My posts on other topics are still forthcoming. In the meantime, here’s a few more writing tips.
Read Before Writing
You warm up before practice, so read before you write. Seeing the words, speaking those words through your thoughts, puts you in the right mind to generate new words and sentences. When reading a piece of fiction, you might notice an awkward sentence and know how the author should have phrased it differently. This is essentially your sweet spot, because you are both being critical and thinking of new ideas at the same time.
Edit as You Go
After you write a section, go to bed for the night. When you return to your writing once again, read what you wrote at your last session. This does four things: first, it accomplishes the Read Before Writing requirement; second, it picks up typos that you made the last time you wrote; third, it eases the burden of editing when you finish the piece entirely and start a dedicated editing process, because you’ve essentially edited it through already; and fourth, it provides relevant context of the story when you start again. For example, rereading the last section, which may have included a fight scene, brings you back into the flow of things and allows you to keep the previous scenes in mind as you make new ones. This is especially important when adjusting tone and pacing.
Don’t Over Edit
There is such a thing as too much editing. When I wrote my first novel, I literally read it eight times to get it right. Problem was, every time I made a change, I opened myself up to making typos in the line I just corrected. So, I had to go through it again, only to make even more errors. It doesn’t just end at typos either. Even if you don’t make any mistakes, changing one sentence also changes how that sentence flows and relates to others. Going back to change one thing, to make it absolutely perfect, will cause a domino effect that turns an exercise in modifying sentence structure into a complete chapter rewrite. Learn to edit effectively, do it two or three times, then set the work down and let someone else edit. Your sanity and time is worth a lot more than the worst case scenario: an awkward sentence.
Remember, most of these issues can be avoided by using track changes!
Structure is as Important as Plot
Plot is what happens in a story. Structure is how that story is told by which characters get the spotlight and how their timelines are placed in the story. For example, if you have a single, central character, you could just start at the beginning and tell the story from start to finish in an entirely linear fashion. Or, you might start at the middle, or even end of the story, to give the reader a hint of what’s to come, and then spend the rest of the book in a sequence of flashbacks that tell the story up to that point.
However, if you have multiple characters, you need to judge which characters will get the spotlight and when. You can base this sequence primarily off relevant story events or you can do this with a definite rhythm.
The former: Character A section, character B section, character C section, then D, A, E, F, A, D, B, A, C, B, A (seemingly random).
The latter: Character A, then character B, then A, C, A, D, A, B, A, etc (Character A gets most of the attention in an organized way).
All of this also depends on whether your story is in first or third person. And do you have asides like journal entries or interludes with one-time snapshot characters? You need to organize them in a cohesive way too.
While it takes an analytical mind to catch typos and other editing mistakes, it takes an intuitive, holistic approach to structure the story effectively.
Poor story structure leads to important (and well-loved) characters getting lost behind secondary characters. It can lead to a lot of wasted time doing absolutely nothing or following characters that don’t matter. It can make slow sections run too long and put multiple action sections too close and without pause, totally screwing up the pacing. Your job, as a writer, is to balance all these factors.
Writing isn’t as easy as it sounds, huh?
Don’t Go Full-speed Into Half-backed Ideas
Or, in other words, take time with your planning stage. You might have a story set in your mind, but no idea as to its execution – no clue as to whether it’s in first or third person, whether it’s linear or not, and what structure it will have. Don’t just start writing. You need to have some central ideas first: tone, theme, and like the aforementioned structure. Spend some extended time in the shower just thinking about the overall picture you want to convey and consider the means to do that. If it takes months to come to that eureka moment, then do it. That moment will set everything into motion.
However, this can bring a problem. There’s always the possibility the story can get stuck in the planning stages until it withers and dies without any execution, let alone proper execution. Yes, it’s a risk, but consider that spending countless hours on what amounts to a mediocre story is far worse than the chance of letting one die on the vine.
Try to capture that moment of inspiration. If you don’t get it, then maybe the story was not meant to be.