Hi. I took a bit of a break from blogging recently in order to put all my creative focus on finishing up a book. That book’s all done now and will soon be available for you to (possibly) enjoy and cherish forever with your loved ones (maybe). Before starting the wretched process of self-promotional whoring, I want to take a moment to share some of the writing tips I picked up along the way. Some of these might work for you, some of these might not – if they at least give you an idea or two that you hadn’t thought of previously, then I’ll be happy with that.
In no particular order:
- Don’t Set Your Routine In Stone
I originally starting writing my book in the mornings. I’d wake up, make half a pot of coffee, then write until the coffee ran out. This was fine and dandy for about a week, after which all sorts of things started happening (doctor’s appointments, car breaking down, etc.) that started interrupting that routine. Because I’m lazy and can get easily knocked off the motivational track, an interruption in my morning routine was enough to scuttle my writing plans for the day. Realizing that this was stupid, I set about to change things. I mapped out my day to see which part of the day most consistently finds me at home with time on my hands. This turned out to be late at night, between 11pm and 2am.
That became my new routine, but I still kept it flexible. I have 2 computers in my apartment – a desktop in the living room, and a laptop in the bedroom. While I was working on the book, I kept the laptop open all the time with my Google Docs file pulled up. If I’d come up with an idea for the book, I’d walk over to the laptop and type out some quick notes to refine for later in the evening. If I came up with a really good idea, I wouldn’t wait ’til my new, late-night writing time – I’d walk over to the laptop and get to work immediately.
- Stand Up
I wrote my entire book standing up. Seriously. You really should try this. Here’s the article, from Lifehacker’s Gina Trapani, that got me thinking about it. Once your feet get used to it, you’ll never want to sit down to do any writing ever again. Seriously. You don’t need any type of special standing desk, either – I simply put my laptop on top of my dresser. If I’d be struggling with a paragraph, I’d step back, pace around a little bit, and walk back over to the laptop. Or I’d turn around and play with my cat for a little bit (she would generally hang out behind me while I wrote) before continuing. And on the days in which it would be too cold for my daily walk, I could work on my book and count that as exercise. Stand up, stand up, stand up. Give it a shot. You will thank me for this. Seriously.
- Take A Shower
This one may sound silly, but think about it: what other time of the day do you have completely to yourself, free from the non-stop stimulus of our wacky wired world? A shower or bath gives you time to think on your story and work out new ideas, which really comes in handy if you reach a point where you’re unsure how to best proceed. Whenever I’d start a new chapter, or whenever I’d get stuck on a plot point, I’d hop in the shower and – without fail – would exit with the next part of my story mapped out. And I’d be fresh and clean, too, which is never a bad thing.
- Enjoy The Silence
For the longest time, my writing was accompanied by some combination of instrumental jazz or electronica – background music that wasn’t too jarring but still had some energy to it. After reading this interview with one of my favorite writers – in which he mentions writing in total silence – I thought I’d give it a shot. This ended up working great for me – it really did get me even more focused on working exclusively on my story. It can be a little jarring at first, but you’ll get used to it quickly.
Oh, and if you read that article, note that he also writes while standing up.
And, since I certainly put it in your head, let’s take a Depeche Mode break:
- Save The Thesaurus For Later
Don’t slow down just because the same word keeps popping up as you type. Keep on writing – keep getting your words on the figurative page – and save your worries about repetition until it’s time to get started on your second draft. Which leads us to my favorite tip . . .
- Ctrl+F Is Your Friend
(1) If you use a Mac, it’s probably Command+F or something similar. I don’t use a Mac – sorry.
(2) I use Google Docs for all my writing. I will assume that this function can also be used with Microsoft Word and OpenOffice. I have no idea if this is the case for WordPerfect – however, I do know that if you use WordPerfect, you are likely a moron.
There are two reasons why Control+F is the handiest utility:
(1) It will quickly help you locate repeated words and phrases. Once your book is done and you give it a couple reads, you’ll start noticing that – consciously or not – there are some words that just keep popping up. I ended up using ‘laugh’ around 25 times (Examples: Jane laughed, then took another bite of her flan.; “What a moron,” Jane said with a laugh, “I bet he uses WordPerfect.”). After noticing its overuse, I went through each one with Control+F and picked which ones to re-write (here’s when you whip out the thesaurus) and which ones were okay to leave as-is. I also used the phrase “the fact that” a bunch (Example: The fact that he’s a WordPerfect-using moron did not stop Danny from getting his pilot’s license.) – Control+F came in handy there, too, as I was able to search for the phrase and re-phrase things so that “the fact that” wasn’t repeated as often. If I recall correctly, I originally used it 9 times, and – with the help of Control+F – shrunk that down to 3.
(2) It will help you find all sorts of homonym-related grammar mistakes. Before you begin your second draft, hit Control+F and search for the following words to make sure they’re being used properly:
your, you’re, its, it’s, do, due, their, they’re, there, to, too, where, were
I used “your” 46 times in my book. On two of those occasions, it should have been “you’re”. Is it a little tedious? Yep. Is it worth the tedium to have a manuscript free of such common errors? Absolutely.
- Set A Deadline
My goal was to finish the book by the end of the year – I finished on January 8. Yes, I missed my deadline. If I hadn’t set a deadline in the first place, though, I’d likely still be working on it. My next goal – after taking a week off to visit Vegas and the Grand Canyon, which was my personal reward for finishing the book – was to finish the second draft by my birthday (January 31). I finished February 1 (surprisingly, without a hangover). Close enough.
It really does help the writing process. Don’t believe me? Well, here’s a quote from the ACCOMPLISHED SCREENWRITERS of Herbie: Fully Loaded:
“The drinking of hard alcohol, wine, and spirits has a long-standing tradition in writing. Why? It’s quite simple: because there are certain ideas, themes, and tones that a writer simply cannot achieve without stepping outside of his ‘head‘. Alcohol can help you do that.” – from Writing Movies For
Fun And Profit by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (emphasis theirs)
Why would these guys lie to you?
Don’t get all blitzed – just build up a buzz and try to maintain it. Or, fuck it, get blitzed – find your boozy comfort zone and type away. Most of the second half of my book was written after a couple beers or a glass of wine. However, there’s a section in one of the later chapters which I wrote after about 8 beers – I didn’t remember writing it at all until I did my first read after finishing the book. It’s really well-written.
- Keep Reading
If anything, do it to see how things like dialogue and chapter breaks are properly formatted.
- Other Sources
Amid all the techy stuff, Lifehacker consistently posts insightful articles about staying motivated and productive. I do not write fast enough to participate in NaNoWriMo month, but Lifehacker’s tips for editing a NaNoWriMo novel come in handy regardless of how quickly you’re lucking to churn out a novel. It was also through Lifehacker that I came across this article on 20 common grammar mistakes.
It’s probably too long to fit, but this article about 25 things writers should stop doing (discovered through a link my friend Valerie posted on her Facebook page) should be framed and hung next to the computer of any aspiring writer.
Speaking of framing, this comic on the semicolon by The Oatmeal IS framed and hanging near the desktop in my living room. Read it, then read all the other grammar-related comics that he posts, because they are all funny and very informative.
That’s all I got. Thanks for slogging through all this – I truly hope this helps someone. If you have any tips of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments. And if there are any grammatical errors in this post that I could have caught if I had followed my own advice regarding Ctrl+F, feel free to point them out (and mock me about them) in the comments as well.