Friday, December 2, 2011

The Twitter Writing Tips Sessions

Over the past two years, I've used my Twitter feed to deliver a series of "quick-hit" writing tips. Well, in an effort to archive those for easy access and greater usefulness, I now present them here. (The longer ones were obviously broken up into several smaller tweets, of course.)


Writing tip #1: Work on more than one project at a time to beat writer's block. If one stalls, jump to the other.

Writing tip #2: Writing is editing. Editing is writing. No first draft is perfect. Same for precious few second or third drafts.

Writing tip #3: When you finish the first draft set it aside long enough to give yourself a more objective POV before editing.

Writing tip #4: Character is king. You should know details about your cast even if those details don't make it into the work.

Writing tip #5: Always do what's best for your story, not necessarily what's best for your characters.

Writing tip #6: Lawyers do law. CPAs do taxes. Writers write. You're defined by what you actually DO, not what you just TALK about doing.

Writing tip#7: Want to get published? Learn these 3 skills: networking, writing, and networking. No, that's not a typo.

Writing tip #8: Plot is not story. Neither is character. Story is the magical thing that happens when plot meets character.

Writing tip #9: Comics dialogue should be about half as long as you want it to be. Cut, cut, cut. Don't overwhelm the panel.

Writing tip #10: Stuck? Try rewriting your fiction piece from an alternate POV or for nonfiction try a different voice.

Writing tip #11: Learning to write from other POVs is hard but helpful. Try the POV of the opposite gender without using all the obvious references. Or try writing from the POV of someone of another race or socio-economic class. Or perhaps from the POV of someone with more or less education than you have.

Writing tip #12: Reading about writing isn't writing. Writing is writing. Knowing stats makes you a bookkeeper. Batting makes you a player. (Special thanks to Frank Fradella for hammering this one into my head.)

Writing tip #13: Hard sounds force stops. (Just try to read that sentence quickly. It's practically impossible.) Smooth ones flow even in your head. Read work aloud to make sound work for you.

Writing tip #14: Nonfiction doesn't mean generic. Voice is why Annie Dillard's essays don't read like those of Lewis Grizzard.

Writing tip #15: Invest in a good dictionary and grammar guide and keep them handy. Never trust computer spell/grammar check.

Writing tip #16: A story triangle is made of small story triangles, not just the one main one. The intersections are where the story gets interesting

Writing tip #17: Good dialog gives the ILLUSION of sounding authentic. And it's always true to character.

Writing tip #18: Pacing is itself an art form, assigning placement/length to scenes to best tell the story and avoid rushing/dragging it.

Writing tip #19: It's okay to take a day off each week. Your mind needs the break (not that it'll stop thinking about projects anyway).

Writing tip #20: Writing is both mechanics and inspiration. Sometimes the act of writing can trigger flow and vice versa. You can usually break through so-called 'writer's block' by the mechanics of just writing something, anything.

Writing tip #21: Keep a notebook or recorder handy. Ideas love to come when you're unprepared to remember them.

Writing tip #22: Meet your deadlines. Being dependable typically ensures future work. Everybody in this business knows each other somehow.

Writing tip #23: Cultivate a regularly updated list of promotional contacts: reviewers, bloggers, news outlets, etc. and USE it.

Writing tip #24: Don't ever let a story beat you. Sure. Let it sit a while so it thinks it has won, then come back and kick its butt.

Writing tip #25: Dialog gives the illusion of real speech. For comics dialog, even more so, due to space limitations.

Writing tip #26: Research is not writing. At some point, put the books down and write. Leave placeholders for unknown facts to look up later.

Writing tip #27: Find a small number of good readers for your draft. More than that is too many. Keep the circle of trust tight at this stage.

Writing tip #28: Learn to read a variety of genres and formats, not just your favorites. That way your writer inside won't starve.

Writing tip #29: Read your work aloud. Especially dialogue, but not just dialogue. Even script narrative must flow easily to the ear.

Writing tip #30: Keys to great fiction? Easy to follow narrative + interesting characters + significant problems for them to overcome.

Writing tip #31: Don't overuse the stuff you THINK defines your style. Write as simply as possible, and your style will flow naturally.

Writing tip #32: In marketing, use your friends WISELY. Pick their brains. Play in their networks, but be friends first. Don't just USE them period.

Writing tip #33: Write something everyday. Then stop and live something everyday. Balance is key, Grasshopper.

Writing tip #34: Stick with it. Celebrate successes and milestones. You'll need them when you get discouraged later.

Writing tip #35: To continue getting work, write to the edge of your fence. What does that mean? Writing to the edge of your fence is doing the best, most creative work you can within the limits your editor assigns you. Don't recreate the sonnet form, just write the best sonnet possible. Don't resent the fence forced around you. Make it work for you. If you want to keep getting paid, that is. It’s also okay to be a lone wolf, avant garde artiste. But don't look for regular paying work unless you can play within the fence.

