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Writing is a tough way to make a living. You have sudden bursts of energy and then an hour later you hit a wall and you can’t even form a complete sentence.
That’s why writers can use all the advice they can get.
AskReddit users offered up some great tips for all you current and aspiring writers out there. Let’s take a look!
1. A good tip.
“College writing tutor here: Read your work out loud. You will find mistakes that your eyes don’t catch.
2. Listen to Mr. Vonnegut.
“Kurt Vonnegut’s no-bullsh^t tips are great:
Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
Start as close to the end as possible.
Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”
3. Good advice.
“When writing dialogue, avoid using an adverb after he/she said,” he said wisely.
You shouldn’t need the adverb to convey the meaning or intent of the dialogue.”
4. Learn how to use them.
“Learn how to use paragraphs. I’ve edited hundreds of papers and most people do not understand how to use paragraphs. That is they use them arbitrarily to break up huge paragraphs containing multiple ideas. Using them to transition between concrete ideas or pieces of a story is their true purpose. There’s probably no definitive standard for paragraphs, but simply realizing that the reader will pause to contemplate a paragraph is important.
Can’t tell you how many time I read a six sentence paragraph and then have a thought just to realize the next paragraph is a direct continuation of the same idea and the separation made absolutely no sense. Or in more formal papers have 2-3 ideas merged into 2 paragraphs.”
“Character development! Don’t make your character perfect, especially from the start. Try to make it so they grow in some way, progress. I always had the habit of making my characters nearly flawless, well rounded, beautiful, talented, everything. And I found it left me with no room to write.”
6. Get going on it!
“Get started. People often let fear of the assignment lead to procrastination. Do the prewriting assignments with the final product in mind, but recognize the value of getting something on the page. Keep the assignment sheet or rubric handy, because it will show you exactly what is needed to do a quality job. Listen to everyone who tells you to read it out loud! You engage different parts of your brain when you read out loud, so you are more likely to catch mistakes, awkward sentences, and words you have repeated too often.
Learn the art of revision. When you think you have a decent draft, print it and walk away for a bit. When you go back to it, read it out loud for clarity and content. Mark changes with a colored pen. Repeat. It’s amazing how much revision will teach you.about how to improve papers.
We live in a time where information is always at our fingertips. Google Purdue OWL for a great online resource for writing. Don’t feel confident in your punctuation? Google it!
When you have a quality draft before the deadline, take it into your professor. If you’re ahead of schedule they will usually be glad to answer specific questions about the work. Having trouble getting started? Get something down so you can identify what the problem is instead of saying you’re stuck. A professor is much more likely to help if you give them something to work with.
Also, keep in mind that even professional writers revise often. That excellent draft you write the night before will rarely stand up to scrutiny the next morning. Leave yourself time to polish your work.”
7. The flow.
“Hunter Thompson used to type out “The Great Gatsby” to get the feel and rhythm of the story. Basically to better understand the flow of the words. Perhaps if you’re stumped and cant seem to produce anything, try typing a copy of a WELL WRITTEN book. Preferably one that displays a writing style you like.”
8. Not a good idea.
“If you don’t know the meaning of a word, don’t just guess and use it anyway.”
9. READ EVERYTHING.
“READ, goddammit. Read the stuff that intimidates you. Read all the stuff you “should” have read in school. You won’t like it all. Maybe you won’t like most of it, but you’ll own it.”
10. Say it out loud.
“One of my favorite tips from Quentin Tarantino is that the best way to get to know your characters is to have the two of them sit down at a table and talk. It’s amazing how fast imaginary characters in your head develop their own voices and stories. On a side note, it’s amazing how much of QT’s movies are two people sitting at a table and talking.”
“Another college writing tutor here. This will probably get buried, but…
Start a commonplace book. I’m not kidding. It’s one of the most important and valuable things I’ve done to further my own education, and it hasn’t cost a thing. I have a spiral notebook, and anytime I read something interesting, or beautiful, or profound, I copy it by hand. No, not copy and paste into a godd*mn .pdf document. Pen and paper. Think about each word as you write. What makes this – THIS – passage special? After each, leave the author’s name and the date of publication.
