- I joined a local writing group, one specializing in science fiction, because my novel is nominally "cli-fi," being set in a post-climate-catastrophe Earth with little high technology. This proved helpful on many fronts, introducing me to several useful standards for good fiction writing. Personality clashes and a blurt of hot temper, dislodged me from that group.
- I also listen to podcasts that focus on writers and writing, including The Book Review podcast from The New York Times. From these I’ve gleaned many writing tips, as well as interesting reading recommendations, from which I’ve benefitted.
- I use a Kindle e-reader for a couple of reasons: 1) it works best on my "desk treadmill," which is now my only form of exercise; and 2) because it enables highlighting and note-taking that I can later port into a text document so I get a collection of all my notes in one place.
- In addition, I keep a post-it and pencil handy for when I come across especially good turns of phrase or words that I may be able to use in my own writing. I then type them into a plain document I can quickly scan when I’m searching for a good word.
- I think my writing has improved measurably since last year, when I started writing my novel, tentatively titled, "The Lifeboat Chronicles."
But my latest, and most drastic, trick is one I suspect few others will find acceptable, or think possible. It all came about after considering a critique of one of my SF group submissions. Someone noted I had used "the" several times in one long sentence. There’s nothing wrong with that definite article, other than its overuse in a sentence. But I wondered if I could write a long piece without using that word at all in anything where it is not part of a proper noun. To compound my constraint, I also committed to refraining from using "was" anywhere in my writing. (In fact, you will not find them in this very piece.)
So insidious are those words that I resorted to creating a macro on my computer that beeps me every time I use them, because they sneak in. I’ve maintained this discipline in writing a chapter that as of this date has gone just above fourteen-thousand words, where "the" and "was" do not appear.
Not only have I demonstrated to myself, that it’s possible to write without those words, but I believe my writing has improved because of it. When I find that those verboten words naturally flow out, I have to stop and figure out a different way to express similar concepts. This slows my writing down considerably. I’ve already written about countering "efficiency" in writing. I still use an iPad and an Apple Pencil to hand print first drafts. But this discipline slows me down even more.
What I feel results is second or third draft quality in a first draft. I still go back and edit, but I never add those two banished words. I think my writing is better because it’s denser. You may not agree. But at this point it satisfies me that it’s a valuable discipline. I just don’t know if I can keep up not using that one definite article indefinitely!