, I see it with fresh eyes.
Bio: Michelle Gunnin
With more questions than answers, Michelle writes to explore both. She is determined to be in the moment and live fully…both things life has taught her.
Follow her blog at michellesmosaic.wordpress.com
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