First off, a disclaimer:
I am in no way qualified to give writing advice. Neither have I won the Nobel Prize in Literature (yet) nor do I have a long list of bestsellers to boast about (yet). It does seem quite hypocritical on my part to be spewing out advice and makes me look like a wannabe writing guru.
But I love to revel in hypocrisy like the rest of humanity.
So, I am going to give it a shot anyway.
I am still in the embryonic stage. Experimenting and experiencing, as I try to chart my way through this glorious mess called life. I have spent hundreds of hours devouring books and a little less than that trying to give palpable existence to my thoughts. It’s the only thing stopping me from dashing right into insanity.
I believe in either drowning into the ocean, or never, ever looking at its splendour. No dribbling your fingers in the water. As much as I would like to believe in the path of balance, it’s the extreme that I go looking for. And in this journey of trying to reach the horizon, I have found some valuable tips that may help make your journey a little smoother. Some of these are tips given by accomplished authors; others are discoveries I stumbled upon.
So, without wasting any more time; here’s your comprehensive guide to better writing, just like I promised.
Don’t rush towards me with spears in your hands.
I know. I get it. Seeing this point on the top of the list probably infuriated you to the point that you decided to stop reading this article. I understand. Every article about writing mentions reading. It’s a cliché. A boring, old cliché.
But, it’s a cliché for a reason.
You just can’t write without first having fallen in love with reading. Quality writing is a direct result of quality reading. Spend time devouring books. Gobble them down. Guzzle them with a madness unknown to mankind. If this seems impossible to you or even downright repulsive, maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t bother writing at all.
It sounds harsh, but it’s the bitter pill. The bitter truth.
No living without breathing. No writing without reading.
2. Bookmark, Highlight and Make Notes.
Whenever a passage sends a shiver down your spine or a little saying leaves you spellbound, note it down. Anywhere. In a journal, in the notes app or even a special diary.
Having all of your literary treasure in one place proves to be extremely beneficial. You can refer to it anytime you need inspiration. You can sprinkle some of those words in your writing (and you need to give due credit and for the love of God, please don’t plagiarize).
So, don’t just read. Engage. Scribble out your favourite paragraphs, ask questions and highlight those painfully beautiful words. You can’t afford to lose them in an endless sea of information, you have to carry them back to the shore.
Having a reservoir of experiences makes it easy to write. Heck, it makes it impossible not to write.
You have to fill your container with all sorts of colours and stories.
You got to be a little crazy.
Get into trouble sometimes. Flirt with those boundaries, break those rules. Splatter those paints even if they make the wall dirty. A colourful mess is better than pristine perfection.
Do the things that make you cringe. Do the things that make you laugh. Do all those things that make you feel alive. Experience vividly. Intensely. The good, the bad, the ugly — do it all.
It’s always better to have stories to tell when your bones have grown old and the bonfire is burning bright.
What do you see there? Drops of rain?
Notice how they splatter when they kiss the ground. Notice the thunder, the lighting. Does it remind you of Indra or does it remind you of Zeus? Look at those people scrambling around for shelter. See the little kids splashing in the puddles, their clothes are drenched and their fate issues a warning sign — ‘mum’s gonna be angry today’.
Life is never mundane. Never boring.
You just need to remove the smudge from your spectacles.
You just need to open your eyes wide. They have been shut for long.
The world is filled with stories; all you need to do is listen.
5. Sharpen your Toolkit
(I got this phrase from Stephen King’s On Writing. You might not be a fan of shapeshifting clowns or neurotic serial killers, but if you are an aspiring writer, you need to give this book a read.)
Now let’s get to the actual job.
To write, you need the right tools. Vocabulary and Grammar. I hope you had a good teacher back in school who continuously nagged and prodded you. It’s the nagging and prodding that helps you sharpen your tools (it can get hella annoying but it’s worth the price).
The other way to sharpen your tools is to read. Voraciously.
Without the right tools, writing can feel like swimming in a sand dune, but if you know your oasis you can find your way through. You don’t necessarily have to write to produce bestsellers or win awards. Sometimes, all you want to do is share a little part of your life. A simple story.
Keep writing. Keep making mistakes. Keep offending the grammar Nazis.
Eventually, you’ll get the hang of it.
6. Avoid Passive Voice like the Plague.
(Another gem from Stephen King)
Passive voice is sloppy. Too complicated. It’s like using a bedsheet for a tablecloth. Don’t use it unless it’s necessary.
