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Monday, March 16, 2015

(Yet Another) 100 Things Every Writer Should Know

  1. Structure.  Learn what it is.  Learn how to use it.
  2. Posting about your novel progress on Tumblr is not, in fact, progress.
  3. Make lists.  Make a lot of lists.  Make lists of possible names.  Character traits.  Details about setting.  Procrastination techniques.  Lists of things writers should know.  Anything.
  4. Figure out what type of writing environment works for you.  Do you need complete quiet?  Do you enjoy the white noise of a coffee shop?  Stick to it.
  5. And then, once you've gotten used to one writing environment, change it up every so often.  Try something different.  It's good for your creative muscles.
  6. If you want to know what a writer's life is like, look no further than F. Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris.  That's exactly what the writer's life is like.  Exactly.
  7. Sometimes, you just have to play the Game of Thrones theme on loop for five hours when you're writing epic battle scenes.  
  8. In real-life conversation, remember to clarify that you're talking about your fictional characters, not real people.  Most people won't react positively to "Yeah, and then I killed off Frank!  It was fantastic!"
  9. Story ideas will wake you up in the middle of the night.  There's absolutely nothing you can do about it. 
  10. Never trust a writer that talks to you for 20 minutes when you ask her to give a summary of her latest book.  If you can't sum it up in one or two sentences, you need to rethink your plot.
  11. If you're looking for information on illegal things like, say, how much it would cost to hire a hit man, but you're afraid of Googling this even in incognito mode, here's a resource for you.
  12. Back up your work periodically.  Email it to yourself.  Save it to an external hard drive.  Carve it into a stone tablet and cast it into the sea.  Anything to save you in case of that inevitable computer meltdown.
  13. “An old racetrack joke reminds you that your program contains all the winners’ names. I stare at my typewriter keys with the same thought.”  — Mignon McLaughlin
  14. You know that feeling of looking back at something you wrote and realizing, "Wow, that's terrible," even if you just wrote the thing yesterday?  I'm going to let you in on a secret: you're always better than the last thing you wrote.  You improved while working on it.  Thus, everything is always going to seem worse to you, since you're always better than when you started.
  15. Ignore anyone who tells you "You're not a real writer if you _____" or "You're not a real writer unless you ____"  The only thing that makes you a "real writer" is that you write.  Do you write?  There you go.  You're a real writer.
  16. There are no completely new ideas.  It's not about coming up with something nobody has ever thought of.  Everything you will write is a combination of various other aspects from books you've read.  It's not stealing--it's making it your own. 
  17. Pacing isn't about constantly keeping up an action-packed plot.  It's about variation between fast and slow scenes.  Too much slow is boring; too much fast is exhausting.  Find a balance.
  18. Avoid using "thinking" words whenever possible.  Realized, felt, saw, knew, thought, etc. bring your reader one level further away from your protagonist.  They're often unnecessary.
  19. If buying that pretty new notebook gives you a reason to write, then buy that pretty new notebook.
  20. A popular piece of writing advice says that you should never use said--instead, you should use more descriptive dialogue tags like whispered, shouted, murmured.  Actually, the exact opposite is true.  Said is your friend.  Avoidance of said is the mark of an amateur.
  21. Some writers like to talk about their work-in-progress before it's done.  Some don't.  Non-writers often don't understand this, and get offended when you won't tell them what you're writing.  If you've explained that you'd rather not say, and they're still pressing you, just walk away.  Nobody's requiring you to talk about your writing.  That's the other person's problem, not yours.
  22. Don't let anyone tell you "You can't write about that!"  Write about whatever makes you happy.  If you want to write a genderswapped Jack the Ripper story, do it.  If you want to write about civilized geese, do it.  If you want to write about your childhood in Nowheresville, North Dakota, do it.  Any subject that calls to you is worthwhile. 
  23. If you can fit all your books on one shelf, you don't have enough books.
