We see them all the time, plastered across Google searches and in our magazine subscriptions. Heck, there are probably more of these than there are actual writers out there. Yup, I’m talking about writing related tutorials, tips and tricks articles. The simple truth about searching for tips and tricks is that in reality, you can look for ideas, but what gets you to sit still and write and what works for the girl next to you are likely going to be different things. Deciding that you’re going to make things work for you in your own way is probably the best, most honest advice you can give yourself. When you know that you’re going to make your own decisions, you stop looking for direction from others and just look to incorporate the things that strike you and leave behind what doesn’t.
That being said, every once in awhile I do organize some of the techniques I’ve been using lately into an article. Full disclosure, too: these change. I change up my routine to address writer’s block so much easier than I hit the delete button, though that too is a lesson. Writers have to protect their time and ability when writing. If something isn’t working, don’t spend too much time trying to force it together.
So here are some of my current writing tips and tricks. If you’ve got something that’s been working really well for you lately, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 😀
Character timeline – When I’m working on a story that has multiple characters or especially multiple character perspectives, there’s a color coded list at the end of my document that’s my best friend. I list out all the characters, color each of them differently and every time one of them gets some screen time or a couple of pages from their perspective, I move them down the list. Keeping track of an entire round of movement can be challenging with larger groups, but if you can manage it, you can not only keep track of who hasn’t been seen in awhile, but also any current information in the form of quick notes attached to each person.
Using a plot board – A plot board is typically a large piece of presentation cardboard (like the kind kids make their science presentations on) but really is any visual form of your novel’s acts. I use my cork board/dry erase board sometimes too. You can Sharpie in the things you know aren’t going to change but I recommend sticky notes or loose leaf sheets of paper for everything else, so that you can move pieces around and actually see how well a story arc works.
Web outlining isn’t just for characters – Even novice writers are familiar with creating character webs to flush out traits and feelings, but have you ever built a “web” for the story itself? I started doing this a while ago, and it turned out to look less like a web than a connect-the-dot, but it worked really well. I started off with each bullet being no more than a couple of fragmented sentences, but as I got the hang of it, each point became bigger, more detailed. This is a good approach for people like me who like lists but also need something to break up the monotony.
Phrasing is everything – This may seem odd, but sometimes when I’m struggling with a character or a scenario, I’ll write up the predicament as if I’m going to post it to a social media site and ask others for input. I keep the explanation and any other pertinent information to less than a paragraph – very KISS. Looking at problems this way forces you to explain your story/characters/situations to someone who’s got no background on what you’re writing, which exposes things you’d thought obvious or passed over. It gives you a chance to lay out what you’re looking at and see things through a set of eyes not labeled “author.” Whether or not you actually post it is up to you.
Going back to paper – I recently started a writer’s journal. (I know, for shame. How many years have I been writing?) This is in addition to the regular notebook where I keep lists and random scribbles. In my writer’s notebook, I’ve put scene information for my current WIP, some lists for developing my freelance presence, words and sentences that I like and the occasional speculative journal entry. It’s actually been pretty cool mentally, and just knowing that the notebook is a specially designated one makes me feel more… writer-y. The only problem is that it’s a little much to carry around with me. Maybe I should consider going back to my college days when I carried a purse, a messenger bag and sometimes a backpack too?