What we loved most about Novel Writing Month in November was that it reminded us of the pleasure of putting good old fashioned pen to paper and got us thinking about what sort of writing tips would be useful for those wanting to get back into writing (or those wanting to start). Sometimes, you need to get your thoughts gathered and organised on paper, and many experts believe that hand writing brings many benefits to our brains that simply tapping on a keyboard doesn’t. Much evidence suggests it requires more brain function and increases creativity and focus; all invaluable attributes for budding writers.
If you were inspired by Novel Writing Month to start work on a piece of writing longer than Twitter’s 280 character limit, take a look at our top writing tips and give it a try, and we urge you to pick up a pen before flipping up the lid of your laptop:
1. Always carry a notebook.
Possibly one of the most important writing tips to start; you’re going to need somewhere to record your thoughts. There’s nothing odd about whipping out a notebook and pen mid-dinner at a fancy restaurant. The people you’re with will appreciate the urgency of creativity – eventually. This little nugget of advice comes from esteemed contemporary author Will Self, who goes on to say that “the short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever’. Don’t take any chances!
2. Write something you’d like to read yourself.
What are your favourite books? The best speech or presentation you’ve ever heard? Try actively re-reading or watching excerpts from them, by which we mean flex your note-taking muscles. Making written notes of what you have read and heard should be done in your own words and this is great practice for phrasing and personal tone. Maybe your perfect read hasn’t been written yet – seize your opportunity!
3. Read your writing aloud to yourself.
Everyone hates the sound of their own voice but we think reading your work out loud is one of the more useful writing tips on this list. Maybe even record it too so you can listen to it with fresh ears the next day. British novelist Diana Athill swears this is “the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK” – you want your piece to be easy to read and you’ll also pick up on any silly mistakes you missed whilst proofreading in your head. While you listen, you could be writing notes – have your trusty notebook and pen to hand.
4. Get into the writing zone.
Find a comfortable place to work at when you write, so that you can focus entirely on your work and are ready for when inspiration hits. A snug chair, good lighting, easy access to snacks – anything that makes writing an enjoyable process is a wise choice. Settle in; you may be spending a lot of time here!
5. Set yourself a daily word count.
If you have plans for a more substantial piece of writing, make sure you take note of this one. Decide your ideal overall word count first to help you figure out what daily goals you need to be aiming for. This will give you a reason to write every day, provide a structure and give you that small amount of pressure that boosts productivity. Reward yourself each time you hit the target – you deserve it!
6. Ask for feedback.
Constructive criticism is one of the most valuable writing tips. Ask someone nicely if they’ll read your writing and give you some feedback. They’ll probably raise some interesting points that you would never have thought of on your own and that will help you reach a wider audience. Just be prepared for brutal honesty and remember it’s not personal.
7. Keep a journal.
If you feel stuck for subject inspiration, we encourage the use of a journal to record your daily activities as you travel. The layout of a diary will keep your note-taking structured and organised and you can read over your notes later – you may find something worth weaving into your story. Think of yourself as the next Bruce Chatwin, who swore by his Moleskine style notebooks when he travelled through Australia. The musings and observations he jotted down each day formed the essence of his famous novel The Songlines.
8. Take regular breaks!
If a long day of writing looms ahead of you, remember to schedule in some strategic breaks. Stretch your legs, grab a coffee, take a nap. Do whatever you need to do to give your eyes and brain a little rest. Consider going outside for some fresh air – your neighbours might be getting worried that they haven’t seen you for a few days!
9. Write where others are writing.
Take your writing to the local café, where the gentle but productive buzz of others meeting, chatting and working will increase your level of focus, studies say. Grab a coffee, find a window seat and lose yourself in a semi-permeable creative bubble. We’ve written a whole blog about writing in coffee shops here and we’re big fans of this tip because, aside from all things notebooks, our other collective passion is good quality coffee. Anything that combines the two is a definite positive in our books!
10. Ignore the rules.
Perhaps one of the most bizarre writing tips we’ve got for you, but Author Neil Gaiman maintains that “the main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can’. Integrity is an important factor when you take a writing project on. Sticking to strict rules might improve your overall skills, but make sure you still put your stamp on things. Perhaps refer to tip 6 for this; if your friends don’t feel like your writing sounds like you then a bit of rule-deviation may be in order!