  24. Never submit to a literary agent that charges you for reading your work.  Legitimate agents will never make you pay to query.  An agent isn't supposed to get any payment until you've made an actual publishing contract, after which they'll take a (typically minor) commission.
  25. Learn the rules of writing.  Follow them.
  26. Only then can you learn to break them.  Breaking writing rules is more of an art than following them.
  27. If you have a headcanon about your own characters, it's canon.
  28. That's the kind of power you have as a writer.
  29. Please, please, please don't make all of your male/female friendships end in romance.  Contrary to popular belief, this doesn't always have to happen in fiction.  Don't believe me?  Watch Pacific Rim.
  30. If you sit around and wait for inspiration before writing, you're going to be sitting there until season 4 of Sherlock airs.
  31. Writing is hard.  There, I said it.
  32. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.
  33. The only way you'll ever get anything written is if you 
  34. “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” — Anaïs Nin
  35. Sometimes, the most important aspects of a character aren't their tragic, complex backstories.  It's all in the little details--how do their hands fidget when they're nervous?  In what order to they eat a meal?  What odd thing makes them twitch?
  36. If you've recently discovered the synonym function on Microsoft Word, just...don't.
  37. Have writer's block?  Change up your writing music.  If you normally listen to Fall Out Boy when you write, switch it to soundtrack music.  Go from Phantom of the Opera to My Chemical Romance to classical.  The change in mood might be enough to kickstart your imagination.
  38. The delete key is your friend.  If it's bad, don't be afraid to get rid of it.
  39. Everything you write can be changed.  
  40. That being said, it's helpful to keep a file or folder of "deleted scenes" so that you don't feel so bad if you have to cut an entire section.  You'll still have it for future reference, but it won't be taking up space in your piece.
  41. Consider every word in every sentence.  If you could cut a word and your story wouldn't lose anything, then that word needs to go.
  42. Keep your calendar clear in November, if you're inclined to feats of insanity such as writing an entire novel in a month.
  43. There's never any shame in not being able to write 50,000 words in a month.  Everyone goes at their own pace.
  44. Stop writing about people's "gold-flecked eyes."  Just stop.
  45. Plot bunnies?  More like 
  46. If the idea of writing it scares you, that's a good sign that you should write it.
  47. Don't use five words if two will do just fine.
  48. Watch your camera angles.  Start writing really close-in on a character, then zoom out.  Pan around the room and vary what we see.  Zoom back in.  Change it up just like you change up your pacing.
  49. If the number 1,667 means something to you with no further context, I'm sorry.  I'm so, so sorry.
  50. You're probably better than you think you are.
  51. But you're probably, at times, not as good as you think you are.
  52. Publishing is slow.  Painfully slow.
  53. But trends change quickly.  Don't start a dystopian novel just because they're trendy.  If you jump on a trend, there's a good chance it'll be long gone by the time you actually get published.
  54. The only way to write a decent battle scene is to hit your keyboard as hard as possible when typing.  Trust me on this one.
  55. Half of the writing process is just you playing mind games with yourself.
  56. Whenever you question yourself as a writer, just remember:
  57. Probably.  More or less.  As much as any of us can be.
  58. Take every piece of criticism with a grain of salt.
  59. It's okay to imitate somebody else's writing.  It's how we learn.
  60. Know where you're going before you start.
  61. There is a difference between writer's block and simply not wanting to write.  Learn the difference.
  62. “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” -W. Somerset Maugham
  63. You probably don't need as many adjectives as you think you need.
  64. You will never say, "Wow, I wish I hadn't written that."  Every piece teaches you something.
  65. You'll also never regret time spent writing.
  66. If you're here, you might be procrastinating writing.  Just a thought.  
  67. And you'd probably be better off writing than reading this list.  But I appreciate that you're here.
  68. You're never too old to start writing.
  69. You're never too young to start, either.
  70. Actually, if you haven't learned to read yet, maybe you're too young.  Learning the alphabet might make writing a novel a little easier.
  71. People say that every writer has gained enough material by age 13 to last the rest of their life.
