Thursday, September 01, 2011

A post commenting on 73 writing tips

So I’m sitting here writing a short story based on the half-written script I’m planning to direct next, and I get the urge to procrastinate. Naturally the first idea I got was to clean out my email and I came across a draft with the following list entitled, “How to Become a Better Writer.” There’s no link, but I’m pretty sure I got it from a writing advice blog when I used to read writing advice blogs. I don’t any more. There’s only so much advice you can take until you realize only two pieces of advice really matter: write everyday and don’t use adverbs. I’ve looked over the tips and concluded that I already do most of these things instinctively. It’s a no brainer really. If you’re a born writer/storyteller, that’s just the way you operate.

Here’s the list and please keep in mind that this is not my advice. I’m not qualified to give anyone advice on anything.

1. Become a blogger.

Duh. I have four, including a now-abandoned food blog and one for one of my characters. And I’m thinking of starting a fifth one. I like to be ignored, mkay?

2. Use self-imposed word limits.

I don’t do this, but I’m a lean writer anyway.

3. Accept all forms of criticism and learn to grow from it.

I definitely have this down after a long and painful road of taking and giving notes. I give as hard as I can take and I won’t be coddled or coddle anyone.

4. Read what you’ve written over and over, until you can’t find any more problems.

Jesus yes. Sometimes I go blind for a while.

5. Show what you write to a trusted friend for feedback.

I don’t like to bug people but you go ahead.

6. Outline. And then write to that outline.

I’d rather write to a beatsheet. It’s easier to write and more flexible.

7. Edit, and edit again.

Duh. My first drafts are perfect. Aren’t yours?

8. Live with passion.

Yes, but passion is often misunderstood because it requires you have strong opinions about things. You have to get to the point where you don’t give a shit and I’m pretty sure I’m there.

9. Be open, curious, present, and engaged.

I’m especially open to finding the beauty in everything around me.

10. Take a break between writing and editing.

Amazing how a masterpiece can turn to shit by sitting in a drawer for a few days.

11. Learn a new word a day.

This is nice but then you fall into the must use this word and it always comes across as self-conscious pretentious writing. Also, you’ll forget it. I’d rather read with a dictionary and look up the words as I go along.

12. Get the pen and fingers moving.

I guess this means write.

13. Write in different genres: blog posts, poems, short stories, essays.

I write screenplays (shorts and features), short stories, essays, and yes, blog posts. A novel is next but I will never write a poem thanks to a woman from a writers group I attended just once. She read a poem entitled “American Muscle” and it was about her boyfriend’s penis. I also stopped going to writers groups after that.

14. Read grammar books.

I got my Strunk & White (two in fact) right here next to Aristotles's Poetics and Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing, the only books on writing you’ll ever need.

15. Write without distractions.

This is hard when you have a selfish black Labrador munching on your chair to get you to play fetch. I get fewer distractions at work, which is where I am right now.

16. Challenge yourself: write in a crowded cafe, write on the toilet, write for 24 hours straight.

Does tweeting from the toilet count? It’s 140 characters but it’s SOMETHING.

17. Take a trip. Road trips, beach trips, bus trips, plane trips.

I can do that. I just can’t write or read while I’m getting there because of motion sickness.

18. Watch movies. Can you write the story better?

Everybody thinks they can write the story better. Hence the proliferation of amateur screenwriters. Buy a lottery ticket already.

19. Write. And then write some more.

All right. I get it.

20. Read, think, read, write, ponder, write – and read some more.

Reading makes me want to write and writing makes me want to read. A true conundrum.

21. Read your stuff aloud to anyone who can stand it – including the cat.

Not a chance.

22. Go back and cut 10% from your word count.

To do this, you have to be able to figure out percentages. I’m lucky that I’m good at math.

23. Talk to people.

24. Listen to how people talk.

I don’t mean to brag, but I have a good ear for dialogue. I like to eavesdrop on little kids, teenagers and grouchy old men.

25. Read lots of books. Both good and bad.

I can’t read bad books. I couldn’t even get past the first paragraph of The Da Vinci Code.

26. Make notes of your (fleeting) brilliant ideas.

I have a fetish for notebooks and have a box of them I intend to fill with words. Maybe a few doodles too.

27. Start your writing ahead of time – not hours before a deadline.

This takes a lot of discipline. The only time I meet a deadline is when it’s not self-imposed. I just shot and finished a film in two weeks because I had to. Otherwise, I’d still be editing.

28. Listen to podcasts on writing tips.

No way.

29. Use simple, declarative sentences.

Why say “the precipitation is upon us” when it’s obviously raining? Only a stuffy, insecure character would say that to impress.

30. Avoid passive voice.

But passive-aggressive is OK, right?

31. Limit your use of adjectives and adverbs.

Limit on adjectives yes. Never use adverbs. It’s lazy writing and lazy writing is bad writing. Find a way.

