Over the course of almost a decade of writing I’ve come across a few tips that I felt like sharing with other writers. These are pretty simple and should help you on your collective creative journeys.
So let’s get started.
My 5 Tricks For Every Writer:
1. Write: This is the really annoying one. This is the one I trip up on most. I look up articles on writing and read blogs about writing or remember books I loved that made me want to write…but all the while I’m not writing anything.
One simple fact should rule every author’s brain: no one else is going to sit at your keyboard and write your story, so start typing.
2. Write: So you hate your manuscript, all your characters are stupid, and you don’t want to write anymore? So you’re sitting with your Word doc open and can’t think of any reason why you should continue with a story you’re not “into” anymore? Guess what the answer is?
The beginning of a book is a wonderful rush of creativity and endorphins. It’s a romance that seems like it will never end. But then it does. And you still have to write. This is what I call “Writing after the high is gone,” and every author has to do it. Books get written over the course of years and there is no way that you’re going to sit down with all the pep in the world every day when it’s time to work. It just won’t happen like that. But if you don’t want to wind up with yet another first-80-pages-of-a-manuscript collecting dust somewhere you have to learn write even after the high is gone, even if you’re not feeling it, even if you think what you’re writing is useless crap. It sucks but it’s necessary. I’ve actually hit my word count while swearing through my teeth the entire time.
But maybe that sounds too harsh. That’s okay, there’s a more pleasant way of phrasing this: Your writing talent is a group of muscles, and you’ve been working those muscles for awhile now. Believe it or not, even at your lowest, most self-loathing moments, your muscles and all your training are still with you. You’ll be shocked how much crap you’ll write that, during rewrites, turns out to not need nearly as much fixing as you thought it would.
Have faith in the talents you’ve been training all this time and learn to write after the high is gone.
3. Write: I can remember back when I was a young lad, eighty billion years ago, when I lived and died by every sentence I wrote. Every story was the most important thing I would ever do in my existence and every review, even a brief nod from a friend while reading, was analyzed and agonized over to wring it of all possible information.
Boy that sucked.
And I’m happy to say it is not a mindset that stuck with me. Which is not to say that putting some pressure on yourself to achieve and listening to criticism is a bad thing, but back in the beginning it wasn’t constructive so much as super-crazy-stressful.
But, again, it passes. How? With more writing. After a few stories, after a bunch of reviews, after you’ve hit “The End” a number of times you gain some perspective. You get a firm foundation that you can feel comfortable with and are no longer swayed quite so hard by each review, you no longer stress every story to the point that it becomes counterproductive. You learn, even, that maybe some blasphemy at the alter of writing can be a good thing, that being silly or trying to write a totally different genre for kicks or even intentionally trying to write poorly can be educational, enjoyable, and, oddly enough, result in some fine work. “The Donkey of Vincento” is a story of mine that I have declared to be, “the stupidest thing I have ever written.” And yet it is also a favorite of some readers. I’ve never understood that.
This craft is a weird place to inhabit at the best of times, and that’s a good thing because it means you don’t always have to stress the rules, you don’t always have to shackle your self to perfection, you can have some fun with it.
Just keep writing, you’ll relax more.
4. Write: Okay. So maybe when you sit down and touch your fingers to the keys you get a jolt of psychic-electricity of shame and worthlessness that sends you reeling away from your work in progress to go do some cleaning. We’ve all been there. Something isn’t right in your story but you can’t figure out what and all attempts at moving forward are useless. It’s like walking face-first into a brick wall over and over again. Sure, the wall might give in a thousand or so years, but you’ll have been beaten to a pulp by then.
So what’s the answer?
Just, maybe, don’t try and write anything in your current work in progress. I actually had a chat a few days ago with @Albert_Berg about my favorite word-pressure-release valve, which is free writing. I take out my notebook of college ruled paper, take out my favorite pen, set the pen to the page and then write. And I don’t stop. Not for edits, not for thoughts, not for smudges, not for anything. I do this for an entire page which, in my handwriting, is a fair amount of writing. And I write all of this with the tacit agreement that what I’m writing will never be read by anyone. I force a page out with no pauses, and if I want more I write more.
It is shocking how much gets lined up in your head, how many breakthroughs you have, how many new avenues will open up by doing this exercise. And you’d be a little stunned at how many notebooks I have filled up with deranged, endless scribbles that I’ve never looked at once.
I can’t quite explain it, but the combination of complete anonymity and ZERO stops greases the wheels somehow.
And, once you’ve tried this trick for awhile, you can start to get creative with your free writing. I’ve done pages of just one character’s thoughts as well as nothing but pure setting description. I’ve also done nothing but insane rants about how much my back hurts.
It all helps.
5. Write: Write. Always.
That was the advice I always got growing up. I was in some movie somewhere, “A writer writes…always.”
I hate that stupid line. I hate that stupid line and I’m the guy writing this post about constantly writing.
You know what? Sometimes not writing is the right answer. Sometimes getting away and going for a walk is the right answer. You have to teach yourself discipline but along with that comes the fact that you have to teach yourself moderation as well. You are your own boss and it’s quite possible to wear yourself out.
So, some days, I don’t write.
Or, to be more exact, I don’t type.
But I’m always writing. And this is some of my favorite training because you can do it anywhere.
Read billboards and then think about how you’d rewrite them to better effect.
Look at something, anything, and ponder how you’d paint it with words.
Pause now and then and check your feelings and give some thought to how’d you describe them.
Taste new foods and come up with words for what’s happening on your tongue.
Always remember that this is what the whole point is, capturing reality with the written word. It’s easy to lose track of what your core goal is when you have two deadlines and a day job screaming at you.
That’s why this fifth one is so important. Taking the world around you, the emotions in your heart, and the impulses in your head and crystallizing them into words is everything.
Some days it’s best to just head to a crowded restaurant and stare around and devour everything you see with your eyes.
Just, you know, try not to freak people out.