Writing tip #36: Steal. But just for kick-starting your own ideas. Tweak with your own twists. You'll be in good company with Shakespeare.

Writing tip #37: I love it when a good idea for a story hits from out of the blue. And I love having a 'note' feature on my phone to 'jot' it down.

Writing tip #38: Jesus is a great savior, but a bad protagonist. In order to be interesting, your good guys can't be perfectly good. Nor can your bad guys be perfectly evil. The strongest characters in a story have feet of clay. Good guys w/ bad traits, bad guys w/ likeable traits.

Writing tip #39: Never confuse
plot for story. Story is the coupling of plot AND character. What happens AND who it happens to. If changing your character doesn't significantly alter your plot then your characters are too generic. If small changes in plot don't cause growth or force your characters into new choices, then you’re most likely force-fitting one or the other.

Writing tips #40: Life intrudes. Deal with it and get back behind the desk. That's the mark of a pro. Amateurs whine about it. Pros make time.

Writing tip #41: Write what you know AND what you don't yet know. Research can be the really fun part of creating stories if you let it.

Writing tip #42: An empty page doesn't need the perfect word to fill it. It just eeds nany words to get you started and writing. Edit it later.

Writing tip #43: Don't neglect setting. In great fiction it's a character in its own right. IE, Batman, Starman, Do Androids Dream..., Hamlet.

 Writing tip #44: You can turn a weakness into a strength not by writing around it to avoid it but by practice and hard work to improve it.

Writing tip #45: Don't 'KILL your darlings.' EDIT them. They're a part of you and should be mastered and reined in -- not destroyed.

Writing tip #46: Never trash talk an editor, publisher or fellow writer. You rarely know who your next boss (check signer) will be. Even if you have good reason. It's a small pond and most of the fish know each other. Unless you are warning about a fraud pub and are presenting verifiable fact, not feelings and opinions. Be profesional.

Writing tip #48: Pre-writing is good, but too much pre-writing just avoiding the actual work of writing

Writing tip #49: A story triangle is made up of a beginning, middle and ending with rising action and falling action between the three points. Rising action builds to the top point (up side between beginning and middle) where the falling action then occurs that drives story through to the end (down side between middle and ending).

Writing tip #50: The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo is an excellent book about the power of word choices. A must read.

Writing tip #51: For most repairs a piece of crap hammer does the job just fine. IE, fancy technique and 'style' aren't usually needed.

Writing tip #52: Plotting is hard. You must apply cause and effect to be believable and earn events, not just list what you want to happen.

Writing tip #53: Lose dialog attributions when possible. Good dialog will be clear without them most of the time. Of course that means you should be sure your character's voice come through the dialog.

Writing tip #54: When writing comics scripts be sure to provide a reason to turn the page. Unfinished dialog. Unanswered questions. Surprise appearances. Know where your page turns are and make them work for you.

Writing tip #55: Strong, active verbs tend to give your work more immediacy and emotion and action. But don't throw out passive verbs. They are great tools for conveying passive characters. Passive and helping verbs tend to slow down writing and put distance between the work and reader. Sometimes you want to do just that.

Writing tip #56: A plot outline is a good map, but like any good map it allows you the opportunity to change course for a better route.

Writing tip #57: When a character tells you he or she won't do something, listen. He or she is trying to help you improve the story.

Writing tip #58: Nonfiction writers, read Annie Dillard to see the pinnacle of the personal essay form. She's the reigning champ.

Writing tip #59: Artistic doesn't necessarily mean non-commercial. Nor does commercial necessarily mean non-artistic.

Writing tip #60: Steal from Shakespeare. He used all good plots anyway. Put your own spin -- style, settings and characters -- on it.

Writing tip #61: Story triangles aren't always equilateral but the closer you are to it the more comfortable it will be for most readers.

Writing tip #62: More familiar and comfortable for more readers equals more commercially viable for publishers.

Writing tip #63: The questions 'What if...' and 'What's the worst that could happen now?' can take you farther than any writing book.

Writing tip #64: Some writers toss lots of crap at the wall and see what sticks. That's an okay policy if you want to write crap stuck to a wall.

Writing tip #65: While it's true that 'less is more,' sometimes it's also true that more is more -- for the right effect.

Writing tip #66: Keep a list of 'triggers' to help jump start your writing -- phrases to get you started that you can edit out later.

Writing tip #67: Could you apply for loan/job as your characters? Then maybe you don't know them well enough to tell their stories.

Writing tip #68: Just being on the 'Net doesn't make it proper research. Don't be the 2nd fool to use the same bad info in public.

Writing tip #69: Find someone you trust to talk about your stories with while you're working them. Iron sharpens iron.