16 Writing Tips
Here are a few writing tips. They include lessons learned over time, as well as insights harvested from writers who shaped the tastes of generations.
1. Make your writing active, not passive. “The Visigoths defended Carcassonne” instead of “Carcassonne was defended by Visigoths.” Your subject should perform the action, rather than be the receiver of action.
Read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Read it every year.
2. Use short words and short sentences.
Why? Read The Art of Readable Writing by Rudolf Flesch.
3. Minimize adverbs. He ran. Not: He ran quickly. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (author of One Hundred Years of Solitude) tries to eliminate every adverb from his writings. This makes the text tighter and easier to read.
4. Spice up your writing with smells, sights, and specifics – she stuffed six pairs of dirty Levis in a green cotton laundry sack before breakfast. Or this from The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd: “Moments later shadows moved like spatter paint along the walls, catching the light when they passed the window so I could see the outline of wings.” Got it? Spatter paint. Wings.
5. Ground your scenes in some physical space. Don’t float. Whether a castle, a cast iron bed, or a mosquito ridden swamp – people have to be somewhere.
6. Dialog. Use plenty.
7. Outline, outline, outline. James Patterson (the highest earning author of 2012) described this as the key to writing when he spoke at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books years ago.
8. My mother’s advice – when it gets too serious, crack it open with levity.
9. Surprise. Now and then. Ken Follet writes that, “There is a rule which says that the story should turn about every four to six pages. A story turn is anything that changes the basic dramatic situation.”
10. Write first, then get it right. Write it down. Edit afterwards.
11. Show, don’t tell. In Moby Dick, Melville writes, “What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks?” instead of, “I had concerns about the trip.”
12. Break the rules – judiciously. But first earn that priveledge by learning when the literary police take off for a lunch break.
13. Write about what turns you on. Need inspiration? Read Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.
14. Here’s potent advice from Ernest Hemingway: Finish What You Begin.
15. This is odd, but essential advice I once read about writing: be a likable person. Otherwise, become one.
16. Read. Novels, cookbooks, comics, newspapers, blogs, laundry machine instructions, magazines, dentist office Monster Truck magazines….whatever.
Most importantly – enjoy!