Image: Matthew Loffhagen
I’ve taken a lot of English classes, gone to a lot of lectures, heard authors, professors, agents, and editors speak. And they all give great advice. Read widely, write every day, that sort of thing. But I remember looking for more practical tools. I know the secret to a successful writing career is that there is no secret. But shouldn’t there be some tricks of the trade? I think there is.
Here are a few practical, put-them-in-your-pocket tools that I believe will make you a better, more successful writer.
1. Take notes on your phone
Or your iPad, or your device, or your notepad, or whatever. Don’t ever be somewhere without something you can use to write down a quick thought. Because if you’re like me, you’ll forget! When I take my dog for a walk, I always make sure that I have my cell phone handy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an idea or a phrase or even a full paragraph come to me while I was walking. I always stop and write it down. Later, when I scroll through my phone, I often find things that I had completely forgotten. Taking notes on the go has helped me break through mental blocks in my writing and, I think, given me some of my best ideas.
2. Write the next sentence
Or phrase, or word, or letter!
Nothing is worse than that blinking curser staring you down, challenging you, taunting you. The only thing you can do in your battle with the curser is fight back. Write something. Anything. The thing about simply writing the next sentence and not worrying about how brilliant it is, is that it might give you an idea for another sentence, then another, and another, and before you know it, you’re on a role again. If the sentence you write isn’t any good, no problem! Just delete it, write another one. Describe something in the room, or have your character grab something, take a step, adjust his glasses, whatever it is, just write it and see where it leads you.
3. Keep your novel open on your computer
It’s pretty much that simple. When you turn on your computer, there are all kinds of interesting things you can do that don’t include writing your novel. Facebook, Twitter, Google, the world of possibilities is endless. It’s easy to ignore that little manuscript that’s gathering dust in the corner of your desktop. But, if you keep the document open, you’ll see it every time you turn on the computer.
There it is again, staring at you with those big eyes, begging you to write it!
4. Read your work out loud
I once had a professor tell me that she not only read her work out loud, she recorded herself reading it, then listened to herself later. Does this sound a little crazy? It’s not. There’s something that happens when we hear words said out loud that we don’t get when we just read them in our heads. It’s like we’re too comfortable with our own sentences that we can’t picture how they might sound to other readers. Reading your manuscript out loud forces you to hear your words as others might hear them. It’s amazing how glaringly obvious choppy, awkward sentences become when you read them out loud. So go find a quiet space, an empty room, or a closet, and read to yourself!
5. Stay in the writing world
Writing can be a lonely endeavour, but, if you’re like me, you sort of enjoy the solitude of it. However, as good old John Donne once said,
“No man is an island entire of itself.”
So what does staying in the writing world look like? It can be a lot of things. Maybe you join a book club or a writing group on Facebook. Maybe you share your novel with your friends and get a few critiques or enlist the help of companies like Standoutbooks. Maybe you learn about the industry from places like Publishersmarketplace.com or Absolutewrite.com, or you get an internship at a literary agency or publishing house to network and learn what it takes to write a marketable novel. Or, maybe, you simply read books on writing to help you develop your talent. Whatever it is, stay in the world of writing and publishing, seek out others of the same mind and connect with them, and always, always try to increase your knowledge and better your craft.
6. Read novels that make you a better writer
This is something of a strange one, but I really do think it works. The advice, as you’ve heard, is read read read. Read all kinds of genres, including, of course, the genre you’re writing in. However, I think, when working on your novel, you can be even more strategic than that. Often, the book you’re reading tends to have an effect on the way you write. It’s not a huge effect, but it’s enough. You probably don’t emulate the author’s tone, but a good book can set you a sort of mood, which can reflect in your work.
Often, when I write, I don’t have the patience to spend the proper amount of time on my description and detail because I want to get to the action and dialogue. What that leaves me with is somewhat hollow writing. So, I decided to read novels that were heavy with great description, or that at least used description well. And guess what? It had a dramatic effect on my patience and desire to write good descriptors. No, I wasn’t plagiarising the authors; I was just letting their pace slow me down and help me to relax and visualize my setting in a more complete way. So, figuring out where your weaknesses are, and reading (literally) into them might just give your writing the edge that it’s been missing.
7. Enjoy the process
This is the most important one. As with a lot of things in life, it’s easy to have an “if only” attitude about our writing careers. If only I could get an agent, if only I could find a publisher, if only my novel would sell, then I’ll have made it. Well, I think this idea of “if only” and this dream of “making it” might be preventing a lot of writers from enjoying the creativity and the process of writing.
Besides, I’d be willing to bet that if you have an “if only” attitude, once you do land that dream agent, while there will be a wonderful surge of excitement, eventually, the next “if only” will rear its ugly head. It’s a vicious cycle. Learning to be happy and content with where you are in life, and simply enjoying the process of creating and the art of writing will help you eliminate a lot of stress. I truly believe it will not only make you a happier person, it will make you a better writer.
Stay calm, keep writing, and have fun.
Have you used any of these tricks/tools in your own writing? What tricks/tools do you use?