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Writing Studies | An Introduction
Time to Work those Writing Muscles
Back in mid-2016 I had discovered Twitch TV when my best friend told me about a collaboration between Twitch and Bob Ross reruns and Adobe. I was very familiar with at least two of those three things and so I figured I would give Twitch a try. Fast forward to a few months later when I found myself watching several illustrators who were on Twitch doing what they do best and chatting with anyone watching. This led to me starting my own streaming journey where I stream while I’m writing and chat with anyone who might be watching.
But something else that came out of this time I spent on Twitch in the Adobe channel was learning about this idea of illustrator studies that it seemed they were all doing. The purpose is so simple and yet they all seemed to swear by it:
Draw what you don’t know or might not be familiar with and keep doing it till you master it (or discover it’s just not for you).
Until this time I had never heard of or thought of “studies” quite this way before. I always shrugged away studies as something I did back in college. I left college days far behind me! Why would I want to go back to doing that? But what they were talking about wasn’t studying something you hate or feel obligated to do. They were studying an art form, medium, or style that was unfamiliar to them in order to expand their love of illustrating. And this concept got my wheels turning.
WHY NOT WRITING STUDIES?
I know there are critique groups. But that’s not what this is. While it’s something that can be enjoyed with others it is very much an individual thing because no one but you and the page can know what you may need to work on.
Yes, there are other clubs and probably seminars and retreats that might offer a similar thing, but I have yet to see this simple idea to use the concept of studying to improve writing, at least not for someone who is “over 30, no longer in school, working 9-5 with a kid, a mortgage, and house chores up the wazoo.” If there is such a “work with me not against me” program out there do let me know.
In the meantime, I’ve always been of the mindset that if something doesn’t exist I shouldn’t sit around waiting for it to come about. I need to just do it myself.
And so, back in 2016 I set out to do my own “writing studies” on a weekly basis.
WHAT EXACTLY DID I DO?
Don’t get worried it really isn’t all that hard or time consuming. By this time I had already written plenty. I had a few short stories under my belt, a couple novels, and was in the middle of completing my third novel. I took all that I had written and decided to sit down one day and read it. The horrible “vomit draft” as I often will refer to my rough draft. It’s really not good. Not meant for human consumption. But as I wrote it, I figure I can stomach it. I then got to work making a list of what exactly from my previous writings I clearly struggled on. There are a few areas that we all probably struggle with like spelling errors, grammatical errors, stuff like that. But I wanted to list them all down for better or worse.
Really, I was just editing my work but less to find and fix mistakes and more to list down the mistakes I committed all the damn time. Because as we write for years and years at a time I think it’s helpful to improve on our writing even a little bit. I’m not saying our rough drafts should be without fault. That is impossible. It would put editors out of business, for one! And that’s just not reality. But if I can at least get back an edited manuscript where I stopped making that silly mistake so my editor could focus on areas that really need paying attention to, isn’t that a win-win for everyone?
So, armed with my LIST OF ISSUES ERICA HAS WITH HER WRITING I got to work setting up a schedule for myself of what I would tackle, when and for how long. Remember, this is a marathon, not a race. I’m not here to improve in a week or be naive enough to think I can improve in a week and move on to the next thing.
Let’s start with tense. You know the one. Past, present, future tenses. Ugh. The worst! I can easily start out writing with all my present tense intention and before the chapter is over (or even the paragraph) a few past tense words slip in there. It’s a nightmare. So, I decided to give myself a few prompts of a person, a place, and a thing. Sometimes I would just find an image of a location and fill in those three things after. Then I would set the rules. In this case am working on tenses so I would say I needed to write a 500 word story in the PAST TENSE and I had one week to do it.
Now, unlike editing, this is different. The purpose of this exercise is to make the conscious effort to ONLY write in the past tense and pay attention when I slip into another tense with my word usage. It can be a difficult thing to do. It’s like an illustrator erasing what they just sketched down in pencil to get the curve of the line just so. Self-editing while writing is a key part of writing studies. It’s not something I look on as a habit I’ll do forever. My intention is to self-edit while writing until it becomes second nature to me.
I also want to point out that this is not to aim for perfection. For example, if I already have a short story and it has several dozen instances of jumping around tenses then my goal would be to get less than, not to get none at all. Improvement happens in small increments and not all at once. The point is to see improvement and use that sense of success to fuel us into making more and more each time.
MY INTENTIONS FOR WRITING STUDIES IN 2023
I told you all about how I used writing studies back in 2016, but it’s 2023 now and I think I can adapt it to include many of us working together and encouraging each other so we know we’re not struggling to be better writers alone.
I’d like to create a weekly schedule where one week we share our improvement intentions. Then perhaps do a few studies with prompts the following weeks. And lastly, cap it off with some free writing and sharing how we did with our goal. Making it a monthly affair where you can participate one month and bow out the next. No obligations besides the one you make to yourself to exercise your writing muscle through studies with fellow writers.
If this sounds ideal to you, might I suggest subscribing and if you’re here just for the WRITING STUDIES aspect it likely means you are quite familiar with Substack. I recommend adjusting your subscription to uncheck all of my other sections and just keeping WRITING STUDIES checked so you get those emails. At the moment any NEW subscribers will not be automatically added to receive this section in order not to send emails about writing to anyone who may not want them.