"Fifteen Writing Tips and Techniques"
By: Lindsay Biondy
- Write. Write as often as you can, everywhere you can. Write on the bus, write in the car, write during TV commercials, write before you go to bed. Write what you see and hear and smell, write your dreams, write your thoughts, write what other people say, write what you can’t bring yourself to say.
- Buy yourself a journal. Don’t show this to anyone; it’s just for you. Know that whatever you write in here can be bad. It can be the worst thing anyone’s ever written. But it doesn’t matter, because no one will read it but you. Use this as a place to experiment.
- DREP: Drafting, revising, editing, proofreading. Follow these four steps, in order, and you’ll be set. In the drafting stage, just get all your thoughts down on paper. Don’t worry about it making sense, don’t worry about clichés, don’t even worry about writing your story in order; just write.
During revision you can fix everything. Rewrite the clichés, develop your characters, take your story line by line and ask yourself whether it’s as good as you can make it.
Editing comes next. Give yourself some time away from your work, and then take another look. You can even give it to a friend to read. When do you find yourself losing interest? What sentences could be rephrased better?
Proofreading. This is strictly looking for grammar and spelling mistakes. You’re going to want to rewrite things. Do not rewrite things. If you do, then you’ll always find something you can change, and your work will never be finished.
- Use the five senses whenever possible. A mistake new writers make is to only describe things with their eyes, but adding in the sounds, smells, and tastes of the world will make your writing richer and more dynamic.
- Stay away from clichés. Feel free to use them as place holders for what you want to say, but when it comes time for revision, get them out of there. Instead of obstacles, think of them as opportunities.
- Don’t leave your characters alone with their thoughts for too long. It’s really hard to keep the reader engaged during endless pages of contemplation. Have them interact with other characters, or have them doing something rather than just sitting on a bench thinking about what they should do.
- Use concrete, specific, image-based adjectives. In general, adjectives and adverbs aren’t your friend, but they can be useful in the right context. Don’t say “she walked quickly through the kitchen holding a cookie” say “she scampered through the kitchen, a cookie clutched tightly in her hand.”
- Write from places you know. If you write about, say, your home city, then you’re going to be able to add quirky details that will make it feel more real. You know all the street names and all the local hangouts. Use that. If you write about New York, but you’ve never been to New York, it’s going to sound way too generic.
- Pick your characters’ names wisely. Is it necessary for your characters to have odd names like Gyde and Xanax? Will that further your story? Also be wary of gender-neutral names like Jamie and Jesse. Unless it’s pertinent to the story, you want your reader to clearly know whether your character is a man or a woman.
- Is your story starting in the right place? Usually it takes a couple of sentences to really get into the swing of things. So delete the first two sentences and see if your story doesn’t feel more immediate and engaging.
- As William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” But what does it mean to “kill your darlings?” You might be incredibly attached to a sentence or a character in your story, but, for whatever reason, it’s not adding anything special to your piece. So you need to take it out. Feel free to use it in another story, but in this case, kill it.
- Vary your sentence structure. Don’t make every sentence subject/predicate, subject/predicate. Don’t start all your sentences with the same word. There are five types of sentence structures: simple, compound, complex, compound-complex, and fragment. Use them all.
- Accept constructive criticism. No one wants to be told that their writing sucks, but often times other people’s inputs can be extremely valuable. Listen to what they have to say, let their comments sink in, and see if you agree with them.
- Take everything with a grain of salt. While these (and other) rules have a lot of validity to them and should be noted, nothing is absolute. Some of the best pieces of literature come from going against the norm.
- Read broadly and often. The best way to become a better writer is to read other writers. Read the classics: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Anton Chekhov. But also read contemporary writers, like those who appear on the New York Times Best-Sellers list.