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By Bhalachandra Sahaj

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how to improve writing skillsThe most common advice you get as an amateur writer seeking to become more skilled is to “write, write, and write.” But no person who gives such advice (including myself) tells you what exactly you should write, how you should do it, and why… which is annoying. I know this, because I’ve been given the same kinds of “useful hints” numerous times when I was a beginner.

So, what I’m offering you today is several exercises. They can be rather useful in terms of making you more fluent with words, making you develop a consistent style, and making your writing more diverse and less cliched.

1. Free writing (or free associations). This is one of my favorite exercises to do as a writer. Not only does it sharpen your skills, but it can also become a method of writing short stories. The trick is simple: write anything that comes to your head. Do not think about how it sounds, don’t try to write anything worthwhile, don’t be concerned about typos, mistakes, word repetitions, and meaninglessness—ignore it all, and keep writing. The main idea of this exercise is to learn how to make your mind loose. A free mind produces more ideas than a focused one, but usually we pay little or no attention to what comes and goes in our thoughts. This exercise is a great way to find out what’s going on in your head, and extract an idea or two. Just don’t show the results to a psychoanalyst.

2. The second exercise is opposite to the previous one. To start with, choose a material object. It can be anything: a pen, a street light, a flyover, a battleship, whatever. Your task is to write at least 20 sentences about the object of your choice. Not just short fragmentary sentences, like “It’s shining and glinting. It’s in front of me. I’m dull, blah-blah.” No, you must write in compound sentences! Be descriptive, be diverse, and see if you can get outside of the box of mundane thinking. Don’t ask questions like “Is it even possible to write anything about this old street light?” Russian poet Alexander Pushkin once wrote an extensive poem dedicated to his ink pot. Your task is much easier—you can write in prose.

3. Take a dictionary and pick some weird words from it. Write a meaningful short story using all of the words you’ve chosen. I know people who write them like this: “I gullibly picked the synchrophasotron from the ground that was terraformed by blah-blah-blah,” but such kind of writing doesn’t make sense. You must try to write a logical and coherent story that has some literary value. This exercise will be useful only under this condition.

These exercises aren’t simple, but trust me, they are fun to do, and they are useful in terms of making you a better writer.

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