06 December, 2009

Getting There: Lesson 1

The best way to get to where you’re going is to know where you are; we've all heard this before, right? It's  true.

Here’s an exercise you can do as a first step to getting there. You are welcome to share the results here (I encourage you to). Sharing your goals with others might be a good way to motivate yourself to work toward those goals. Plus, you will get encouragement here:

Step 1: Assess where you are as a writer
Who are you? What genre do you write? What/who is your muse? What are your strengths and weaknesses?  How much time do you currently dedicate to your writing?

Step 2: Decide what you want to achieve with your writing 
You can break this down into time periods. E.g. What do you want to achieve in the coming year? Where do you want to be in the next two/four/five years?

Once you know this, you can decide how much time you need to dedicate to your writing.

Step 3: Set targets
The purpose of Steps 1 and 2 is to highlight the gap between where you are and where you want to be. They enable you to really see if your targets are realistic. You may discover that you need to adjust your target. Don't worry. Realistic targets are easier to achieve, and the more you achieve the more motivated you will be to push yourself further.

Step 4: Get your basic resources
Here's a list of resources I consider basic for every fiction writer.

An imagination
If you’re going to write fiction, you need an active imagination. First of all, imagination doesn’t mean a dirty mind, neither does it mean your mind should always be in the clouds. An exercise I try to do is to find a story in things happening around me. Usually, all I need is some incident or word to spark my imagination. If I have to attend an event, for example, I keep my eyes and ears open for cues. I ask myself ‘what if’ questions.

Others try to pick random words and try to string together a story that incorporates those words. Check out writing prompts. There are many websites with writing exercises. One such place is Writer's Digest. Here's an example of the kind of interesting prompts you'll get from there:
You wake up one day with an unusual super power that seems pretty worthless—until you are caught in a situation that requires that specific "talent." 

For this and more prompts click here

You’d be surprised to discover there are many stories to be told.

A Dictionary 
A good dictionary is a must. You may want to get both a physical and an online dictionary. Make sure your dictionary is up-to-date, since English as a language is evolving. Also, what version of English are you writing in? If UK-based English, you might want to get an Oxford dictionary (or a Webster if you write in American English). It’s important to also set your Word documents to the appropriate version, to take advantage of the auto-correct feature.

A Thesaurus 
A thesaurus is another must. You don’t want all your stories to sound the same ... or worse—for your work to sound too similar to someone else’s. We all function within certain comfort zones in our everyday speech. This will reflect in your work, so you need to make a conscious effort to shake things up. A thesaurus will enable you discover new words for old expressions and help you achieve variety. Sometimes you have a word you could use, but simply don’t like it in that sentence. Pop out your thesaurus and have fun with it.

A grammar book 
It’s always a good idea to read up on grammar and punctuation. You might be thinking you’ve done several years of English and you don't need lessons in grammar. Yes, we all went to school, and we all studied English, but you’d be surprised the kinds of mistakes you’ll find in your writing if you’re not careful. For example, did you know that combining a question mark and exclamation mark is grammatically wrong? Many of us do it, thinking it’s the way to depict emphasis. What about the use of ellipses? Do you put spaces before and after? Is it okay to use four dots instead of three? You might want to go and dust off your Student’s Companion. Better still, get the latest edition.

Learn the rules and follow them. I’m all for breaking rules, but if you’re going to, the least you should do is make sure you know what rules you’re breaking—and why.

The internet is a vast resource for information and is one of my favourite hangouts. Seriously. While I still like to refer to my big Oxford dictionary (or the Webster dictionary at home), the internet allows you to have all these things are your fingertips without the clutter of books. I recently had to relocate to a new country for work and couldn’t take my dictionaries with me. I rely on my online dictionary and thesaurus. If the internet is too expensive to have 24/7, dedicate time for browsing—purposeful browsing—each week (every day if you can).

I hope this lesson was helpful.

Before Lesson 2, I'll post some helpful online and electronic resources I use.


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