Tips Be Inspired By Laura Tong Editor Note: By popular demand we’ve updated and expanded one of Mary’s most popular posts from the WritetoDone archives so today’s readers can benefit from these wonderful tips. Do you wonder how to be a writer? The 201 tips below will help you find out how to be the writer you were born to become. There are many barriers that can stop you from being a writer. Maybe you haven’t yet got the right mindset, or you need to establish good writing habits. Or maybe you need to focus on professional development, or on boosting your creativity. I have to admit that it took me a long time to think of myself as a writer. Even when I was already a published author, I didn’t consider myself a REAL writer. Then, one day, I found a simple saying that helped me realize that I was already a writer. The saying goes: A writer writes. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? When doubts about being a writer started creeping in, I would say to myself, “A writer writes!” That brought me back on track. Talking of track, the following collection of tips for writers by WTD readers are designed to help you move forward on your journey as a writer. They will help you realize that you are already a writer. The tips are organized into different sections: How to create a successful mindset. How to develop your craft of writing. How to establish good writing habits. How to approach professional development. How to become a better writer. How to become more creative. The first set of tips are about the mindset that can help you be a writer: How to Develop a Successful Mindset Be open, curious, present, and engaged. Accept all forms of criticism and learn to grow from it. Live with passion. Say to everyone: “I’m a writer.” Recognize your fear and overcome it. Rethink what is ‘normal’. Check if your assumptions are right. Accept no excuses. Break out of your comfort zone. Approach writing with gratitude, not just with a ‘must do this’ attitude. Take risks – don’t be afraid to shock. You are not who you think you are. Always think of your readers. Learn to LOVE writing and reading. Write like you’re on your first date. Simply let things be what they are. Expose yourself to as many new experiences in a short amount of time as possible. Love your tools. As St. Bumpersticker says, “My fountain pen can write better than your honor student!” Embrace your shadow. Discover what traits and characteristics you don’t want to express. Write to agitate the mind and the nerves. Remember: if you’re not sure, you don’t know. Know when to walk away – and when to come back. Believe that you’re a writer. Destroy something regularly. Picasso said “Every act of creation is first of all an action of destruction.” Never take a mundane experience for granted. Keep fit. A fit body supports creativity. Be Yourself. No need to get inspired by someone else. Never Give up. How to Develop the Craft of Writing We sometimes think of writing as an art, but it is more helpful to think of it as a craft. Here are tips that can help you develop the craft of writing: Use simple, declarative sentences. Avoid passive voice. Limit your use of adjectives and adverbs. Keep it simple. Cut the crap. Don’t overwrite. Go easy on descriptive narrative (settings, people, etc.). Re-examine every word that’s three syllables or longer and see whether it could be replaced by a simpler word. If you have a sense of where you want your piece to wind up, start there instead and see what happens. Avoid these three weak words – unless absolutely necessary: Ifs, Buts, and Can’ts. Never rescue your hero. Practice monotasking. Set a timer for uninterrupted writing. Work on brilliant headlines. Start with metaphors and stories. Write the opening sentence or headline last. Write solely from the heart and shun copying others. Think before you include an expletive. Ask, “Can it be turned into a list?” Think of at least five things you can list about it. Use the mini-skirt rule: Make it long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep it interesting. Write in small paragraphs in order to get to the point immediately. Visualize the person you are communicating with: What do their eyes reflect as they read this? What will the first thing they might say in response? Do what works for you. Always call a spade a spade. It’s never a long-handled gardening implement! Try writing without accuracy. Not worrying about errors (left brain) allows for easier flow of thought (right brain). How to Establish Good Writing Habits If you wonder how to be a writer, a key piece is to develop habits that help you improve as a writer. Stretch or exercise in between writing. Map out a writing schedule for your project and stick to it. Make a note of ideas for further development before you leave a piece for tomorrow. Steal time for writing wherever and whenever you can find it. Keep a copy of ‘Strunk and White’ within arm’s reach. Keep a journal specially for work, for analyzing your progress and doing writing practice. Write on ugly paper because it tricks the brain to really believe that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Write when you’re tired. Rewrite from memory a good story you’ve read and then compare the two. Evaluate and learn from the differences. Practice condensing. Write a synopsis and then condense that. Précis the condensed synopsis. It helps to get to the bare bones of a story and reveal what it’s really about. Make writing a priority in your life. If you say it’s important to you, then show it in how you spend your time. Write when you’re uninspired. Trick yourself into starting – you only need to commit to writing 15 minutes a day. Use a stack of 3×5 cards to start writing your book. Use on item or idea per card. Stack the card in order and type them in to develop a first draft. Force yourself to disconnect for a while each day – turn off cell phone, Blackberry, iPod, music, email, Twitter, conversation with others. Set a time limit on each writing session, along with a goal for what you will finish in that time. Don’t be afraid to bust out the thesaurus to find a word that fits better in a sentence than the one currently there. Buy a small notebook and pen to take with you. Stop following links and write! Right now. Set a timer and force yourself (even if it’s not your best work) to write a story within a designated amount of time. Read great writing. Write at the crack of dawn. Devour ‘Stein on Writing’. Read Write via this secure link and get Done regularly. Use a voice recorder (or iPhone) when the right words come to you – but not in the shower. Write with a plain text editor. Engage strangers in conversation. Then write about it from memory, describing the person, setting, and conversation. Always ask the question…”What if…” Dialogue with your characters. Take up story challenges. Write 15 minutes a day. Every day. Drink water to avoid fatigue. Use some opera as background music or any kind of music