I recently taught a two-hour session on how to jump start your writing. In preparing for this, I put together a one-page handout of all the best writing advice I know in a collection of bullet points under the acronym WRITE. (Yeah, I know it’s corny.)
In any case, I thought others might find this list helpful, so here it is.
If you use it, great! We need better writing in the world. If you share it, just give me credit. Thanks!
How to Get It Done: WRITE
By Chuck Caruso
“W” is for Writing
- “Vomit in the morning and clean up at noon.” –Ray Bradbury
- Find the tools and the location that work best for you so you can focus on being productive. Consider longhand versus typing and home versus writing in cafes — your tone and style will change with each of these.
- Start with action and always use action to reveal character.
- Show; don’t tell! If you have to give background information, at least hide your exposition in action scenes.
“R” is for Reading and Research
- Read a lot! You need to see how other people do it in order to get the voices going inside your own head and practice verbalizing.
- Read broadly but make sure at least some of your reading is in the genre and sub-genre you want to write.
- Pick apart books you like to see how they work. Then steal their plotting structures, character development tricks, and pacing devices. No, don’t plagiarize, but borrow the tools that work.
- Readers keep turning pages for three reasons:
- Human interest. Because they like the characters.
- Suspense. Because they want to find out what happens next.
- Puzzles. Because they want to know the solution.
- Most successful novels combine only two of the above elements, using on as primary and another as secondary. Don’t mess with the mix during your novel or your story will seem to sag in the middle and the reader will lose interest.
“I” is for Ideas
- Develop your ideas on paper. Thinking about your ideas is valuable, but at the end of the day it doesn’t count. Get a notebook and start jotting things down.
- Outline! Make a list of chapters and write down the two or three things that need to happen in each chapter to advance your plot.
- Remember that you need to know how the story ends before you start writing it. Otherwise you can’t plant clues or build up to the finish.
“T” is for Tenacity
- To make yourself write, commit to writing for at least 15 minutes every day. Of course you’ll need to do more in the long run, but this will help you build the habit.
- Don’t believe in writer’s block.
- Once you start, don’t circle back and revise until you have a full draft. Most unfinished novels die at about page 50. An outline and good writing habits will help you push past this common breaking point.
- You can’t finish your novel if you’re not getting your butt into the chair and doing it.
- Don’t give up!
“E” is for Editing
- Once you finish your first draft, let it sit for a while. In the meantime, start outlining and doing character sketches for your next novel.
- After a few weeks or a month, go back and clean up your draft. When you’ve gotten rid of the typos and the “embarrassing” missteps, have a trusted friend or two read it for you and give you feedback.
- Listen to your readers and don’t defend yourself. If you have to explain what you meant to do, then you didn’t do it well enough. Take note of what you need to change to make things clearer for the reader when you’re not there to explain it.