32. When in doubt, cut it out.

33. Kill clunky sentences.

34. Be inspired by other art forms – music, dance, sculpture, painting.

I go to museums and galleries as often as I can. As a filmmaker, I’m actually more inspired and influenced by photography and painting than films themselves.

35. Read your old stuff and acknowledge how far you’ve come – and how far you have to go.

It’s funny to see how much you used to suck now that you’re brilliant.

36. Write for publication, even if it’s only for the local newsletter or a small blog.

I used to write film criticism but it was a time suck. The free movies were nice though.

37. Make writing your priority in the morning.

I’m not a morning person. But I do try to write something as soon as I get to work.

38. Keep squeezing words out even if you feel uninspired.

I don’t do this as often as I should.

39. Tell everyone: “I’m a writer.”

I’d rather not unless they ask. It’s enough that I know I am.

40. Recognize your fear and overcome it.

I’m getting good at this. It’s even better when you share your fears. That’s why I have the blogs, tweet and offend with my status updates on Facebook.

41. Let your articles rest and then return to them with fresh eyes.

42. Comment on your favorite blogs.

I don’t have favorite blogs but if I go through the trouble of reading the post I might as well comment.

43. Keep a journal to keep the writing juices flowing.

I have so many I don’t which one to pick up anymore.

44. Use a journal to sort out your thoughts and feelings.

Sometimes I can’t believe the thoughts that make it to the page. But honesty is crucial to mine true emotions and that’s what makes a story shine.

45. Keep it simple.

Simple, not simply simple.

46. Practice monotasking. Set a timer for uninterrupted writing.

Must do this since I can be like the dog from Up (“Squirrel!”), but what’s even more helpful is to set a time to be away from the internet.

47. Watch people.

Oh yes. People won’t tell you who they are, but they will show you.

48. Get to know someone different from you and reflect on the experience.

I believe this is called acquiring empathy.

49. Try new ideas or hobbies – the more variety you have in your life, the more likely you are to keep on generating good ideas on the page.

I already have too many artistic interests. My problem is focus.

50. Read works from different cultures. It helps keep your writing from tasting stale in the mouths of your readers.

51. Rethink what is ‘normal’.

Nothing is normal. C’mon. We’re all fucked up or will be fucked up in one way or another.

52. Work on brilliant headlines.

Annoying, but necessary.

53. Check if your assumptions are right.

I’m always wrong.

54. Join a writing group. If you can’t find one, form one.

Just make sure there’s no poetry allowed.

55. Write during your most productive hours of the day.

Check. I write while I’m at work.

56. Designate time to research.

I’m not one of those people who use research as an excuse to put off writing. Actually, I just make shit up. It's easier.

57. Take time to muse and mindmap.

I muse plenty. I expect to be run over by a bus one of these days.

58. Map out a writing schedule for your project and stick to it.

Oh gawd. Okay. I know this is very important. I’ve done it and I’ve failed at it.

59. Ask someone else to proofread.

I would but I’m at work and I’m not supposed to be writing. This post will be full of typos and grammatical errors.

60. Read Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” at least once a year.

I own this book. I never read it.

61. Break out of your comfort zone.

I can’t remember the last time I had a comfort zone.

62. Write at the scene. If you want to write about a beach, get a picnic rug and go write by the sea.

Cool tip.

63. Go to the supermarket, the ball game, the class room, the building site. Make notes of the sensuous details, the atmosphere, the people.

I do this but with a camera.

64. Start with metaphors and stories.

Where else would you start?

65. Approach writing with gratitude, not just with a ‘must do this’ attitude.

Of course I’m grateful. I don’t know how people who do not have an artistic outlet cope with life, I really don’t.

66. Deconstruct and analyze books and articles you enjoy.

Who has time for this?

67. Know about story architecture. Many writers don’t. Which is like doing heart surgery or flying an airliner by intuition. Survival rates are low.

Ugh. Structure. My nemesis.

68. Socialize with other writers.

I would, but they won’t leave their house.

69. Stretch or exercise in between writing.

I’ll try to remember to try, but a shot of tequila is pretty relaxing too.

70. Make a note of ideas for further development before you leave a piece for tomorrow.

71.Use mindmaps for inspiration.

Don’t know what a mindmap is. Google it for me.

72. Take risks – don’t be afraid to shock. You are not who you think you are.

I have no problem with this since I don’t expect anyone to read what I write. As soon as I find myself hiding something, I know it’s time to put it down on paper.

73. [Please add your own suggestion in the comment section!]

I guess my No. 73 would be to start a piece as something else. I’m a screenwriter and a filmmaker so most of my ideas are visual. I’ve found that if I’m having trouble with structure or figuring out what the story is really about, it helps me to write a short story from the protagonist’s perspective (first person). If I get the character’s inner life out of me, then I can clear the way to tell a story visually. It works really well for me. It gets me writing right away and it’s fun. Which reminds me, I have to get back to that story.

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