As the months pass, you’ll acquire quite a collection. You will be able to spot patterns in your own interests. Months where you love philosophy, perhaps, or a cluster of Romantic poetry.
You’ll start to memorise whole paragraphs of prose. Embrace it. Recite poems, rattle off extended Rilke quotes to impress your coworkers.
Most importantly: Let John Donne and Shakespeare live next to Encyclopedia Dramatica articles. Introduce Jon Stewart and John Stuart Mill. Put Christopher Hitchens next to passages from the Bible, philanthropists near Ayn Rand, Aristotle by Reddit commenters. Force scholarly articles and flowery lines of verse to coexist on the same page. Transcribe slam-poetry, reproduce conference proceedings, copy essays, spoil the ending of The Road over and over again.
Spot the connections between passages – connections that are invisible to the world. Observe the unexpected similarities, map the differences. That’s how you become a better writer.”
12. Learn the different styles.
“Learn more than one writing style. I’ve always disliked technical writing, prefering imaginative or creative instead, but I will admit that it has helped me quite a bit. Also, take a speech class! The one I took required me to turn in papers before my presentations, and it made a huge difference in how well my oral presentations went when I actually spent time writing things out instead of just trying to memorize it in my head.”
13. Visualize the scenes.
“What has always helped me is imaging each event as part of a movie in my head as I write. It helps me envision what the characters would look like or what facial expressions they are portraying, what the setting should be composed of, and what details of the ‘scene’ I want to be communicated to the reader.
You not only have to imagine it, but also assume that the reader has no former perception of the setting, dialogue, characters present, etc. and then present a detailed description of everything you want to be conveyed.
Complicated when said, but a lot simpler when done.”
14. All kinds of important stuff.
“Ah, finally something in my wheelhouse. Think of writing almost as you would fashion. Sure, everyone has different style, and what works for me may not work for you. Still, when you dress you must match, not clash, much like your tenses. I see changes in tense within sentences from so many of the kids I tutor.
Keep the tenses the same throughout!, Also, nail your grammar. Grammar is what gets you your respect as a writer. One glaring grammatical mistake (a “then” when it should be “than”, for example) oftentimes can render your piece devoid of credibility. Stick to what you know, write it cleanly and in the proper tense, and your writing quality will increase tenfold. Much like a simple outfit with perfect fit and matching colors can look brilliant, so can simple textbook writing. Lastly, do not try to add useless flair for the hell of it with shaky vocab.
Not quite sure how to use a certain adjective? Leave it behind. It will end up sounding pretentious and looking silly, kind of like ruining a great suit, tie, and shirt combo with a clownish pocket square. Hopefully that helps, in true writer fashion I am quite drunk right now. Also, f*ck what the AP Stylebook says. Long live the Oxford comma.”
15. Finally, some advice from a great writer.
“Amazing writing tip from Chuck Palahniuk:
In the words of the man himself, writing advice for all writers (particularly of fiction) that I found useful from Chuck Palahniuk.
“In six seconds, you’ll hate me. But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.
From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.
The list should also include: Loves and Hates. And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.
Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”
Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”
Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.
Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”
In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.
For example: “Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. Traffic was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”
Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.
If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.
Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.
Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”
Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.
Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘b*tt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”
One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.
For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”
A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”
A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.
Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.
No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”
Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”
Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.
Better yet, get your character with another character, fast. Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.
And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”
For example: “Ann’s eyes are blue.”
“Ann has blue eyes.”
“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”
Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.
And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”
Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.
For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by Un-packing it.
Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.
“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”
“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”
“Larry knew he was a dead man…”
Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger.””
It’s not shock that these pieces of advice were rather long, right? I mean, we are dealing with writers here, after all!
Any of this resonate with you? Something you’ll be working into your routine?
Let us know in the comments!