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Practice, practice, practice

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Writing is an art. That may seem obvious, but consider a simple implication. How do the best artists improve?

Practice. Lots of practice.

Not necessarily by playing, drawing or composing entire pieces, but also with quick exercises, that refine one aspect of their art. A portrait artist may spend weeks drawing eyes, for instance, or a musician will repeat one bar of a melody over and over until it was perfect.

Why should writing be any different? While, without doubt, the real joy of writing lies in artful construction of plot and character into a complete story, the skill can only come from practice of the basics.

Write often. As often as a muscian would rehearse or a painter would draw - every day would not be unreasonable. In fact, as a writer, it is easier to practice, as we need no equipment, simply our imagination. In the car, while walking to the shops, or late at night while trying to sleep. Take whatever opportunity you can to practice. Look around you right now. Describe the scene, as if you were writing, with metaphors and word-pictures. Edit and re-write sections. Test out how different words and phrases flow into each other, see what works and what doesn't. Describe the same scene as if it were foreboding, then peaceful. Sketch it out using as few words as possible, as if it were an unimportant background. Then explore it in depth, the pivotal scene of a novel.

If around people, practice describing them. As above, construct the descriptions to create different emotions, and use differing levels of detail. For a real challenge, try describing their actions in real-time, without falling back to simplistic, "He raises his hand, then scratches his head, then put his hand back down." Write as if for a narrative, with descriptions, similies and all the other usual decorations that make a story come alive.

Similar exercises can be done for characters, dialogues and all the other components of fiction. Become used to words, learn to love them. Immerse yourself in them. Learn about their construction and history, as a muscian would her chosen instrument. If you do, when your great idea strikes all your energies can be directed into the story, rather than the technicalities of word choice. A trained pianist can concentrate on the melody, not where to place his fingers on the keys. Likewise, a practiced author will find word choice and flow automatic, and the result will be a much better story.

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