How to Do Your Homework

It may sound obvious. But for those of us who are a few years away from the years of daily schoolwork, or for students who want a refresher, it’s important to know how to do your homework. Writers do homework too — in fact, their writing suffers if they haven’t done it right. I want to talk today about how to do your writing homework.

Homework is about two main things: learning, and preparation. You’ve got to learn new concepts, but you’ve also got to prepare yourself to be doing the real work in the future, whether it’s taking the math test or writing the story. Homework is like the stretching before the big run: it’s essential warm-up to make your run the best it can be. And just like the marathon or the math test, creative writing benefits from a little stretching beforehand.

1. Do Your Research.

This is the most obvious form that homework takes when you’re doing creative writing. Some stories require specialized information, and even not highly technical stories usually benefit from more detail. If you’re writing a story that is set on a farm, for example, it’s important that you know when planting season is and how the procedure of milking a cow happens. So before you start your next story, take a few notes on the setting, the street names, the procedures and shop talk of the world you intend to inhabit.

2. Don’t Be Lazy

Homework discourages laziness in your work because it forces you get up and get moving, to be thinking, working, and asking questions of yourself. That’s why writers have to do their homework. It may mean doing a writing exercise to keep yourself limber even when you don’t have a story going. It might mean forcing yourself to write a little every day or at least look at what you’ve written and edit it a bit. If you’re trying to get it published, it could be double-checking the editor’s name and polishing up your cover letter. It means putting in the extra mile to make sure your story is as good as it can be, and that it’s ready for showtime.

After the jump: two other ways you can do your homework with your writing.

Be Prepared.

You never know when that brilliant story idea is going to strike. It may come when you haven’t been writing for ages. If that’s true, though, you want to be ready when it comes, prepared to begin writing immediately, limber enough to do that idea justice. That’s why doing writing exercises or taking notes on a regular basis is important: it will keep you prepared for the moment when that story idea finally comes.

Practice, Practice, Practice.

Homework, ultimately, is really a form of practice. You need rehearsals before the big show and practices before the big game to perform at your best — why should writing be any different? People often forget that shaping beautiful sentences takes as much practice as performing that beautiful dance move or playing that perfect violin concerto. If you don’t do your homework, your writing will still be shaky and uncertain on the real test — your final fiction and poetry.

4 comments

  1. Guy Lebeda says:

    Great advice! I use a book for poets: “The Practice of Poetry:
    Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach” and find that the exercises really get my writing jump-started, even if I am not writing poems. Anyone else have a good resource for practicing/exercises?

  2. mary brady says:

    Yes, a very good post, indeed. I have a good practice book which, naturally, I never use much. I began reading through it again in preparation to write this comment and I could just kick myself for not picking it up daily.

    It is called “What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers” by Anne Bernays & Pamela Painter.

    If I ever finish this bloody project I’m writing now, I will do every exercise in the book. Then I will die at the tender age of 142 knowing exactly how to write the perfect work of fiction.
    (The book IS excellent, but there are many exercises! So, you can also pick & choose…)

  3. Drue A. Windhorst says:

    There are so many good ideas within this post. I have found even reading some favorite works adds to the stimulations that are necessary to find focus. It is those authors and artists that I feel can create the positive energy which often leads me to the inspiration.

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