Last week, I received a comment interested in getting some writing tips from me. I wrote a few posts like this in the past, but haven’t made one in a while, for whatever reason. I’ve thought about writing a book on writing, but yet there are already so many, and I don’t have many great successes to boast, so I haven’t moved forward with that. I’m completely self-taught (other than any English skills I may have learned) but as far as creative writing, that’s all me. I’ve just developed a feel for it and I’ve looked at what others have done and learned from that.
Since I find myself needing to reconnect with some of this myself, I started thinking about what works for me and how I finish my own books. This is what I came up with.
Ten Tips for Writing (and Finishing) Your Book
1.) Know where your story is going – Even if you are a spontaneous kind of writer in some respects, you should at least know some things about your book. What’s the main thing you want to accomplish by writing your book? What makes you excited about your story? Focus on that. Is the romance the main aspect even though it has a fantasy theme? Stick to the romance and let it carry you through. Is there a major conflict that needs to be resolved? Know what you’re writing toward. For me, I need to know that I’m writing toward something that needs to be resolved: a mystery that I need to reveal, a romance that needs to come to fruition, or a conflict that greatly needs a resolution. Find the point you’re working toward and go for it. I usually find that the rest will fill itself in.
2.) Love your idea. – If you don’t love your idea – and I mean LOVE it – then you probably aren’t going to finish it. Think about it for a few days before you decide to write it. Try to figure out if it’s really something that you’re excited about or that you’re going to finish. If not, save the idea for later. You may be able to use it again for something else! I do this all the time. I have ideas that I think are swell but I don’t know how to make it work as a stand-alone story. What do I do? I write it down , and I might find a way to use it along with another idea I have later. I truly believe that some ideas can bloom, but we’re just not ready to write them yet. Either we don’t have the skill to figure out how to make it work (happens to me often) or the idea is just not solid yet (happens to me alllll the time).
Example, late last year I was excited about writing a weird western, but when I sat down to write it, I wasn’t happy with how it was going. I think it just wasn’t the right time, and I’m okay with that. Eventually, the time will be right.The idea is still there.
If you find yourself in this position, just go back to the drawing board and search for something that gives you a true feeling of love.
3.) Keep inspiration close at hand – This can mean many things. Have a ritual if you need one. Wear a decorative pair of open-finger gloves. Always have a cup of coffee in a mug that says #1 Writer, or whatever. Do what you have to do. For example, when I was writing Nevermor, I had this cheap little plastic ball that was filled with water and glitter, and when I wasn’t busy typing, I would sit there and throw it up in the air, or just shake it up and watch the glitter inside it. It sounds like a waste of time, but you have to do what you have to do! I’ve done things like that in the past, but it usually varies from one book to the next. There are, however, a few things that I always do.
One thing I always do when I’m working on something is find some music that inspires me to think. I listen to it often and just zone out while listening. I’ll clean up, exercise, listen to it while I commute, and use it as the soundtrack for whatever I’m working on. While I’m listening, I’m watching my characters. I may not always hear what they’re saying, but I see what’s going on. I develop a vision and then I put that vision to words, like watching a music video. Sometimes the words of the songs come through to me and that gives me an idea as well. I usually choose my songs based on the sound of the music, and then the words come through. I even choose songs that I don’t really know as long as the sound seems right, and then I connect with something new. (Spotify is really good for building playlists.)
Another good thing to do is search for character/setting inspiration online. Spend some time looking at pictures. Choose an actor to represent your character. This usually works pretty well for me. Assigning a face helps me to visualize everything a bit better, and looking at art gives me some nice ideas for visualization while my characters are moving around in my head.
4.) Take time to think. This is the part that has been getting me down lately. It’s not that I don’t have time to write, it’s that I don’t take the time to think about what I want to write. What I mean by that is that I get so distracted by so many other things. It’s not just work or real world stuff; it’s even what I do for entertainment. If you are constantly letting other people entertain you (with their books, their movies, and their games) how are you supposed to have your own ideas? Not that you can’t do those things too – inspiration can come from anywhere and that’s very important – but take some time to meditate on your own ideas. It’s not about just taking time to write or making a schedule or trying to write everyday. Choosing to sit down at your computer for an hour does not equal writing time. Trust me. Even if I start out with a word document, sometimes I’ll just stop and pull up Facebook, or the game I’m currently playing, or I think I’m going to watch Youtube while I write. No. No, it just doesn’t work. Unplug if you have to – like I’ve begun to do. Find a connection with your project that makes you want to write, not just for an hour a day, but ALL day.
5.) Read something that inspires you – Do you remember the last book that you read and loved? Or do you have a favorite author whose words are phenomenal? You think: “I wish I could write like that or create something like that.” Read a paragraph from their book. Read the first page and REALLY read it. Look at how the words carry you away and then look at what words and sentences are actually being used. Think about what the author did in a technical way. Sometimes, when I can’t find inspiration, I’ll grab one of those books off my shelf – one that I know I loved and enjoyed – and I’ll open it up (sometimes to the first page and sometimes to a random spot in the middle) and I’ll read a few paragraphs. I’ll then think about what I just read and compare it to what I’m writing. If you’ll do this, you’ll probably find the same thing that I usually do – you’re doing fine and they’re just words after all. There is nothing magical about them, and they are probably just like yours. If you find that they’re not, think about why. What is different? Think about those things and learn from them.