Let me give you an example;
Adrian hugged me — pretty neat, huh?
I was hugged by Adrian — a prime example of the highest level of blasphemy.
7. Write Music
I stopped in my tracks when I found this gem while scrolling through Pinterest.
Beauty. Pure beauty. I sent it to a couple of friends and bookmarked it.
Need I say more?
8. Listen to Music while Writing
This one’s a little controversial because it’s subjective.
Personally, I like to use music to induce the required mood. This can be extremely helpful. Music helps me get into the veins of the character and feel the pain that brews in their hearts. I have a playlist for each genre. It blocks out the outside noise and transports me into the world I am creating. Far away from the morbid grip of reality. While writing non-fiction, I like to enjoy the company of instrumental music.
Ryan Holiday provides another technique. In this method, you pick any song and let it play on loop. Play it until you are done writing. Yes, this will butcher the song but it has some solid advantages too. Listening to the same song over and over again gets you into a state of flow. It blocks the external chaos. It’s a reminder for your brain to focus on the task at hand.
Source: The Guilty, Crazy Secret That Helps Me Write — RyanHoliday.net https://ryanholiday.net/the-guilty-crazy-secret-that-helps-me-write/
To each their own, find what suits you.
9. All that you Write is not Gold.
Even though it feels (it does, it really does) like the words that just flowed out your mind would make Shakespeare fume with envy, the truth is that most of what you have written is crap. Simple as that. You have to edit it out. Especially with our dwindling attention spans, less is more.
James Altucher says you should cut out the first and last paragraph once you are done writing.
I have to quote Stephen King here- “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
I think you don’t necessarily have to kill your darlings. Just store them neatly in a warehouse, maybe they could find a home in some other story?
10. Make use of Figures of Speech.
This includes alliterations, metaphors, allusions e.t.c — all that fancy stuff taught in English class.
In case you slept through the entire semester, No these are not names of Roman emperors. A quick google search and a few YouTube videos will provide you more than enough information, but I am a generous soul and I want you to continue reading, so let me give you a quick summary of three important figures of speech;
a. Metaphor: Comparing two objects, things or people which are most often unrelated (not to be taken literally). Eg- Life’s a game
b. Alliterations — Using words having the same starting letters, adjacent to each other to create a rhythmic effect. Eg- The Roaring Rage Rattles her bones.
c. Allusions — Referring to an object or situation which belongs to another context. Eg- “Don’t be a Scrooge!” ( referring to the popular character named Scrooge in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol)
11. Read it out Aloud
This is a fairly well-known tip.
Reading out aloud helps you understand whether the words fit together, whether they flow in harmony and sound like the perfect crescendo. Sometimes, your written product (especially if you took a lot of breaks in the writing process) can sound like Indian roads infested with potholes after a heavy monsoon shower — completely broken.
Point out the places where you are rambling, stumbling and falling. Then fix those potholes. You don’t want the reader to slip into them.
12. Remember, You are Telling a Story.
I am confused about everything in life, but there’s one thing I am absolutely sure about —
Stories Sustain Us.
They move us. Break us. Build us. Kill us.
The art of storytelling has freakishly immense power. Learn how to wield this weapon with grace. Whatever you may be writing, don’t lose sight of the story. Don’t overcomplicate. Don’t make it overwhelming.
Be honest. Let the story flow through your fingers, onto the pages.
13. Find your Voice
And there’s only one way to do this.
Write like it’s the only thing that can lead you to salvation.
Write garbage. Write more garbage. Write a little more garbage.
And out of that truckload of crap will emerge a voice.
Hold on to it.
Don’t let it go.
14. Respect the Craft
Writing is a craft. A form of witchcraft.
It’s sacred. Divine. As a writer, it’s the only wand you can use to cast your magic spells.
And respect can come in different forms.
Maybe it’s showing up each day, even if writer’s block is tearing you apart. Maybe it’s using a special kind of paper, a peculiar kind of pen.
Maybe it’s just showing love.
Whatever form respect manifests in, make sure you express it.
15. Have Fun
Let the words wrap around you, let them carry you to worlds unknown. Let that inkpot flow over. Drown in its beauty. When you sit down to write, banish judgement away (call him back during the editing process) and let your fingers compose a melody. A masterpiece is always a labour of carefree love.
Go, Darling, weave that masterpiece!