Writing Tips

Many authors offer advice as to how to be a good writer. While I believe that everyone should find the techniques and habits that work best for him or her, these are some of the things that help me write that I believe are worth sharing.

1. Carry your story around in your head.
I find that the writing process goes so much more smoothly when I hold my ideas in my imagination for a long time before I sit down in front of the blank paper or computer screen. I don’t worry if I don’t physically write something every day, but I do like to think about my story every day, so that when I sit down and start writing, I feel productive.

2. Listen to your narrator.
Your story should have a life of its own inside your imagination. Make sure you are not worrying too much about what you are writing; instead, listen to your narrator to let the story unfold naturally. You will be very surprised at what you find, and how easy it is to tell the story this way.

3. Be open to changing your story.
No story comes out perfectly the first time. You should always write knowing that you can—and should!—go back and change things later. Sometimes you need to write all the way through a story before you find out what it is really about, and then you should visit the beginning and make the story consistent all the way through. If you ask others for advice, listen to what they have to say; not every suggestion will be perfect for use in your story, but it is helpful to know how people understand what you have written. Sometimes the words on the page do not match what was in your imagination, and asking a friend for a critique will help you solve problems like that.

4. Use blank or gridded paper.
Once I heard that using unlined paper was a great way to write more freely, and I didn’t believe it. That was until I used a blank journal instead of a lined one, and filled the whole thing, while I often set aside lined journals. Now I almost always write on whole sheets of blank white or colored copy paper or in a gridded notebook. The gridded paper is nice because while you can write on it in any direction (sometimes I have thoughts that run “sideways,” to what I am trying to write about that I like to note), it still has a way of looking very neat.

5. Discover what habits you associate with writing your story.
This tip may perhaps be the most unlikely to have made the list, as I was unaware that I did it for a long time. In Love, Aubrey, my narrator eats a lot of crackers and cheese. When a friend asked if I ate crackers and cheese while I wrote, I answered no; after time, I realized that I had been eating—and still ate—crackers and cheese while I wrote, from some of the earliest passages right through the copy-edits of the final book. Though there is of course the coincidence that crackers and cheese is just a wonderful snack, I think that eating what Aubrey was eating was a way in which I connected with her, even though it wasn’t on purpose. Sitting down with the right snack would put me in the right mindset for Aubrey.

6. Play games and puzzles!
I use computer games to get ready to write. The games clear my head and my mind knows that writing comes next, so it starts filling up with new scenes for my story. I also believe that the creative problem-solving part of my brain stays more active when I play games, and I need it ready to work through problems in my story. When my editor asks for revisions and gives me two weeks to do them, I think about all her suggestions, and then I don’t look at the book again for one whole week; instead, I play games. When I finally look at the manuscript again, I know exactly what to do to fix it, because my imagination was working while my mind was busy playing.

7. Exercise.
Not only does exercise help get some of your energy out so that you are ready to sit and write, it helps your mind stay fresh and active. The more I work out, the more I find myself writing.

8. Take breaks!
If you find it hard to sit and write for a long time, don’t! Even though sometimes I find myself at the computer for hours before I notice that time has passed, I usually am hopping up, pacing, getting a snack, playing a round or two of a computer game, washing the floor…While I’m doing the other activity, the words I need seem to pop into my head. If I make myself sit and write when I just don’t feel like sitting still, the results are pretty boring.

9. Find a good first reader.
A very tricky thing about writing can be finding the courage to share your work with someone. While later in the writing process you will want criticism, it is often easier to share brand new work with someone whom you trust to encourage you. I am never more excited to write than when my first reader says she is looking forward to the next chapter.

~Suzanne LaFleur