1. Plan Everything
I’m a planner. Ask my friends, ask my family, ask my neighbours, ask that bloke I sat next to for six hours in the library. I’ve got lists on lists on lists, planning out every hour of a stressful day. As you’d expect, this bleeds into my writing.
I know people that sit down and write, straight onto an empty Word document, with nothing around them except their own thoughts. It freaks me out just to imagine it, writing without guidance. I’ve got handwritten notes barely three inches away from my right hand at this very moment, planning out the subtitles for this piece and a loose outline of what to include in each section. It might sound a little bit controlling, but you’re wrong. It’s very controlling. It steadies my heart to know I’m not diving into the deep blue unknown.
Obviously, some of the best work in the world has come from writers who held a pen in their hand and let the inspiration flow. And I’m not saying I’ve never come up with an interesting thought – mid-way though writing a paragraph – that’s then led me into an entire subplot I’d never even considered. But, if I have a plan, I know that the risk of writer’s block is slimmed down by a few pounds.
Ultimately, I blame my mother. I picture the kitchen at home and I know there’ll be a magnetic pad stuck to the side of the fridge as well as a narrow, floral notebook beside the coffee machine. The calendar will have her tidy scrawl all over it, and there will be more than a few post-it-notes in the conservatory and strewn across the dining table.
2. Take Inspiration Where It Comes
I learned this trick from my best friend. I remember, I was in bed at the time, sitting bolt upright because I had suddenly realised how my protagonist would get from one scene to the next. I excitedly texted my friend, at 2am in the morning, and she immediately encouraged me to write it out. One thousand, nine hundred and seventy three words later, I looked at the clock and it had barely been half an hour. The words my friend sent to me will remain with me forever.
Take inspiration where it comes.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. What if you get hit with an epiphany just as you’re queueing up to buy your lunch? What if, like me, it happens in the middle of the night and you’ve got to be up early the next day? My simple advice is: WRITE! You can make a memo in your phone and quickly type out the idea buzzing around at the back of your mind. You can grab a notepad and outline whatever revelation it is that’s overcome you. Don’t ignore it. Become like those writers in movies, where they have a montage of writing and end up with ink stained hands and scrap pieces of paper, all with random thoughts and prompts scribbled across them.
One of my biggest inspirations is feeling like I’m on camera. I’m always overly impressed with the writing process of people caught on film. I love showing people my work and plans – not for them to read, but for them to look at. For them to admire to beautiful complexity of it. I want my study to be a tomb, collecting my every thought for later reflection. And even if you don’t end up using every single idea you think of, keep them tucked away inside a file for later. Then, when the next inevitable bout of writers block hits, you can peruse old musings and, possibly, find the answer to your problems.
3. Only Worry A Little Bit About Copying Someone Else’s Work
I love to write Science Fiction and Fantasy. There’s no other way to put it. But, something I’m always worrying about is whether or not it’s been done before. If you’re writing a romance, or a mystery, then there are tropes you can use over and over again, and know that everyone else is doing the same. But for me, I’m constantly wondering whether or not someone has designed an alien to look like this already. Or if I give someone special powers, am I just copying the companies that sound like marble and BC.
The answer is maybe. I’ve spent countless hours going over my work, looking at it from seventy different angles to see if it’s a little bit too similar. Most of the time, I realise that I’m fine. That there are enough differences to make it my own. But if you realise the only difference between your work and someone else’s is the gender of the protagonist, then you’ve got a problem.
Plagiarism is no joke. It can be the difference between a healthy career and being that person with a rubbish reputation because ‘do you remember that one time they stole Gwyneth Paltrow’s recipes for their cookbook?’
I’m a natural-born-worrier, so I always check, double check and triple check things, just to be sure. But I’ve learnt that in the writing business, there are no original ideas anymore. Everyone is inspired by something, who was inspired by something, and so on for the entirety of history. Your best hope is to not compare you work too soon, it can put you off a good idea before you’ve had the chance to make it your own.
4. Don’t Preach To The Choir But Play Them A Song They’ve Heard Of
Perhaps the title for this segment should have been, ‘don’t use obscure metaphors you came up with at half-one in the morning’. Basically, what I mean is, show don’t tell. You can tell the reader that there’s racism and sexism in the world you’ve created on the page, or you can show them. I, and every writer out there, know that it’s better to read an uncomfortable scene that shows you something, rather than being told. We’re not idiots and we don’t need to be treated as such. Telling can be saved for children’s books.
I read back over my work, even stuff that I wrote in my first year of University, and it makes me cringe to see how dodgy my writing was. When I read stories I’ve written more recently, they’re absolute gems in comparison. I know that in five years, when I’m rereading my work again, I’ll realise that I was still writing poorly. But all this just goes to show how, the more you write, the better you get. I’ve read a thousand ‘how to be a better writer‘ lists, and every single one says that the only way to become a better writer, is to write. You probably don’t believe me, which is fine, but reread you work in a year and you’ll see how you slowly begin to fix your undesirable writing habits. Even if you’re just writing for a personal journal, or stories you don’t plan on showing to anyone, it all helps. There’s no other way to put it. Practice does make perfect, after all.
5. Pen and Paper vs. Computer
It’s an ongoing debate as to whether or not computers are better than pen and paper. I know people who have the most beautiful, cursive handwriting and others whose penmanship looks like a chicken had a fight with itself. My personal opinion? I like them both in moderation.
I’m lazy, and after an hour of writing by hand, I’ve got a cramp in my wrist and I’ve lost the day. However, I’ve also spent countless hours staring at a computer screen and I can promise you that your eyes get tired. There’s also something incredibly impersonal about typing out words onto a screen. You can’t feel the paper beneath your fingers. You can’t press at the smooth indentations on your fingers from how you’ve held the pen.
In all fairness, there are several things I really love about writing on a laptop. The fact that there’s a word count in the corner fills me with a sense of achievement, because how on Earth have I managed to write nine-thousand words? The idea of hand-writing that much makes me feel numb.
So, at the ripe old age of twenty-one, I’ve come to a happy compromise. Whenever I plan my work, I hand write notes. That way, I can scrawl and scribble, in five different colours, as much as I like until I get to my actual point. Once I’ve got all my thoughts and hopes and dreams for the story out of my head, I turn to my computer. If ever I get stuck, I either put a line of ‘XXX’s’ across the page, or copy and paste the last line of a paragraph and begin rewriting. There’s a certain beauty in being able to start again with hardly any effort, and it’s saved me from writer’s block more times than I can count.