The world is overrun with writing advice. From the hot shots at the top of the mountain churning out two books a year to the grad school student who just wrote his first paranormal romance starring a vampire—everyone has something to say on the matter. I’m not going to bombard you with the “rules” as they’re universally known. No, instead I’m going to list for you 10 tips, tricks, whatever you want to call them, that are in my personal writing quiver. Read them, mull them over, crumple them up and call me an asshole, follow them; the choice is yours.
- Write what you want.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in want of an idea will stick to the shallow waters of “what they know.” Frankly, fuck that. Most beginning writers know a whole lot of nothing which leaves a lot of nothing to write about, IF they follow the rule. Thing is, though, you can write about whatever the hell you want as long as you take the time to educate yourself enough. Want to write about knights? Go to the renaissance festival. Want to write about Marko and his pet lemur, Genevieve? Visit the zoo. Talk to people. Research is the BEST part of the writing process. Milk it for all it’s worth.
- If you’re going to break the rules, do it consistently.
Charlie Huston uses dashes for dialogue. Chuck Palahniuk’s structure is often jutty and experimental. Jenny Lawson uses asides like two-dollar hookers on half-off night. Point is, these rule breakers get away with it because they do it consistently. It becomes “style” instead of a no-no.
- Avoid orphans.
You are not JK Rowling. You did not write Harry Potter. (Unless you are, in which case, HOLY SHITBALLS I’M YOUR BIGGEST FAN LOVE ME PLEASE). *ahem* Making your protagonist an orphan, particularly a young orphan, is slapping them with a cookie cutter background story. Your protagonist deserves a unique history.
- Don’t start with dialogue unless you have a damn good reason to do it.
Like the information in the dialogue is more important than the characters delivering it. Use this technique carefully, because talking heads can be off-putting.
- Avoid the idiot complex.
When the solution to the problem is obvious to EVERYONE except your protagonist, you have an idiot complex. Note that there is a proper term for this situation, but I’m too lazy to look it up. An idiot protagonist is almost impossible to take seriously, which in turn negates the stakes he’s battling against. Don’t do it. Just. Don’t.
- As bad as it is now, it can always get worse—and it should.
The deeper the shit your protagonist finds himself in, the more rooted to their seat the reader will be. Be ruthless. Be terrible. Be a writer.
- Some of your ideas are going to be terrible, and that’s okay.
I’ve never met a writer who didn’t keep some kind of organized system—journal, post-its on the wall, cork board, WORD file—of their ideas. Every day that goes by finds the system expanded exponentially. The plague must end. Most of those ideas are shit ideas. You know they’re shit. I’m staring at the index card labeled “tortoise erotica” and although it may have been a funny idea that Saturday night when you drank your mom’s famous “punch,” it should never have seen the light of day. Don’t kill yourself trying to write it out of spite.
- Don’t write short stories? You probably won’t improve in your craft OR finish that novel.
Runners don’t start out in marathons. They lug their uncoordinated asses down the street, or around the track at the nearest high school. They run mini-marathons. Walk most of the way, but they finish. Then they do it again. Get the picture?
- Carve out dedicated writing time.
Sit at the desk, or on the porch, or in bed, or wherever it is you write. Plant your butt in the seat, set a timer, and DO NOT get up until the time is up. Whether you put 1 or 10,000 words down is irrelevant. You can’t write if you don’t write, you know?
10. Take a break every once in a while, too.
I am of the belief that there is no such thing as writer’s block. See #7. Ideas overflow like a clogged toilet. There is, however, such a thing as writer’s burnout. Burnout is the feeling that words no longer make sense. They’re these stupid scribbles next to other stupid scribbles and your brain hurts and WHY DO I DO THIS MYSELF, GOD WHY? When this happens, it’s okay, to—no, it’s IMPERATIVE to—walk away. Sometimes all you’ll need is the day. Others, you’ll need a week in Cabo to make the brain gnomes get their act together. Yeah, it’s important to write every day, but it’s also important to keep the love alive for your work. Don’t break up; just realize that you and your words need separate vacations. Maurey Povich would approve.