  72. If you're writing a dystopian novel about a character who must pass some sort of Test to determine her future once she reaches a certain age, don't.  
  73. Write fanfiction of your own characters.  It's a good way to take them out for a "test drive" to see how it feels to write them.  
  74. Revision: 
  75. If you're having trouble with a character, make a list of 100 things about them.  Any 100 things.  You'll discover new things about them.
  76. Don't start with big concepts like love, war, or death.  Start with images.  Don't set out to write about loss--begin with a man clutching the withered roses he gave his wife four months ago.
  77. Write something other than your main novel.  Write in a journal.  Write haikus.  Write one-shot fiction.  Single-mindedness is healthy for writing, but variety is also healthy.
  78. Know where you want to end before you start.
  79. Pay way too much attention to how people behave in real life.  Look for their tiny gestures.  Notice all the weird things people do.
  80. Sound-blocking headphones are your friend.
  81. If you're writing about something even vaguely science-y, please make sure you do some research.  I guarantee that there's someone out there who knows more about it than you, and you don't want them to be writing you angry letters.  
  82. It's possible to search for new book ideas, but more often than not, they drop onto your head out of nowhere.
  83. Do your homework.  Writing will get you nowhere if you're unable to afford even ramen noodles because you can't get a job because you flunked every single class you ever took.
  84. Visit new places.  It's good for your muse.
  85. Use sensible fonts.  Don't write your novel in Wingdings.
  86. If you ever think, "Oh, my readers won't catch that," you're wrong.
  87. Find a writing buddy, either online or in person.  It's helpful to have someone you can bounce ideas off of.  And it's also nice to have someone around to tell you, "Hey, maybe writing a story about sentient desk chairs that have secretly been spying on humanity and are plotting world domination isn't a great idea."
  88. Writing will forever change you.  As in, once you start analyzing the story structure of every single movie you watch, you'll never be able to stop.  Ever.
  89. Starting a blog is not helpful for getting novels finished faster.  Trust me.
  90. Please strive to always be as awkwardly in love with writing as Eddie Redmayne is with his Oscar. 
  91. Before you commit to a title, do a quick Google search on it.  If there's already something moderately well-known with that title. find a new title.
  92. You're only allowed to break writing rules if you've learned all of them first.
  93. Write for yourself.  Then write for an audience.
  94. Recognize that there's a difference between writing for yourself and writing for an audience.
  95. Be weird.  Be unpredictable.  Be offbeat.  It gets readers' attention.
  96. Every reader will have a different experience of your story.  No two people will see the same things from your imagery, feel the same things from your plot twists, or interpret the same things from your symbolism.
  97. Obsessing over word count will only cause you to write slower.  Never faster.
  98. Some people will say that writers must write every day.  This isn't true.  Writing every day is healthy, but not always realistic.  Find writing times that work for you and you alone.
  99. Remember what I said earlier about being a "real writer?"  Actually, that's not true.  All real writers must leave an offering of ink and blank paper every full moon at the Globe Theater to appease the spirit of Shakespeare.  If one cannot easily make this trip every full moon, one may substitute a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage and instead leave an offering of either 7 typewriters that have each printed an entire Edgar Allan Poe collection or 7 cartridges of printer ink mixed by Tibetan monks that write 1,667 words every day and only speak in haiku. 
  100. Number 99 is 100% true.
If you liked this list, there's more where that came from.  I also have the original 100 things list, and the second set of 100 things (complete with GIFs, as always).

What would you add to this list?
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  1. THANK YOU. Found your blog 2 weeks ago during an Artemis Fowl fangirling spell, and I have wandered enough around it to decide to stalk it forever. HAHA, but again, thank you, you have captured my heart, and yeah, for helping my writing a lot through this post, and making me laugh and want to share this to 10 or more of my friends :))))

    1. You're welcome--thank YOU for reading (and commenting)! It makes me happy to be able to help out.


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