Four Tips for Writers that Helped Me

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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Writing involves a lot of discipline. Sure it’s fun and I don’t plan on stopping, but that doesn’t make it easy. If anyone tells you it is easy then they are probably just lazy writers who produce shit. As much as I enjoy writing, it’s hard work. If you are committed and want to produce the best stuff you will soon realise that you will have to put a lot of time into it. Otherwise, just stick to Facebook posts and Christmas cards. This may sound mean, but it’s just the way things are. We all have our gifts and writing isn’t for everyone. 

For those who want to do it and do it well allow me to provide some pointers that helped me. These won’t magically make you the next Faulkner or T. S. Eliot but they are a good starting place. 

1. WRITE.
Before one of you quips, “well, duh!” allow me to explain. When I say WRITE I mean keep writing and make it a habit. Too many people say they want to be writers and yet they never seem to do it. They make excuses which all can be answered with, “WRITE.” One excuse may be, “I have no ideas.” WRITE! “I am stuck and don’t know where to go.” WRITE! “I have an idea but I don’t like it. I want to write something else.” WRITE, GODDAMN YOU, WRITE! 

Those excuses are stupid. Having no ideas and being stuck are among the poorest reasons not to be writing. I don’t start writing with everything ready in my head and neither do most writers. I often have to write to see where I am going. Outlines are breeding grounds for shitty composition and I don’t recommend them regardless of what the text books may say. Just sit on your ass and WRITE. You will see that your best ideas will come to you as you compose and not before. Stop waiting for them. They don’t come to those that wait.  
As for the third excuse about having an idea and not liking it, well, that’s even stupider. If the idea is in your head it must be there for a reason so work on it. As you write you will find that it will change to your liking anyway. So in summary, WRITE!

2. EDIT. Never write something straight through and consider it done. Look at it first. This is where anal retentiveness proves useful. The editing process is just as important as the writing process, and often takes more time. I normally write a piece without stopping and then edit the body of the text after I am done. I never edit as I go, but instead let the work flow out and then read it to see what needs to be fixed afterword.
Read the rough draft and make changes that you feel are needed. And they aren’t just grammar, punctuation, and spelling either. Another important element is word flow. A good piece flows easily as you read it. If you are stumbling over choppy sentences, confusing run-on sentences, or statements that make little to no sense then you need to fix them. Sometimes you will need to take a run-on sentence and break it up into two or three smaller ones. Sometimes a short sentence would look better if it was combined with another. In other cases a word may be repetitive or inadequate and you will have to change it into a synonym or just remove it altogether. 
In the end, you must use your best judgement. Read your piece critically and ask yourself does this sound right or does this flow in a way that makes it comfortable to read. Once you finished editing the rough draft read that sucker again! You will probably find more things to fix. Keep doing this (for hours if need be) until you are reading a work that flows as perfect as you can make it. 

3. GET RID OF DISTRACTIONS. There shouldn’t be any music playing, people in the room, or TV on when you are working. When writing you must be isolated and alone with your thoughts. If you type on a laptop make sure that no other tabs are open on your browser.
Facebook and Twitter can wait. If you are constantly checking for texts or messages you will break your concentration. Like physical exercise writing often begins with a warm-up. Basketball players are not checking their news feeds every few minutes during the game and neither should you. And don’t give me any “Well, I’m a multi-tasker” bullshit either! Multi-tasking produces half-assed work where writing is concerned. Your friend liked your photo of a kitten playing a trombone? Isn’t that nice! Well, guess what? Your work is crap now! Focus and leave stupid distractions behind you. You will be better off for it. 

4. DON’T GIVE UP WHEN YOUR WORK ISN’T VERY GOOD. You won’t be successful all the time. Accept it. I have published things I am not happy with and so have many other writers more successful than I. When you look at a piece you wrote and realise that you could have done better don’t stop. Don’t get discouraged. You just need practice. This all goes back to rule one. WRITE! Everyone starts unsure and untrained. The ones who became success stories went through the same ordeal.
Accept the fact that not everyone will like what you have to say either. No matter how well you write there is always someone who will leave a mean comment, be the grammar Nazi, or accuse you of being wrong, stupid, unfunny, too serious, or offensive. It’s gonna happen. So learn to live with it. Best be ready now than let it take you by surprise. When those people show up don’t delete your posts. Don’t erase your work. Don’t change your style to fit their ideals. You can’t control the assholes, but you can choose how you will respond to them. Ignore them. Don’t even stoop by defending yourself to them. You don’t owe them an explanation. Don’t argue with them because you will only end up looking bad to those who were willing to give you a chance. 

If you are willing to commit yourself to doing those four things you are on a good start. Keep going. Don’t stop. And WRITE, GODDAMN YOU, WRITE!

 

 

To give the reader an idea about how necessary the editing process is I have pasted below in bold what this post looked like before I edited it. Enjoy and learn from it:

For me, I treat writing with a ton of discipline. Sure it’s a lot of fun and I can’t imagine giving it up for any reason, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. In fact, if anyone tells you it is easy they are either writing gods of the highest order or just shitty writers who compose their material in the laziest and quickest way possible. It’s usually the latter I have found. 

