Writer's Block. Sort of.

by Jeff
(Bay Area, Ca)

Hey there. Great site! I've been reading over every article and learning a lot.

My problem is this: I get stuck in my writing not when I'm confused on where to take a story, but how to structure sentences. I always aced English classes, but I never really payed attention (I wasn't much of a fan of school) and now I feel I'm missing some building blocks that help others structure sentences that are interesting and accomplish the point they are trying to make.

My vocabulary feels low, and I know it isn't an end all be all, but sometimes I have an idea in mind, and no word to describe it although I know there is one.

Also, basic and advanced uses of certain punctuation. But more importantly, just knowing what words fall under what literary terms and how to use words to "paint" a picture. I feel I fall short and that stops me from writing.

Thanks for your time, and use the first paragraph as a testimonial if you'd like.

Response: Traditionally, most writers have developed their sense of style by reading a lot (and reading closely), and by writing a lot. Basic grammar, taught in school, helped a little as well.

English classes help somewhat because they force you to read great books and write.

One exercise that can help is to pick some great writers whose style you admire. At least some of them should be contemporary. Once a week, copy a chapter from one of these books in longhand.

This exercise forces you to pay attention to every word and punctuation mark. It will imprint a sense of these writers' styles onto your subconscious. I advise doing this with a variety of writers, so you get a variety of styles.

I know it sounds dull work, but it is a much faster way to develop an understanding of how great sentences work than reading and writing alone.

While you're at it, have a dictionary handy and look up words you come across that you don't know.

In addition, there are some basic principles of style. The classic book Elements of Style may help you to recognize these principles in the examples you're working with.

Best of luck.

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