If you’re not used to writing long pieces, sometimes it’s better to write short stories or even just scenes for a while so you get some practice at completing a project. It’s a lot easier to learn about structure on a small scale than it is to get 100,000 words into a story and then try to play find the plot holes. Where exactly does my first act end and the second begin? Uhhhh….Hmm.
Somebody in your past probably told you that writers don’t write with things like “acts” or “foreshadowing” in mind (or any of those other things your high school English teacher tried to point out while you were slogging through The Scarlet Letter), and that person was not entirely correct. It’s true that some pantsers don’t think about those things while they’re writing–but they do once they start editing. Plotters usually have some idea of their pacing and other story elements worked into their outlines. If you want your story to have a good pace, to have scenes that move and flow and feel like events that are actually building up to a resounding climax, then you need to know a little something about how to structure those scenes.
Writing exercises will also help you learn how and when to utilize sensory descriptions, “show don’t tell,” master dialogue, and other things that seem small but really add up over the course of a novel.
When you go over your exercises, or share them with a critique partner, you’ll start developing your editing skills. I know it can be scary to put yourself out there and open to criticism and rejection, but trust me: it’s one of the best ways to grow as a writer. So put on your big kid pants and learn how to listen to what other people tell you without taking it as a personal attack. You’ll learn a lot about yourself.
I’ve learned that I’m a much better editor than writer, which is why I tend to blow through a rough draft without putting thought into anything beyond laying out events and establishing my characters’ most basic traits. The real magic happens in the next draft. I know this now because I have spent years practicing, exercising, and writing literal garbage. One of those garbage pieces is around 150,000 words and it’s going to be hard to fix. Trust me, it’s much easier to start small and build up to something bigger than to write something huge and realize it’s a giant dump.
Once a week or so, between regular posts, I’ll try to toss an exercise prompt up here. I might even give you examples of my own writing. If you have any suggestions, feel free to post in the comments.