with a story. Start your writing ahead of time – not hours before a deadline. How to Develop Professionally as a Writer Professional development is important in whatever field you want to find success. The following tips will show you how to think about professional development as a writer. Become a blogger. Write for publication, even if it’s only for the local newsletter or a small blog. Study criteria-based writing. Comment on your favorite blogs. Read Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” at least once a year. Read Stephen King’s “On Writing” Take a writing course. Join a writing group. If you can’t find one, form one. Study story architecture. Socialize with other writers. Write for different media. Enter writing competitions. Check out Richard Lanham’s ‘Parademic Method’ Hire someone else to write for you. Work with a mentor. How to Become a Writer Here is a selection of simple tips that will show you how to write better. Use self-imposed word limits. Outline. And then write to that outline. Learn a new word a day. Write collaboratively. Read Dr. Frank Luntz’s “Words that Work” Read Copyblogger. Mean what you write, write what you mean. Write about what someone else has written. Get the pen and fingers moving. Learn a foreign language to the point where you can think in that language. Write your own life story. Get enough sleep at night. Take a15 minute nap when your mind gets fuzzy. Harness the power of your emotions. Write as if you will stand up and present the article to an audience of a thousand people. Would they want to listen or go home? Write in different genres: blog posts, poems, short stories, essays. Read grammar books. Give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft. Try to eat properly. If you only eat junk your mental capacity diminishes and you can’t write well. Work your way through “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. If you can’t write a book, write a blog post. If you can’t write a blog post, comment on a post. Write without distractions. Tell the truth- that way you don’t need to remember what you wrote. Look closely at how successful writers make sentences. Write about what you want to write, not what you know. Watch movies. Can you write the story better? Write in a crowded café. Write on the toilet. Write for 24 hours straight. Write. And then write more. Read, think, read, write, ponder, write – and read some more. Listen to how people talk. Read many books. The good and the shitty ones. Listen to podcasts on writing tips. Be inspired by other art forms – music, dance, sculpture, painting. Read your old stuff and acknowledge how far you’ve come – and how far you have to go. Make writing your priority in the morning. Keep squeezing words out even if when you feel uninspired. Read works from different cultures. It helps keep your writing from tasting stale in the mouths of your readers. Write during your most productive hours of the day. Designate time to research. Take up Nanowrimo. Go to the supermarket, the ball game, the class room, the building site. Make notes of the sensuous details, the atmosphere, the people. Deconstruct and analyze books and articles you enjoy. Read ‘Reading Like a Writer’ by Francine Prose. Find your unique voice. Write a For and Against article for the same issue. This helps to stretch your thinking. Tell the story you most desperately want to read. Read as much as humanly possible. Be current – how do today’s headlines apply to your audience? How to Edit What You Write Read what you’ve written over and over, until I can’t find any more problems. Never trust your spell checker. Show what you write to a trusted friend for feedback. Edit, and edit again. Don’t edit your work to death. There is a time for writing, and there is a time for editing. Don’t do both at once otherwise you’ll become too critical about what you wrote. When in doubt, cut it out. Take a break between writing and editing. Read your stuff aloud to anyone who can stand it – including the cat. Go back and cut 10% from your word count. When in doubt, cut it out. Kill clunky sentences. Let your articles rest and then return to them with fresh eyes. Ask someone else to proofread. Don’t be afraid to cut out a line that seemed brilliant when you wrote it but really doesn’t add much. Read your own writing out aloud. Love your words when you write them, hold them in suspicion when you edit them. Put on your reviewer hat and write a review of your own article or story. How to Become More Creative Nothing is more important than creativity when it comes to writing. The following selection of tips will boost your creativity. Make notes of your (fleeting) brilliant ideas. Keep a journal to keep the writing juices flowing. Use a journal to sort out your thoughts and feelings. Watch people. Write in 101 words. Do a ’stream of consciousness’ piece and see where it leads you. Allow your mind to wander. Try scotch or weed if all else fails… Meditate regularly to steady the mind. Mow the lawn, take a walk, go for a run…anything that requires the conscious mind to focus so the subconscious is free to create. Bookmark this list and come back when you need to get those creative juices flowing. Record random thoughts, story ideas, quotes on your phone when you’re out and about. Use ‘clustering’ to free up inspiration. Study nature for simile possibilities. Keep the flow going. If it’s clicking for you, keep writing. Write using a pencil instead of a laptop for more creativity. Check out the Urban Dictionary for topical inspiration. Get to know someone different from you and reflect on the experience. Try new ideas or hobbies – the more variety you have in your life, the more likely you are to keep on generating good ideas on the page. Take time to muse. Write at the scene. If you want to write about a beach, get a picnic rug and go write by the sea. Use mindmaps for inspiration. Collect words. Write everything down. Don’t trust your memory when you have a good idea, especially at night. Trying to convey a certain emotion but not sure how? Listen to music that conveys a certain emotion in you while writing. Cure for Writer’s Block: Read a great article from a favorite author or publication. Write on paper with the opposite hand. The awkwardness and level of difficulty create time for more thoughts to enter your head. When you feel blocked, do something mindless, like ironing or going for a quiet walk. Write outside. Write when it comes to you. Don’t wait for ideas. Find them everywhere. Read the comments on your blog, treasure the folk who take the time to leave them and gather the seeds to make a great post. If you find these tips helpful, please print them out and highlight the ones that speak to you. I’d like to thank all WTD readers who have helped us collect these tips on how to become a good writer. I hope that some of these tips will spark something within that will help you to become the writer you were born to be.