Writing tips are just that. Tips. Not rules to live by, or road maps to follow without question. But here are five things that help me with my writing each and every day, without fail. Maybe they can be of use to you too.
Just Write One Sentence
Sometimes the hardest thing is just starting for the day. The blank page looks back at you, the cursor blinking with a persistence that’s almost annoying, and yet no words come. Just write one sentence. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just one. Then the next one. Pretty soon you’ll be halfway down the first page and well on your way.
Don’t Get It Right, Get It Written
Timeless advice this one. Finish what you start, and finish it without fretting over how good or bad or indifferent it is. Only when you can stand back and look at the whole can you get a better understanding of what’s working and what’s not. A side tip to this is to use placeholders if you get stuck. When I write comedy scripts, I often stumble on a line that I know needs to be funny, and if I hang around too long, I know I’m going to lose my flow. So I just type JOKE, and move on. Same if I can’t think of the right word. Type WORD and move on. When you come back to it, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can replace the placeholder.
If you hit a block, it’s because you haven’t planned ahead. The idea of winging it from start to finish is anathema to me, even if you just have a rough idea of where the story is going and what turns it needs to take. But I prefer a more detailed plan, mapping out the beats as much as possible. Far from being restricting, it’s actually liberating, because you can focus on the moment you are writing, and surprise yourself when you find things that aren’t even in the plan.
Knowing what all your characters (even the tertiary and fleeting ones) want and need is always helpful. And what they want is often not what they need. John McClane in Die Hard simply wants to rescue his wife, but what he needs is to strip himself down to the basics and realise that he still loves his wife in spite of everything.
Think of your story as a straight line race to the finish and it will suffer. But if you start erecting hurdles in front of your characters, making them clear them in order to reach what they want and need, then the journey becomes that much better. It also helps if the solution to one problem is the catalyst for the next. Watch Raiders Of The Lost Ark and see how often that’s the case.
A bonus tip …
Turn off the internet.
This is easier said than done, because a lot of the time you need the internet for research – maybe you need to know the name of something, or you have street view open to get an idea of the geography of a strange place. At the very least, close every browser tab and just have Google open on its front page. It really helps focus your mind.