I feel like there’s really only one writing tip, which is the same tip for anything you’d like to do well, from tying your shoes to playing Beer Pong: Practice. Write every day. But I’ll try to come up with five others.
1. Don’t deflate your balloon. I try not to talk about an idea to others until I’ve at least started writing something. Once it’s “out there” it can be less interesting. You’ve used all the words you would’ve written down to explain them to your friend, your partner, your agent, whomever – and suddenly it’s not the gossipy secret you had in your head. Write it down first. See what it is. Is it a short story? A novel? A play? A television show? A tweet? See what you’ve got and if it takes you somewhere before you pull all of the fun out of it and abandon it completely.
2. Have a few rituals. Whether it’s a specific mug for your coffee, a particular time of day, a certain playlist, or a special place where you love the view – do something when you write that’s the same every time and you will find it easier to get into the zone. Similarly, protect that ritual. Just like some people say you shouldn’t have a television in your bedroom so you always think of that place as where the magic happens, don’t turn your special writing partner into just another part of your life. If you have a pair of comfy pants that says, “I’m about to get some writing done,” then don’t wear them to the grocery store. Have a relationship with your writing practice, and let it have its own special trinkets and locations. You’ll find it easier to fall into that place where your fingers start flying.
3. Take lots of showers. This doesn’t work as well in a bath, perhaps because when you’re reclining you’re more likely to relax and not think of anything, but I don’t know any writer who doesn’t admit that most of his or her best ideas happen during a shower. There’s something about standing still, trapped in a small, hot room, trying not to think about the current condition of your naked body, that tells your brain, “I guess you could work on that piece of dialogue I was having problems with earlier.” A long, comforting shower lets your mind wander, but not too far. In a shower you can’t have distractions. We don’t usually bring books and cell phones in with us, people we live with tend to let us have a couple of minutes to ourselves, and there’s really nothing on the agenda other than shampoo, soap, shave, rinse. (Whatever else you do in there is your business, and please keep me out of it.) I bet if we all rode elevators for ten minutes a day every morning we’d have the same kind of epiphanies in those tiny, traveling coffins, but for most of us it’s the shower where we can find the answers to all kinds of storytelling questions.
4. Keep your eyes on your own plate. This one is hard, but it’s important. This is what my mother used to always tell me when I was younger and would worry that my sister might have gotten more food than I did or had a bigger piece of cake or was just generally getting away with something awesomer than I had. “You have food to eat. Worry about that, and then you can decide if you need more. It shouldn’t matter how much someone else has.” I use this lesson all the time when it comes to something as big as my career or as tiny as how far along I am in a particular project. In this day and age, when the Internet allows us to basically stalk thousands of other people living out various versions of our dreams, it’s easy to think you are stumbling around in very last place in the world’s biggest marathon. For every press release or humblebrag, remind yourself that you don’t know the whole story; you don’t know how long it took to get to their announcement day. You don’t know the sacrifices they made, the rejections they faced, the work they put in. You only have your own plate of work in front of you, and you can’t get any more until you clean your plate. Get to work. Mind your own beeswax. (That one Mom said all the time, too, but I never knew where all this beeswax was I allegedly owned.)
5. If you ask someone to give you feedback, don’t be a jerk when you get it. Feedback is important. It’s critical to get someone else’s point of view on how your story’s coming across. In your mind you see everything; you know all the answers. When a reader has a question or is confused about something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that person’s an idiot. (I mean, maybe. But why would you ask that person for feedback?) It means something’s not working for him or her. It’s possible that what your reader is pointing out isn’t exactly the problem, but it’s illustrating where things start to feel wonky. Be respectful of criticism, because that person was generous with his or her time and decided to read your unfinished piece of business in the first place. You can stomp around about your genius once you get off the phone/away from the computer/pay for the check, but until then listen, really listen, and try to hear the fix inside that note.
I write lots of writing advice when I’m busy procrastinating from all the writing I need to get done. If you’d like to read more, check out the following: http://pamie.com/tag/advice/
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