In preparation for National Novel Writing Month, starting on November 1st, here are my writing tips:
- Keep a notebook and pen with you at all times.
- Write longhand. Not all the time, but if you don’t, your hands will drop off, and your handwriting will deteriorate.
- Observe. What kind of person has a license plate saying "ARMY BRAT", or a bumper sticker saying "Vegetarians Taste Better"? Observe and record in your notebook, it’ll be useful later.
- Listen. Also known as eavesdropping if you’re not discreet enough. People say the oddest things, record them in your notebook.
- Record. Copy down quotes from books and magazines, calendars and newsletters.
- Practice. Write often, and try new things like prompts and drabbles. Get hold of some story starters and use them for blog entries. Write book reviews on Amazon.com.
- Pre-write. Think about what you’re going to write before you get there. Blank pages can be scary if you go alone.
- Edit. Take something you’ve written and halve the word count. Every word must earn its place.
- Read. Things you like and things you’ve never thought of. Branch out and explore the Hundred Years War, or string theory, or caffeine. Read some of the classics and find out why they’ve lasted so long.
- Plan. Have a basic plot outline before you start, know who your main characters are and what they want. Plan disasters for them all.
- Study. Strunk and White knew what they were talking about, and semicolons come in useful sometimes. Know your writing mechanics.
- Relax. You can’t write all the time and you need breaks to assimilate ideas. Go for a walk!
- Write funny. Learn about humour writing (The Comic Toolbox by Jon Vorhaus is a great start) and use it to break up the seriousness.
- Archive. Store your writing, especially the good stuff, somewhere you can get to it and search through it. Electronic copies make this easier, but back them up offline! Trust not the hard drive alone for he is fickle and easily broken.
- Take care of yourself. Look away from the screen often, stretch, sleep, exercise, and eat decent meals where the primary ingredient is not grease.
- Recruit cheerleaders. Get outside support for when the writing stinks, the sky is falling, and your characters are boring.
- Reward yourself. Plan bribes for hitting milestones and inch-pebbles, that CD you’ve been planning to get, yarn, something that will make you smile and remember your achievement.
It’s going to be an interesting November. Plundering a notebook of observations provides ideas when you have none, and dream sequences are good for adding word count. A small USB drive is great for backing up copies of your work, but don’t depend on any one storage method. Email it to a web-based email account as another backup.
I keep HTML files with a list of character names (so I don’t have two people with names starting with S), background info on the main characters, and a plot roadmap split into three acts. Those get zipped and stored with the Word document of the story, saved daily on my USB drive and laptop.