I read a lot of writing advice. Books, blog posts, twitter feeds, you name it.
I know it won’t all work for me. But how else can I improve my craft, other than trying new things, and seeing how it comes out?
So here’s four techniques I tried out last year (or carried over from 2018) that have stuck with me, and that I’ll be using a lot in 2020.
One-Inch Picture Frame
Source: Anne Lamott
My current go-to technique. When I’m sitting at the keyboard and the words won’t come, and I think this is it, my imagination’s run dry and I’ll never finish another story, I reach for this.
The idea is simple, and powerful in the way few simple ideas are: Instead of worrying about writing the chapter, or writing the scene, I focus on writing only one little piece of the scene. Just describe how she feels after getting caught in a lie. Describe how he looks at his old room differently, now that he’s been away from home for ten years.
Drill down into something very specific, and write just that. Nothing more.
The narrowed focus lets me relax a little. Because I can’t write a chapter anymore, oh no, and I can’t write a scene, that’s for sure, but I can write how it feels to see someone you love after thinking they were dead. I can do that
And once that’s done, once I’ve really described everything in my one-inch picture frame properly, I look up and I’ve already hit my daily word count goal.
Tracking Word Count Score
Source: Scott Sigler
This one’s a carry-over. Sigler first laid out his points system for tracking word counts at a Writers Coffeehouse in 2018. I tried it out then, and it got me back on track to finish the first draft of my current novel.
Since then, I’ve kept using it: 1 point for each first draft word, 1/2 point for each word gone over in the first editing pass, 1/3 for the third, etc.
It’s helped me feel productive in cases where I wouldn’t, like revising a short story I finished months ago, to get it to the point where I can submit it to magazines. And it’s pushed me to keep writing until I hit that daily word count, and relax when I do so, because I know by hitting it, I’m working steadily towards my larger goals.
Showing Emotion and Thoughts Instead of Telling
Source: Chuck Palahniuk
I was really skeptical of this one. He wrote it up in a post for LitReactor, and it’s couched in language that’s self-confident to the point of being arrogant.
But he’s right. Switching from using language like “she was nervous” to “She looked away, and bit her lip. The fingers of her right hand started drumming a quick beat on her thigh, tap-tap-tap,” is a huge improvement. It’s pushed me to think more about how each of my characters expresses themselves in unique ways, and given me the tools to show that uniqueness to the reader.
Scatter and Fill
Source: V.E. Schwab
Schwab’s twitter feed is a fantastic one to follow for writing advice. She’s very honest about the struggles she faces, and how much guilt she feels over being such a slow writer.
But the brilliant results (in her books) speak for themselves!
In one of her posts, she talked about how when writing a novel, she doesn’t write it in any sort of order. She’ll fill in some dialog in one scene, then a set description in another, and then action in a third. She gradually fills in the work, like painting a canvas, where every brush stroke counts and adds up to the final product.
I’ve always felt compelled to write in strict order, start to finish. So reading this technique works for her was very liberating for me. I still usually write in order, but now if I’m finding it hard to get motivated, I’ll skip around. Write down some dialog that comes to me, or an action or two. Sometimes I can hit my daily word goal this way, and sometimes it just primes the pump so I can fill in the rest. Either way, it gets me around my mental block, and lets me make progress.