***Reposted from December 2015
Someone recently asked me if I have any tips for writers out there who are passionate about improving their craft. Like Stanford Pines when he came back through an inter-dimensional portal in Gravity Falls or Earth Two Harrison Wells when he returned through his inter-dimensional portal in The Flash, I have learned a lot in my explorations of the writer and author worlds. As such, I am more than happy to pass on the following five tips for being a successful writer.
#1 Don’t Cower to Writer’s Block
Imagine you are watching a mouse run a maze. At some point that mouse reaches a dead end and he faces the wall ahead in frustration with seemingly nowhere else to go. Such is the feeling of writer’s block.
All writers experience writer’s block at some point. But instead of banging my head against that wall in the narrative, my response is usually to go somewhere else. I lift that metaphorical mouse out of his entrapment and deposit him somewhere different in the maze where he is free to pursue his goal once more, but from another approach.
Whenever I reach an impasse with my writing, I accept it and choose to move on to some other part of the story. By doing this I don’t waste energy being frustrated, I stay productive, and the problem I was having can simmer on the backburner while I work on something else, which inevitably tends to inspire a solution to the earlier problem. Such is the beauty of my “Bounce Around Theory.”
#2 The Bounce Around Theory
I have been working on The Crisanta Knight Series for some time. And one thing each book’s narrative has in common is that it wasn’t written in chronological order.
I bounce around when I write. I’ll work on chunks of the middle, chunks of the end, chunks of the beginning, and so on because that is how the pieces come to me.
Sometimes this is in response to writer’s block (As in, if I don’t see what happens next I’ll ask myself “What do I see?” and then write that scene, no matter how far away in the narrative it is). However, a lot of the time I’ll do this on purpose too.
When I start writing I may know plot points A. B. J. K. L. Q. R. S. and Z, but filling in the absent sections is no different than completing a puzzle. There’s no right or wrong order to fill in the missing pieces. So long as you keep at it and stay focused, eventually you will complete the whole picture.
In fact, in bouncing around filling in random chunks here and there, I have found the brain starts to make connections that it might not otherwise have made. It figures things out. It sees more broadly. It gives you answers to questions you hadn’t even thought to ask. In sum, bouncing around (particularly when facing writer’s block) is one of the most helpful pieces of advice I can give to any fiction writer, whether the genre be fantasy, mystery, comedy, or anything in between.
For it is by constructing chunks of my story and characters’ futures that I am able to go back and create a much richer past that will eventually lead them there. By seeing what the tree will require down the line, I am able to do a better job of planting its seeds in the beginning.
Reading is to writing what stretching is to exercise. It flexes, expands, and strengthens your muscles in small ways that may not seem noticeable at first, but pay off over time.
It can be hard to find time in your busy, daily life to read. However, I can firmly attest to the long-term benefits of squeezing in even an hour a week. It makes you better. It just does. While I may not love every book I read, seeing things from other characters’ perspectives and immersing myself in the writing styles of different authors augments my own perspective and impacts my style.
If people are the whole of their experiences, then your writing is the whole of all your experiences regarding the written word. Thus, if you want your writing to be as rich as possible, you need to immerse yourself in as many stories as possible.
#4 Write What You Know
The best writing comes from truth. Characters, storylines, plot twists, etc. are all a hundred times better when they (on some level) originate from something real that you as a writer have either experienced, felt, or believed in.
Readers can sense that kind of raw honesty. And that element allows them to connect and relate to what you are saying more easily. Because, well, chances are they might just understand it too.
Overall, there is no substitute for soul in writing—that perfect combination of your head and heart, which you dare to put on paper for others to read.
Accordingly, I encourage you to put yourself into your writing as much as possible. When you feel sad, write the sadness. When you feel joy, write the happiness to its full extent. I have on countless occasions channeled the emotions I feel in a specific moment into specific scenes of my books that I know will require them.
Seriously. For example, I don’t get angry very often, but the last time I was super ragey I poured myself into a chapter of a future book that I knew needed that kind of fire. In fact, while still writing Book One I came up with a major plot twist for Book Four as a result of an experience I had, which I wrote a scene about. Eventually that scene ended up impacting a huge part of my series’ development.
So you see, never waste an opportunity to channel what you know or feel into your writing. A great book needs soul, after all, and only you as the author can provide it.
#5 Relish Unconventional Practice
In school a lot of my creative writing was put on hold due to, well, the schoolwork. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that while papers on Lord of the Flies or Economics 101 might not have floated my boat, they all mattered to the development of my craft.
Every race athletes run can make them faster. Every song pianists play can flex their music muscles further. With writing it is no different.
With practice comes improvement. As such, every paper you write, every blog you type, and every report you compose contributes to your development as a writer.
At the job I have now I have a lot of dental and orthodontic clients I have to write content for. But despite the fact that dentistry and orthodontia are far from the subjects I am most passionate about, I am passionate about writing. So I take every piece of content I have to write as an exciting task. It challenges my creativity and my skill to constantly come up with fresh, well-written ways to talk about, say, braces. And as a result, my skill and my brain get sharper.
With that in remind, remember that no writing assignment is beneath you. A good writer can breathe life into any topic. And a great writer can find joy in doing so.
Well, Go Write!
That’s really the best advice I can give you. Aside from the following, that is:
Go write whenever and wherever you get the chance. Don’t give up. Don’t get complacent. And carry the spark that you felt during your first paragraph all the way until the very last. For that combination of passion and persistence is key to everything!