Words by Jenni Curry, ACTWC Blogger in Residence
In one of my recent yoga classes, the teacher reminded us that we should not aim to have the most beautiful pose, or the perfect stance. Nor should we aim to get our chest/knees/head on the floor. We were all unlikely to ever get there, and even if we did, perfect yoga poses, or amazing flexibility did not guarantee happiness. We would still essentially be the same person. Instead, they told the class that yoga is a practice, something we need to do often to improve on throughout our lives.
I was flawed by this concept. The idea that there is no end goal, no timeline, and no prize at the finish line. It’s a practice. And writing is the same. Our writing will never be perfect. There will always be a better word, a more appropriate placement for a comma or a more interesting character. However, we can improve our skills.
Writing requires us to come to our laptop, computer or notebook regularly, to get words on the page. It requires us to think about our work in every spare minute of the day. And most importantly, it requires us to practice new techniques.
If you’re unsure how to write from the first person or third person, present tense or past tense, a different gender point of view, or want to try a new style or genre, then perhaps try writing a short story. Grab an underdeveloped idea and start to write. It doesn’t have to be a whole book; it can even be just a single scene.
In this way, you can explore what the words are capable of doing. Do you like lots of dialogue, or none at all? Do you like work that is beautiful or brief and to the point? Do particular styles give a different perspective that better suits some stories? And most importantly, what feels most comfortable for you as the writer? Try making the character a child, an old man, someone who doesn’t speak the language of the country they are living in. How will their perspective change as a result, and how will you present the words?
If you are still unsure about writing from different points of view or tenses, try rewriting a short piece to change just one detail and read back through both versions. One will likely stand out as the more powerful communicator of that story.
In particular, use short stories as a way of improving that always elusive, first line. This can be a great platform to practice writing punchy lines that will grab a reader, and make them continue to consume your work. The first line and paragraph are vital, regardless of the length of the writing piece. Without them, there is no set-up and no hook, which can be fatal to even the most extraordinary stories.
Keep in mind that no one ever has to see your practice pieces. They will exist with the sole purpose of improving your writing and challenging you in the writing process.
So next time you are feeling in need of a little practice time, write a short story in a different format to usual. You might just be surprised at what you find.
Jenni Curry has a Masters in Creative Writing and is a 2014 HARDCOPY alumni. She writes fiction novels and short stories, many of which have been seen in Australian and UK anthologies including Time to Write and How Higher Education Feels. She finds fiction simpler than reality and continues to search for the perfect world to live in.