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Cultivating a Writer’s Outlook

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As writers, we’re constantly trying to improve our craft. We want to write better each day, and create better stories. One of the ways to do that is research. Another is practice. Yet another is learning to relate to the world like a writer, and, in my opinion, that is one of the most important skills to cultivate as an author.

So, what does it involve?

See Like A Writer

Every day, we are practically assaulted with different sights. We see our familiar house, our yard, the sky in the morning, the trees with light shining through their leaves… there is so much to look at! And all of it presents the perfect opportunity for us to hone our sense of beauty, of ugliness, of peace, and of turmoil.

Keep your eyes open. Store the images you see away, because you never know when they might come in handy for a story. Learn to look at things like a writer — the same way a painter might learn to look at things like an artist.

Think Like a Writer

Our habits can be incredibly powerful. If you make a practice of thinking in terms of story and prose, everything will flow more smoothly when you actually sit down to write because you will have worn helpful pathways in your brain.

Learning your voice as a writer is tricky and takes time. However, if you work on it even when you’re not writing, the process is easier.

Take in those images we talked about above and try to figure out how you would describe them. Draw inspiration from others if you like, but challenge yourself to say something new. Pretty prose is nice, but the best prose truly says something.

Look at the people around you and characterize them in your head. Ask yourself how you would put their little mannerisms into words, or how you would show people who they are . Try to describe them succinctly as possible while still evoking an image in people’s minds.

Tell yourself little stories in your head whenever you have a chance. Narrate your walk down your driveway, your nighttime routine, or anything.

When you watch movies or read books, try to think of them as a writer. Pick them apart. Figure out why you enjoyed them, or why you didn’t. See if there’s anything you can learn from them.

Let your thoughts become story.

Feel Like a Writer

We all experience emotion every day, whether within ourselves or within someone close to us.

If you can, examine those emotions. How do they present themselves? When you’re sad, do you tend to cry or do you just feel a tightness in your chest? Or maybe you don’t want to cry, so you become irritable as a defense (*coughs* that’s not me, I don’t know WHAT you’re talking about). Keep asking yourself those kind of questions. How do you express/experience happiness, anxiety, fear, etc? How do the people around you express/experience those feelings? How do you tell what they’re feeling? What are some of the visual cues?

Writing fiction, is, in a lot of ways, trying to tell the truth by weaving a lie — well, a story. What’s happening within the story probably never happened in real life (unless you’re writing nonfiction or something inspired by a true story, of course), and the characters don’t actually exist.

But our brains tell us the opposite — at least to the point where we are able to suspend our disbelief and be in the story. Why?

Because what’s happening on the page feels real. We recognize the emotions, the desires, the reactions as inspired by truth. Often, they will reflect things we have felt or experienced.

If you want your readers to connect with your story, you have to tell the truth. Don’t be afraid to be real. Ask yourself how a certain situation would make your character feel, and don’t immediately pick the easiest answer — because it might not be the actual one.

Doing this will be easier if you’ve had a lot of practice — if you are learning from real life whenever you can.

Daydream Like a Writer

This one is probably something all of you already do, but I don’t think this post would be complete without it.

We can’t spend every moment of every day writing, but our practice doesn’t always have to occur on the page. Thanks to our lovely, multitasking brains (I mean, seriously, they’re incredible — thank you, Jesus, am I right?), we can be thinking about our story for a good percentage of the day.

If you don’t already do that, I encourage you to try it out. It allows you to plan your story ahead of time (if that works for you) and experiment with different scenarios without actually taking the time to write them out. My brain usually moves way faster than my fingers. Not only that, but it means you’re practicing the art of telling a story. All the time.

Writing As A Muscle

Writing is HARD — we all know this. But we can make it a bit easier for ourselves by practicing having a writer’s mind. Make those small choices to wear pathways in your brain that will rewire it. Keep it up long enough, and it will become automatic. You’ll watch movies and read books through the eyes of a writer. You will experience life as a writer.

And, trust me, it will show.

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