I wrote these in a manic phase about 4 months ago. Some decent stuff here.
1) Write What You Know
That doesn’t mean “I do data entry, therefore I must write about data entry.” But crib things from real life as often as possible. Base characters on people you know, use places you’ve been as mental maps, and write stories about things that are personal to you. Is your boss a micromanaging lunatic who drives you nuts? Make the head of your starship a micromanaging lunatic who drives your main character nuts. How does the hero find his way to the back door? Use a house you know and find out. Just had your heart crushed, crush a main character’s heart. These sorts of things not only help you organize your story, but make it a more authentic experience.
2) Write What You Don’t Know
The Internet has changed the world. When I wrote my first paper on volcanoes in the third grade, I had to check six books out of the library (two of which I forgot to return.) Now I can Google volcanoes and find out how hot they are, where they are most active, and get three dozen diagrams of how magma flows. It’s no longer what you know, but how hard you are willing to work to find out what you need to. Want to write a doctor and you’re not one? Look it up. Find out how long it takes to become one. Find medical and pharmacological jargon. Read a few blogs written by interns about what goes on at hospitals. If you can, find a real doctor who’s willing to answer a few questions. If you don’t know much about it, it’s unlikely you can’t find it out with a few mouse clicks.
3) Thicken Your Skin
Prepare for rejection. Expect it. Often you will only get nothing more than a form letter along with your rejections. If you’re lucky you’ll get a few lines of constructive criticism. Writing is a lot like dating, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. People will tell you a story is terrible. Don’t storm off. Ask them why they don’t like it and what they would do to change it. Don’t get me wrong, if you believe in something, REALLY believe in it, don’t change a thing. But think of rejection as a chance to polish your story. Or submit somewhere else and be prepared for possible rejection again. Even the best writers spent years being rejected before someone stood up and took notice.
4) Finish Your Work
So you get two thirds of the way through a story and realize it’s a half-baked idea, what do you do? Finish it. You are two-thousand words into a story taking place in a city that a typhoon washes away? Finish it. You show a friend a first draft and he hates it? You guessed it, edit the little son of a bitch and finish it. Writing is a muscle, and just like any good work out you need to finish your reps. Even if it really IS half baked, you’re training yourself to be a story finisher, not a story starter. (Remember those twenty-seven stories I mentioned?)
5) Play Dolls
Writers block usually comes when I focus too much on plot and hooks and not enough on character development. I’ve heard it said, and I believe it, that good characters write the story for you. When a character is well fleshed out, when you know his or her hopes and desires, likes and dislikes, they will do most of the work for you. Think back to your childhood, when you took your action figures or dolls and threw them together in play. I bet you never suffered from writers block when you were playing dolls, did you? That’s because the characters were so familiar to you that when you put them together the story wrote it’s self. Donatello hated Shredder, so when they were together they fought. Ken loved Barbie so when they were together they kissed. I’ve found in my writing that I most often get writers block when I don’t understand my own characters. If you get stuck, do what you did as a child, and role-play a little.
Profanity is to writers as jalapenos peppers are to chefs, a heavy seasoning. And like jalapenos they need to be used sparingly, to accentuate the other flavors. Too many and they overpower the dish. I’m not saying don’t swear, or don’t make your characters swear. I am rather fond of profanity, and probably use it too often in my own work. But remember that with every swear you’re dulling the palate a little bit, so save them for areas where they will add maximum emphasis to either character development or plot. If a character is a rough and tumble blue collar guy, a swear will help prove that to your reader. If the dainty elementary school teacher drops an f’bomb your reader just knows something is very wrong. I swear a lot in my first draft, then go through and cut out about seventy five percent of them for my final drafts, changing them either to lesser swears or more creative ones, just to make sure I don’t overpower the reader’s palate with too much seasoning.
7) Don’t Quit
I wrote a series of short stories and a terrible vampire hunter novel called “Thicker Than Water” when I was nineteen. Then I submitted them to several places and was rejected by all except a place that was willing to edit my novel for a thousand dollars. I stopped writing for six years. Don’t do this. When I think of how much sharper my prose could be if I’d just kept working at it, it makes me want to both laugh and cry. No matter how bad you think your writing is, no matter how many people reject you, DO NOT STOP. John Grisham’s novel “A Time to Kill” was rejected by dozens of literary agents and publishers before it was finally printed. Sculptors have a saying about finding the masterpiece inside a block of stone. It’s in there, they just have to cut it out. Your masterpiece is there. You’ll find it. Just keep cutting.