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So the question comes up, from the earnest student in the front row of the lecture hall:  “Are there specific things that I, as a writer, can do — in terms of practice exercises and the like – to improve the quality of my work?”

And the answer is, yes, there are a few.

Here’s one for starters: Try writing things that are further out toward the edges of your comfort zone, whether in terms of form and style, or in terms of content.

For example, if you don’t like writing in first person (or in second person present tense, or in third person objective, or whatever), you can make a point of writing a short piece or two that way.  Likewise, you can try writing angst-ridden noir if you normally turn out lighter pieces; or comforting fluff if you normally go for the 88%-cacao-dark; or a tightly-plotted caper story if your usual product is loosely-plotted character-driven vignettes.

You may surprise yourself and get something publishable out of the exercise.  And even if you don’t, you’ll have exercised some new writing muscles.