Imagine you’re in a coffee shop in the future, sipping your caramel mocha latte, laptop on the table, fingers ready to start typing. In walks a customer carrying a book bag, who orders a drink and settles in. The book she cracks open is yours! But she isn’t just reading, she’s taking notes.

You realize she’s reading to write. Just like you did when you were figuring it all out.

Rewind to before that moment, before you publish your book, back to now. You’ve got a great story idea, you’ve started your outline, maybe even written a draft or two. A lot of the advice you’ve been given lately is to read, read, read.

So, you do. You read every book you can get your hands on. (As if you didn’t already!) But for some reason, your work isn’t improving like you think it should.

Maybe it’s what you’re reading. Maybe it’s the way you’re reading it.

Application doesn’t happen by osmosis. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if it did? You need to take an active approach to learning your craft.

Here are some tips to do that:

Decide on what area of writing you need to improve. This could be anything from structure to setting, description to dialogue, there’s no wrong answer here.

Pick a book you’re familiar with, preferably a bestseller or by a favorite author that is strong in the area you’ve chosen to work on.

Take passages from that book and rewrite them. It’s okay to start with typing them out word for word to get the feel for the flow. If you do so, read aloud to hear how a passage sounds.

Next, pick a different passage, but imitate the overall way it’s put together. Doing so will help you come up with your own words within the confines of a specific structure. Since this is a weakness of yours, it’s probably going to be a lot harder than it sounds.

Do this a few times with different passages and different authors. You could even try this in different genres, too.

Once you get the feel for it, try writing a few passages that don’t have the pressure of being in a book or story. By taking the pressure off, your words should flow instead of fight to get out.

Now practice what you’ve learned by revising your current work in progress or using it in a new work. When you feel comfortable, share your work with someone you trust and ask for feedback.

Because you picked several authors, books, and genres, and you practiced on your own, you have developed your own voice. Where at first you sounded exactly like the first author, you now have a mix of influences to pull from, and that makes your voice and style unique.

I’m typically not much for writing exercises. For those short on time, they take up too much of it, with little progress toward the goal of finishing a book. A lot of times, I’ve found that exercises are more in futility than practicality. If there are no examples to learn from and no feedback to be had, there’s no improvement.

Not all practice is equal. No matter how many times I do a deadlift, if I’m using improper form and have no way of knowing, I’m going to continue to use improper form. I can learn from watching others (reading); hit the gym, think about what I learned and try to implement it (practice); but until I get someone who knows what they’re doing to spot me (feedback), I’ll be complaining of back pain until eternity.

The same goes for writing.

The hard part is finding someone who knows how to use proper form. Successful writers, beta readers, and editors are those people.

What writing exercises have you found most useful? How have they strengthened your weaknesses? Leave a comment to help other authors find practices that work for them!

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