In 2006, I wrote "Top Ten Writing Tips To Help You To Write More", and in the past four years, it's been one of the most popular posts on this blog.
Judging from the "thanks!" messages I've received, the tips have helped writers and people who've never considered themselves writers, to: overcome blocks, have more fun with their writing, and in several cases, take up writing careers.
Since it's struck a chord, I've revised the post for 2010 and beyond, with 50 per cent more tips. :-)
So, here in no particular order, are the fifteen best writing tips I've discovered in 30 years of writing.
I sincerely hope you try them, and add them to your writing toolbox.
Tip One: Pay attention to images
Your right brain thinks in images, and when you write, you translate images from your right brain into words.
Usually this process happens so quickly that you're unaware of it. If you can make this process conscious, you can goose up your own creativity. Stephen King calls this process "writing with the third eye --- the eye of imagination and memory."
To become more aware of the process, daydream. Close your eyes for a few moments, and just relax. As you relax more, you'll become aware of images. If you have trouble relaxing, you'll find it easier to catch the images just before you fall asleep. (These are hypnagogic images.)
Tip Two: Making mud/ laying track
Your first draft of any piece of work is "mud" -- raw material. Julia Cameron refers to your first draft as "laying track", another term I like.
If the first draft's awful, great! It's meant to be. It's only raw material. However, if you don't create the first draft, or you wait until you have a really great idea that's worth a first draft, you won't write anything. Write. Make mud.
Remember that mud is just raw material. It doesn't need to make sense. Whenever I'm relaxed, I tend to scribble. It's amazing what comes as a result of just scribbling. The clue to solving a writing challenge I have today may well be in a scribble I wrote a week ago. Try it...
Tip Three: Just write -- think on the page, or on the screen, NOT in your head
Thinking too much while you write is treacherous, because you can spend two hours "writing" and end up with half a page of work. Write-think. That is, think on the page, not in your head.
This tip has the potential to change your writing life. WRITING is writing. It's discovery. Write whatever, delete the junk, and end up with a pearl or two.
Tip Four: Grow your writing with lists
Listing is a form of brainstorming. It grows your writing, and it's fun.
Listing is an excellent technique to use when you get stuck in your writing, and it doesn't matter what kind of writing you're doing, whether it's fiction or nonfiction. Listing also helps you in the revision process, to add texture to your work.
Here's an excellent FREE software program to help you to produce lists, and to save them. (PC only. Alternatively, try any free mind mapping program.)
Tip Five: Use your magical thesaurus
Your most useful listing tool is -- a thesaurus. Keep one on your desk to kickstart your brain.
Your thesaurus and dictionary are perfect kickstarters. They're also vital tools whenever you're revising.
Got an iPhone? I love the cute and powerful WordBook app.
Tip Six: Make writing the FIRST thing you do each day
If you write at least page, by hand, as soon as you get up, you'll find that writing comes more easily to you for the rest of the day. You're also more focused and relaxed for the rest of the day.
Tip Seven: Set WIG goals --- the best goals are always unrealistic
Writer Martha Beck calls unrealistic goals WIGs: Wildly Improbable Goals. In the September 2002 issue of Oprah magazine she says: "... learning to invite and accept your own WIG can awaken you to a kind of ubiquitous, benevolent magic, a river of enchantment that perpetually flows to your destiny."
A WIG is exciting. Just thinking about a WIG will get your heart pounding. Working toward your WIG (writing a book, writing a screenplay, getting signed on as a contributor at a mass-market magazine) takes hard work. Lots of hard work.
And at the end of that hard work, as Beck points out, you achieve your goal, but there's a twist. You never achieve it exactly as you envisioned it -- you achieve something even better, something you could never have imagined.
I'm a great believer in writing ABOUT your goals. This is because when you write, you're using both sides of your brain, and are accessing your unconscious mind as well. You live in your left brain, which you regard as "you", but you have a silent partner, your right brain, which is also you, and which communicates via images and feelings.
Tip Eight: Separate writing and editing
Writing comes first, then editing. If you try to combine the two, you will block.
Writing should come as easily to you as chatting to a friend. If it doesn't, you're trying to edit in your head before you get the words on paper, or on the computer screen. If you're not aware of the danger of combining writing and editing, you'll make writing hard for yourself, when it should be easy. If you don't have trouble talking, how can you have trouble writing?
Tip Nine: It's good to struggle with your writing
In his book The Breakout Principle, Dr Herbert Benson (who also wrote The Relaxation Response) describes a struggle/ release process that leads to a new level of awareness. When you struggle, and then completely give up the struggle -- just give up -- there's a chance that you can achieve a peak experience which leads you to a new level of functioning.
How does this work in your writing?
Let's say that you're writing a novel. This work is hard for you. However, you keep at it faithfully, working on your novel each day. You struggle with it for weeks. Then you give up. Although you keep writing, you say to yourself: "I don't care any more what garbage I write. I'm just going to do it. I'm just going to write."
This release leads to writing magic. Suddenly you're inspired, and you finish the book in a rush. Although you will still occasionally struggle with your writing (because struggle is a part of life), you've broken through to a new level of functioning in your work.
This new level would not, and could not, have happened without the struggle.
Tip Ten: Good writing = truthful writing
Writing truthfully can feel like undressing in public, so many beginning writers worry about sharing their writing.
Be compassionate. Firstly, to yourself. Write. Write for yourself. All writing takes courage.
When you finally show your writing to others, you discover the amazing truth that no one cares. In her book "Writing To Save Your Life", Michele Weldon advises: "Get over yourself". No one is judging what you write. So write.
Tip Eleven: Get organized
Really. Yes, I know it sounds boring. Discover how to become an organized writer: it will free your creativity. You can only write more when you're completely relaxed.
Tip Twelve: Make a mess
Creativity is chaotic. Give yourself permission to be messy.
I've got a weakness for nice notebooks. You know the kind. They're hard- backed, with artistic covers, and smooth ultra-white or cream pages. The problem is, I used to love these notebooks so much that I hesitated to use them. I "saved" them. They disappeared onto high shelves and into deep drawers. When they've been stored somewhere for a few years, they're no longer special. When I rediscover them, the pages have dried out, the spines have cracked.
So now, before I buy a notebook, I decide exactly what I’ll use it for. Then, as soon as I get it home, I write in it, quickly. I write across the pages, make tiny sketches, and make a list or two. I deliberately mess up the notebook, so that it's mine.
Tip Thirteen: Manage your fear (creative anxiety) so you can write more
It's normal to be scared when you're writing something new, or something which is very important to you. Allow yourself to feel your fear. Where is it located in your body? Often you'll feel it in your tummy, or your throat. Just feel it...
You'll find that if you embrace the physical sensation of the fear (don't let yourself get carried away with any mental chatter), the fear will crest, and will then fade away.
Then start writing. Scribble or type anything at all, and keep going.
Tip Fourteen: Discover that it's EASY to get in the mood to write
Not in the mood to write? Write anyway. Within 15 minutes, you'll be in the mood. :-)
Tip Fifteen: Talk and write and write more
Like to chat? Most of us do. Chat about your current writing project into a digital recorder. Transcribe it, and see? You're writing more. :-)
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