6.) Edit as you need to, but remember that you can fix it later – Some tipsters might tell you to ‘save the editing for later’ and to ‘just get the words on the page’, but my advice is a little different. Here’s the thing: I read the beginning of my book more often than anything. If my first few paragraphs are crap, I get really annoyed. So, I’ll often spend a lot of time polishing the first bit of my book, just so that when I read it again later, it inspires me all over again. This assures me that the whole project is not garbage. If you need to do that for every chapter that you finish to make yourself feel good about going forward, do it. Do what feels right to you. Sometimes, I still like the manuscript to have a bit of polish before I go forward. It helps me to really get in touch with the words and to remember what I was doing and what still needs to be done.
Don’t drive yourself crazy though. As you’re working on this, don’t forget that you can fix it. And you will. If you’re like me, you’ll never ever stop fixing it, and it will never be perfect even after you publish it. I have to make myself stop. If I don’t, it would go on forever because nothing is ever good enough unless I’m working on something else. Once the work is complete, you’ll be able to look at it as a whole and see it for what it is. Then you can alter it so it all goes together.
So in that respect, yes, just get the words on the page.
That said, if when you’re reading over your book and you run across a section that absolutely bores you to tears, you can’t be bothered to read it let alone edit it, then it might be a good idea to think about cutting it – or rewriting it. If you’re bored reading it, someone else might be too.
7.) Don’t be afraid to skip ahead – When I first started writing, like so many others, I would write in a straight line from one chapter to the next, mostly because I was posting online and I couldn’t go on to the next part until I had finished the one before it. I don’t write like that anymore. If I’m having trouble writing a section but I know what happens directly after it, then I’ll jump ahead to write the next section. Then I’ll take some time to think about it and come back later to work on the part that I was having trouble with. I usually just fill those spaces in later. If I still can’t fill in that spot, then I need to go back to number 4 and take some time to think and visualize.
One reason this might not work is if you don’t know how to begin a story. That bothers me, personally. Like I mentioned above, when the beginning isn’t solid, it bugs me. It may not bother you that way. So, if you can deal with skipping the beginning, by all means, skip it and come back to it later.
8.) Change how/where you’re writing – In the past, I’ve had some of my best writing success by printing out what I had and sitting down with the printout and a notebook to add sections where needed and to edit. I would read over it and make it better as I went. Though that may be a waste of paper and computers are just so much faster for getting words on the page, sometimes it’s not as good, I feel. I think there’s a real difference when you put a lot of time and focus into something. So! If you sit down at the computer and you feel blank, grab a notebook. Type something up on your phone. Or maybe you need a change of scenery. Change the room you are writing in. Go outside. Go to a coffee shop (if that’s your thing). Figure out what works for you. Sometimes it really is as simple as that.
9.) Write a layout – Even if the layout is vague; even if you don’t have a full layout yet, make one. It will help you gather your ideas and remind you of what you know and what you don’t know yet. When you write one chapter, then you can look over and have a reminder of what you need to happen next in the story. It can change at any time, and when it does, alter the layout. This will help you keep it all together, and if there comes a time when you see the whole thing set out before you, Eureka!
Though I always have an idea of where my story is going, I like my story and characters to grow a bit as I progress. I don’t like the idea that everything has to be set in stone, because things change, and I enjoy it when that happens. Remember, your characters are not just words on paper – they are alive inside your mind. Get in touch with them.
Sometimes, your layout for a chapter might be one sentence. ‘Character A and Character B have a fight’. Oh…that isn’t very much detail. Well, if you can write yourself up to that chapter, chances are you’re going to have a better understanding of your characters and what is going on in the story in order to progress and get things done. By that, I mean set things up and reveal the information that your reader needs to know. ‘Character A finds out the big secret’. By this point, I hope you know what it is!
If all you know is the basic description of your story, write that down. Write character descriptions if you need to. Write about the world. Essentially, you’re writing about what you’re going to write, and that will help.
10.) Just write. Anyone who has ever written anything successfully is going to tell you this. But how?? How do you write when you can’t write?? I know, I know. I didn’t know how to take this one either until it actually happened to me, and then I finally understood. Here’s what you do. Don’t think about writing. Don’t think about what you’re going to build. Don’t think about who your characters are or what they’re doing. Just open up a fresh word doc, sit down and write the first sentence that comes to you. Look outside and write what you see, poetically or otherwise – whatever your style is. Write about what your cat is doing. Look up a writing prompt and try a short story. Write a piece of fanfiction if you need to. Just do something with it until you feel good about writing again. Then, when you’re ready, stop doing that and work on the real project that you have your heart set on. Sometimes these fake projects turn into real ones, or you can use pieces of it for something else. Find something that inspires you – anything! – and write about it.
Writing is just like any other skill. The more time you spend doing it and thinking about it, the better you will become. It grows with time, like how to know your sentences are good, that the flow is right, and that the characters have done what they needed to do. Get to know your own writing.
For example, I can now think of my current work and have an estimate on my word count and also when I will finish it. I know how many words it will take to get me through a plot point, and how many words I need per chapter – therefore, I know how many chapters the book will have. I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t do that for a long time, but I know what I’m capable of and I can know what a story needs to get it to the end.
The main things, I believe, are 1.) your mind needs to be clear and 2.) the STORY is LIFE. That means that when it’s right, it’s right, and you’re thinking about it 24-7 until it’s done. That’s the good kind of writing.
I hope you all liked this post! It felt pretty good to write it, so I hope it was helpful. Sitting down to think about these things helped me too! I’ve been doing a bit more writing lately and that has been really nice. Again, I’m not sure where I’m headed right now, but I’m enjoying this simplicity as far as not worrying about getting work out there just to make money. I definitely need to reconnect with writing for the love of it, and I think I may be on the right track.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, I do have a few older posts that give some writing advice, so here are the links to those.
Dialogue for Dummies
Character Building with Lani
Let me know if this post gave you some new ideas! Is there anything else you would like me to write about in the future? I’ll give it a shot!