Mindful Practice

A couple years ago, out of the blue, my dad sent me a practice chanter set. He’d found it at a thrift store and thought of how many times I’d said I wanted to learn to play the bagpipes when I was a kid, and, well, one thing led to another. It turns out the dogs actually like the sound of my crappy piping quite a bit better than the euphonium, and slightly more than the guitar, so although I don’t inflict practice on my spouse I do noodle around with it. Here’s the thing, though: I’ll never be a good piper at this rate. I’ll probably never be a second-rate one, even. Because while I practice, I don’t practice mindfully. I just pick it up, mess around, call it good enough, say I had fun, and put it away until the next time I feel like “practicing.”

The same principle applies to your writing. If you pick it up when it feels like fun, write something, don’t edit, don’t critique or workshop, and then toss it up on the grids? That can be a whole lot of fun, I’m not going to kid you. That’s a great way to enjoy writing. What it isn’t is a way to get better at writing than you already are. Those are two very different approaches to writing, and neither one is better than the other. It’s fine to have fun, and it’s fine to focus on growth, and it’s also fine to go in phases where you alternate between the two. But if you’re frustrated with where you are on the grid, try switching gears for a minute: if you’re focused too hard on critique, the fun can go out of your writing (and those experiments, while you learn a lot, don’t always succeed!), but if you’re just noodling around and not improving, it can also be frustrating to see other writers continually taking home an editors’ pick. Working back and forth between the fun and the work of writing is how you build mindful practice while not burning yourself out – and you, too, will land an editors’ pick!

See, while there’s a popular vote winner every week, we don’t always give out a staff pick. Our editors comb the grids to find, not just the best writing on our grid this week, but what we think is pretty darn great writing anywhere anytime. Picks are based on writing quality, how successful the author is in conveying information, and just plain style. If you got a staff pick this week, grab your badge from the sidebar and wear it with pride!  The great part is that we don’t have a finite number of picks to hand out. That means that if two, three, five, or even all the works on one grid are fantastic, we can give them all kudos.

The other benefit of the editors’ pick, of course, is that unlike the popular vote we’ll tell you why we liked that post. So don’t just skip reading the blurb if it’s not about your post; you’ll pick up some handy pointers about what makes good writing great that you can apply to your own work. For more of that critical feedback, keep an eye on our Roundup for a quick rundown of trends we see each week. We try to highlight the good stuff and point out problems that more than one writer is struggling with. There’s probably a handy tip in there for you right now, so check it out!

Once you’re done reading through the Editorial Staff Picks and Roundup (and congratulating the winners in the comments), keep scrolling down to check out who won the popular vote on both grids. If you earned the highest number of votes in any challenge, you are this week’s Crowd Favorite! If you came in first, second or third, you get “Top Three” honors. Grab your badge from our sidebar!

Looking for your badge? Both grids have the same Winner, Editorial Staff Pick, and Top Three badges. It doesn’t clutter up our sidebar, and they’ll still look pretty on yours!

YeahWrite #352 Weekly Writing Challenge Staff Picks:

Fiction|Poetry

Okay, we all know Ruby can world build, but what I’m really impressed by is how fast she does it. In her submission this week, she creates an entire class system using just one character’s observations of the other main character in the story. Ruby did it by taking a concept we’re all familiar with—cosmetic surgery—and exaggerating it. Her strategy didn’t require a lot of explanations that would eat up her word count and it allowed her to show the reader a meaningful interaction between a futuristic florist and one of her peers. Brilliant!

Rowan’s Roundup: YeahWrite Weekly Writing Challenge #352

“Hey, gorgeous.”

How did you read that? Was it a greeting from a friend? A creepy yell from a guy on the street? A compliment or a threat? Context matters. In the same way, context matters in your writing. This is where nonfiction gets hard, y’all: you are already programmed with all the information you need to understand your own story. A reader is not. So once you’ve written your piece, think about what parts of it might be unique to you and your culture (‘mericans, do not assume your culture is universal; it’s not.) and give your reader what they need to see why that joke is funny, or why a seemingly plain phrase felt like a threat. There are a couple ways to do this: you can add a quick sentence of backstory, give your reader some clues that they can chase to look the thing up if they need to know more about how yujacha tastes (or is supposed to taste, if the point of your story is you accidentally used salt), or employ a few judicious links. I’m sure there are more context-delivery methods that you can find out there on the internet, and if mine didn’t make sense, you should use the one that works best for you. Because, after all, you don’t have to take my word for it.

Every time I try to write about “transitions” I get “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof stuck in my head. Just me? Ah, well. Anyway, a thing that you need in your storytelling is tran-si-TION? Transition. It’s not enough to tell your reader where they are and who they’re with at the beginning of the story. If you’re changing scene, date, or character, you need to introduce that new thing to the reader with enough intent and context that they, too, can see what’s going on in your head. Otherwise they’ll be scrambling to catch up, spending their brainpower figuring out who “Bob” is or why they’re surrounded by books when a second ago they were in the dining room instead of watching the story flow smoothly by.

That’s it for this week! Remember, we don’t always give out a pick on both grids; if we were impressed by several posts on one grid we’ll give them all picks, and if nothing really stood out for us we’ll hold off. If you didn’t get a pick this week, read back through the Roundup to see if you can use some of this week’s tips and tricks.

If you’re lost in the middle of the grid and wondering how you can get a little more feedback on your posts, check out our membership perks!

Everybody: before you go, please take some time to leave your favorites a little love in the comments, and don’t forget, the Weekend Writing Showcase opens tonight at 6pm Eastern US Time!

Congratulations to the Crowd Favorites at YeahWrite #352

The thumbnails are now sorted in order of most votes to fewest. Ties in the overall number of votes are broken by number of editor votes.

Congratulations if you’re at or near the top! Writing well is hard work, and we’re honored you’ve chosen us this week to showcase your entry.

If you’re at or near the bottom, don’t be discouraged. You’re in the right community for learning and growing as a writer, and we are always available with resources for those who ask nicely.

To our readers and voters: thank you! See you next week.

Nonfiction Challenge

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Fiction|Poetry Challenge

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About the author:

Rowan submitted exactly one piece of microfiction to YeahWrite before being consumed by the editorial darkside. She spent some time working hard as our Submissions Editor before becoming YeahWrite’s Managing Editor in 2016. In real life she’s been at various times an attorney, aerialist, professional knitter, artist, graphic designer (yes, they’re different things), editor, secretary, tailor, and martial artist. It bothers her vaguely that the preceding list isn’t alphabetized, but the Oxford comma makes up for it. She lives in Portlandia with a menagerie which includes at least one other human. She blogs at textwall and CrossKnit.

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