As much as I enjoy writing it is hard work. It takes time, effort, and practice. If you are serious about it and try to produce the best stuff that you possibly can you will soon realise that less time is spent writing and more time is spent editing. That is a point I will come to later in this little essay of mine. Meanwhile, allow me the luxury of being pedantic and emphasise once again that writing lots of TIME and lots of PRACTICE. If you want to be even moderately successful at it you will need to devote a great deal of yourself to it. Otherwise, just stick to Facebook posts and Christmas cards.

I have this obsession with lists. I am not sure where it comes from. If you ask a Freudian they may make some comment about anal retentiveness, but it really doesn’t interest me a great deal. I only bring it up because I think it will be easier for me (and hopefully the reader) if I provide my advice for new writers in a list of tips. I think the organisation will be useful as a mnemonic and allow me to get everything I need to say clear and understandable. 

1. WRITE. Before any of you grumbles, “well, duh!” allow me to explain my meaning. When I see write I mean keep writing. Too many people say they want to be writers and yet never seem to do it. They typically make excuses all of which can be answered with, “WRITE.” One excuse may be, “I have no ideas.” WRITE! “I am stuck and don’t know where to go with this.” WRITE! “I have an idea but I don’t care for it. I want to write something else” WRITE, GODDAMN YOU, WRITE! 
Those excuses are silly. Having no ideas is a poor excuse and so is being stuck. I don’t write with everything in my head at the ready. I need to write and see where my writing takes me. Outlines are breeding grounds for shitty writing and don’t recommend them no matter what the text books may say. Just sit down on your ass and WRITE. You will realise that ideas will come to you as you write and not before. Stop waiting for them. They won’t come that way. 
As for the third excuse, well, that’s just plain dumb. If the idea is in your head it must be there for a reason. Write it. As you write it you will find that it will change to your liking anyway. So in summary, WRITE!

2. EDIT. Never write something through and then consider it done. If you are a blogger, don’t publish pieces you don’t look at first. This is where anal retentiveness is actually useful. The editing process is just as important as the writing one and often takes the most time. I normally write through a piece without stopping and then edit when I am finished. I never edit as I go. I let the work flow out and then look at it for what needs to be fixed. I read through the rough draft and make changes that I feel that it needs. And it isn’t just grammar, punctuation, and spelling either. It’s also word flow. I good piece needs to flow easily as you read. If you are stumbling over choppy sentences, confusing run-on sentences, or statements that make little or no sense then you need to fix them. Sometimes I will take an over-long sentence and break it up into two or three. On the other hand, I may see a short sentence that I feel would look better if it connected with the next sentence via comma. In other cases I feel that a word may be repetitive and alter it to a synonym or remove it altogether. 
In the end, you must use your best judgement. Read your piece critically and ask yourself does this sound right or does this flow in a way that makes it comfortable to read. Once you edited the rough draft read that sucker again. You will probably find more things to fix. Keep doing this (for hours if need be) until you are reading a work that flows as perfect as you can make it. 

3. GET RID OF DISTRACTIONS. There shouldn’t be any music playing, people in the room, or TV on when you are writing. While you are writing you must be isolated and alone with your thoughts. If you type on a laptop make sure that there are no other tabs open on your browser. Facebook and Twitter can wait. If you are checking for texts or messages you will break your concentration. Like physical exercise writing often begins as a warm-up. Basketball players are not checking their news feed every few minutes into the game and neither should you. And don’t give me any “Well, I’m a multi-tasker” bullshit either! Multi-tasking produces half-assed work when writing is concerned. Your friend liked your photo of a kitten playing trombone? Isn’t that nice! Well, guess what? Your work is shit now! Focus and leave stupid distractions behind. 

4. DON’T GIVE UP WHEN YOU WRITE CRAP. You won’t be good all the time. Accept it. I have published things I am not happy with before and so have many other writers more successful than me. When you look at a piece you wrote and realise that you could have done better don’t stop. Don’t get discouraged. You need practice. This all goes back to rule one. WRITE! Everyone starts out unsure and imperfect. The ones who became success stories went through the same ordeal. And accept the fact that not everyone will like what you have to say no matter how well you do. There is always someone who will leave a mean comment, be the grammar Nazi, or accuse you of being wrong, stupid, unfunny, too serious, or offensive. Deal with it! It’s gonna happen. Best be ready now than let it take you by surprise. When those people show up (notice I said when and not if) don’t delete your post. Don’t erase your work. Don’t change your style to fit their ideals. You can’t control the assholes. But you can choose how you will respond. Ignore them. Don’t even bother defending yourself to them. You don’t owe them an explanation. Don’t argue with them because you will only end up looking bad to those who were willing to give you a chance. 

If you are willing to commit yourself to doing those four things you are on a good start. Keep going. Don’t stop. And WRITE, GODDAMN YOU, WRITE!

 

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