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A Life-Changing Exercise to Make You a Better Writer

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I recently went to a non fiction writing conference, I traveled all the way to Pittsburgh from Scio, OR for three days of inspiration.

There were so many things I pulled from it, as three days of overflowing information could be beneficial for anyone! What I didn’t expect though, was to get exactly the answer to a skill that I was seeking assistance with.

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I call if floof.

You know what it is. It’s those descriptions that you read in other’s writing that make your jaw drop. The eloquently put and beautiful, but unorthodox, metaphors that almost shouldn’t work but do. It’s what makes the writer unique, giving you something you’ve never read before.

I somehow missed that class in my creative writing courses in college on how to create those sentences, it’s a skill I feel I’ve never really developed. I could feel as I began rereading my current novel to edit it, that it was missing this floof. It was and is missing the beautiful descriptions that pop off the page, and it’s the deciding factor between beautifully put writing and mediocre words scratched in black.

I went into this conference hoping I might get a lesson on this skill.

Sure enough, it manifested itself in a beautiful, buff man that spent a solid hour presenting on how to create this magic.

I drank the Kool-Aid.

Every second of it.

I even raised my hand and shared my practice sentences in front of the entire conference room because, low and behold, his activity worked! I am proud to announce that I can officially create floof! This majestic eagle had shown me the way.

As writers, I think it’s important to always be bettering our craft. I think it’s crucial to be aiming higher, improving our current skill level, and always being hungry for more.

Now enough about what it is or why it’s important. Let’s talk about how you can learn this skill too. With that in mind, I wanted to share this exercise. I can’t take credit, as Chris Girman was the person that initially suggested an activity like this. But, I can however share the skill and hope it reaches others since it has been so beneficial to me.

I will provide personal examples in each step.

Welcome to learning how to floof your writing.

Step 1: Look Beyond Your Typical Scope.

In the activity, Chris gave us copied pages of poems, a page in Oprah Magazine of great clothing buys, and a food recipe for a Superbowl dish.

The page that I found the most helpful was the page with the clothing. It’s the kind of page that you see in magazines that have a ton of different outfits sprawled out across the page, with descriptions, prices, and where to find them. I’ve included an old school image of what I mean.

Photo credit: classic_film on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

You know exactly what I’m talking about now. Go through that page in the magazine and pull out words and phrases that stick out to you. You could also just skim through a magazine in general, or even a book, and jot down the words that pop out to you.

They don’t have to be perfect, and they don’t necessarily have to be pretty.

When I did this on the Oprah Magazine page I highlighted the following:

  • true-catch
  • elevate white eyelet
  • elongated white
  • unzipped
  • red fields
  • gripping
  • ceiling fan

Your chosen vocab should just be one or two words that stick out to you. Anything more than three is really blurring the lines of taking other people’s words and using them as your own. Otherwise know as plagiarism.

Step 2: Think Of Your People.

Detach your brain from the word hunt, and shift gears a bit. On a sheet of paper separate of your initial list, think of one or two main characters. Put the name and describe them in several sentences. What are they like? How do they act? How do they carry themselves? Who are they?

I pulled two main characters from my current novel and how they are portrayed in said novel. My examples were:

Outcast (my dog): She sniffs at nearly anything, she’s furry, black and loyal beyond mention. She looks at me often like I’m her whole world.

Me: Unsure, unwilling to face that I have no idea what I’m doing. Twenty-three/ twenty-four and wears uncertainty like a worn pair of sneakers. I have no confidence in myself, and you can tell by the way my shoulders slouch and I quietly remain invisible to the world around me.

Step 3: Use The Abstract.

Now, take those same main characters and your list. Put them together. Use the abstract words above to describe your character in a way that might not have been described before. This exercise also eliminates cliche’s in your writing.

My same characters reworked with my descriptions above:

Outcast (my dog): When I first got her, I didn’t know she would be a true-catch. Her elongated white chest stands out like a shirt peeking from under an unzipped jacket — her black fur surrounding. Her eyes shift expectantly, like red fields of wheat flickering, moving, highlighting my every movement.

Me: My head is spinning like an unhappy ceiling fan, wobbling off balance, trying to find center. I’m gripping my detergent like it’s my baby, and a predator is veering at me, planning to kidnap.

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