A few years ago, my wife The Duchess, tired of my complaining, bought me a guitar and some lessons. I’d been saying for years that I wanted to learn how to play an instrument simply because I like to take on new challenges and learn new skills, and the whole guitar thing is something we white guys born somewhere between 1945 and 1995 have burned into our genetic code. When we’re 15 we very much wish to be in a rock band, and for those of us who never managed it as kids, it’s something that haunts us.

So, I learned to play the guitar, and to this day I play every day, for myself. I even make songs! That you can listen to! Though you probably shouldn’t.

You can learn about writing from playing guitar. Part of learning how to play involves practice. Playing scales, learning how to play songs, fingering exercises—you do these things every day in order to master the instrument. And you should be doing similar things with your writing.

I Got Blisters On Me Fingers

Yes, of course, most writers try to write every day. But we’re not talking about working on your novel or stories or epic poem about video games. We’re talking about exercises. Quick shots of skill-building work that keep expanding what you feel comfortable with. One example I always trot out is my habit of writing a short story every month. A lot of these stories aren’t great, but they keep me generating ideas, teach me how to end a story, and allow me to practice whatever I need work on. So, if I’m feeling rusty working with a first-person narrator, say, I can work on a story with that POV.

Maybe you need to work on dialog, so you should spend a week writing conversations. Or you need to practice world-building, so you should write some quick setting descriptions or histories. Only you know what you need to work on, but once you figure that out you should work on it every day. It doesn’t have to be in the context of a larger story—in fact it’s better if you break it out as a short practice bit you can get through very quickly.

Of course, if you listen to my guitar playing you likely have much less respect for me now, so forget I said anything.

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