Peculiar Writing Tips

Stipula Etruria Fountain Pen Spread

When it comes to tricks of the trade for writers there are many, many suggestions out there. Here I’ve collected some of my favorites from around the web, and added some of my own.

Some of my favorites excerpted from Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds – Ten Stupid Writer Tricks (That Might Actually Work):

The WTF Code: Sometimes you’re writing and you hit a part in the story where you’re just like, “Nope, no fucking idea what happens here. Maybe they fight? Maybe they make love? I’m envisioning an orangutan for some reason.” Or maybe you reach a portion where you need more information (“Note to self: research the sewer tunnel layout of Schenectady”). That’s okay. Leave it blank and drop a code you’ll remember right into the section, a code that will specifically not be duplicated anywhere else in the text (WTF2013, for instance). Then when you complete the first pass of the manuscript, just do a FIND for all instances of YOUR SEKRIT CODE and hop through your many narrative gaps and chasms. FILL AND SPACKLE.

The Dictionary Of Superfluity: As you write, begin to collect what you believe are instances of so-called “junk language” that you seem likely to use again and again. This might be any word that seems to bog down the flow of a sentence – actually, very, really, effectively, just. Slap that shit in a list. When it comes time to edit, do a FIND and look for instances of all these nasty little word-goblins. Then stick them in a bag and burn them. (You can also do this with words that may not be junky but that you find yourself overusing — “For some reason I really seem to like the words ‘turgid,’ ‘clamshell,’ and ‘widdershins.’”)

The One-Sentence Description Exercise: Practice honing your mad description skillz by looking at someone and describing them with a single sentence. (And not a sentence with a half-dozen hyphens, colons and semi-colons, you little cheater.) Maybe it’s a celebrity — Tom Cruise! Maybe it’s that poor homeless down by the train station who looks like a bunch of half-full garbage bags lashed together under a pile of dirty rags. Alternate version: make it a tweet-length description, 140-characters only. Similar! But different.

I liked these from copyblogger’s 8 Strange Rituals of Productive Writers:

Try writing horizontally.  George Orwell, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, Winston Churchill, and Marcel Proust were all famous for churning out pages while lying in bed. Novelist Truman Capote also wrote everything in longhand in the horizontal position. Don’t forget, proper rest is crucial to creativity, so if you’re already there, why not grab the laptop and give it a try?

Write at a time of day that suits your productivity.  Honoré de Balzac would get up at midnight and drink black coffee well into the next day. Flannery O’Connor only wrote for two hours a day.

Take a walk or bike ride without a destination in mind.
Charles Dickens and Henry Miller both used to wander around Europe trying to get lost, a technique that psychologists say can foster creativity.

And a couple of my own:

The shape of the text: While others have suggested you print out a page of your story to make sure there is variety in size of paragraphs, I put my own little twist on it. I cut and paste pages of text to a new document with extra wide margins, and shrink them to font size 4. Then I eliminate any spaces between lines, and all indentations. Finally, I center and highlight the text then stand back to look at it as a shape rather than words. Here’s an example from my YA novel, The Boxer Rebellion:

Brent Howard heard a familiar voice right behind him shout, “faggot” and “cocksucker”. He cringed, afraid to turn around.
It’s finally happened, someone’s figured it out.
It was his deepest, darkest fear coming true. Every muscle in his body locked rigidly in place and his thoughts slowed to a crawl. Only his breathing sped up.
As the laughter began he stared at the locker in front of him, paralyzed. Sweat beaded his brow while he listened to jeers growing louder and louder. He wanted to cover his ears to block out the sound, but he didn’t dare. The laughter grew even stronger, and now he felt the jostling of other students as they jockeyed to get a glimpse of the faggot cocksucker.
They aren’t looking at me. No one’s staring at me. They’re looking at someone else, laughing at someone else.
A half second later his frozen muscles melted and he finally turned around. Relief flooded him as he saw over the heads and shoulders of the gathering crowd a skinny little guy, the ‘faggot cocksucker’, rising from the floor, brushing at new jeans.
He didn’t recognize him, but Brent knew his attacker; it was his younger cousin, Julian, who had moved in with his family to play hockey at Tranquility High. He’d been sharing Brent’s bedroom all summer, getting in early practices with Coach Morgensen’s yearly hockey camp. One day Julian was going to play for the U of M, and later with the Wild. It was all but a done deal.
Brent laughed uproariously along with everyone else at the homo his cousin had chosen to pick on. Look at him kneeling there, his face all red and trying desperately not to cry, the little wimp. Stupid pervert had it coming, they all did, those damned queers.
He wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t gay. Brent felt his heartbeat slow and his breathing ease. He had to get control of himself; there was nothing for anyone to find out because he simply was not, once and for all, never had been and never would be, gay. He might think about good looking guys once in awhile and imagine what it might be like, but he’d certainly never done it. Thinking about doing something isn’t the same as actually doing it, right?
What a relief. What a close call.
The physical appearance of your characters: Yes, you’ve probably run across the advice to take pen to paper and draw what you think the character looks like, but if you have limited drawing abilities like me, you may want to try something a little different. I collect swatches of cloth, scents of cologne or spices, cut out images found in magazines or online, and other small bits of sensory clues. I also cut and paste all descriptive passages I write to a separate document kept for just that purpose. I refer and add to it constantly, assuring continuity. For Penelope of The Boxer Rebellion I kept a ponytail holder, a bit of cotton gauze, a covered button, and a cotton ball with the perfume Anais, Anais. Since her physical condition deteriorates over the course of the story, I made sure to cut and paste all references to Penny in chronological order in my Character file. In that way I made sure she wasn’t soft and round when she should have been haggard and gaunt.

What are some of your unique writing tips or techniques? Do you have to have exactly three oreo cookies before you start, like one of my friends? Or have you found some incredible organizational trick that would benefit any author? If so, please share your ideas here.

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