Overcome some of the most common challenges writers face with these ten easy hacks, from simple scene structuring to finding (and keeping) your writing rhythm. There are no shortcuts when it comes to writing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find innovative ways to make certain aspects a little easier…
1.Start with bullets
This is a fantastic hack for almost any kind of writing and I will generally always start with bullets, whether I’m writing something journalistic, a fictional scene or an essay. Write down everything you want to include - key points, clues, snatches of dialogue; just get everything out of your head and down onto the page. I find it easier to focus on flow and quality when I don’t have to worry about remembering all of the details I need to include.
Next, lay out your bullets into a running order and arrange finer details as sub-bullets. Once you’ve got that skeleton in place, you can flesh it out. This makes the complex task of bringing ideas together to make a cohesive, well-structured narrative into a really easy, low-stress process.
2. Set a timer
A genuinely brilliant method for the master procrastinator. If you struggle to get going, put aside the time or simply to make yourself sit down and focus, try setting a 10 minute timer. The trick here is not to overface yourself; just commit to 10 or 15 minutes. Set a real timer, with an alarm. Write for those 10 minutes and then give yourself a pat on the back. If you want, you can stop. Congratulations, you’ve been productive. Chances are, however, that once you’ve got going you’ll want to keep going, and that’s awesome too.
3. Become a draft hoarder
Have you ever been told that good writers have to become comfortable with cutting their work? The process of going back over a draft and stripping out everything that doesn’t work, doesn’t contribute or interrupts the flow can be quite painful; well, until you transcend to an authorial state of savage sadism, where you actually start to really enjoy this streamlining process.
In the meantime, you can make it easier. Don’t try to cut down your original draft; make a copy and put it safely aside. With a back-up in hand, you can start cutting and experimenting without the stress, risk and sense of loss that can make this process so challenging. And if you don’t like your new version, no problem! You’ve still got the original to fall back on.
4. Stop before you’re finished
Sounds a little counter-intuitive, right? This isn’t about finishing, this is all about making it easier to get going again. By ending your writing session mid-flow, even mid-sentence if necessary, it can be much easier to pick that flow back up and slip into your groove next time you sit down to write. You could even leave yourself a few cheeky bullets to remind yourself where you’d planned to go next. I find this also helps to pull me back to my desk, as I have a much higher drive to return to something I’ve left hanging…
5. Read what you wrote yesterday
On the subject of getting back into the flow, this one works in a similar way. Read what you wrote yesterday before you continue writing, to re-immerse and refamiliarise yourself. It’s a little bit like getting a musical lead-in before you start singing!
6. Make a name list
Naming characters is one of those times where having a great idea and needing a great idea rarely collide. If you often find yourself spinning your wheels trying to name a character instead of forging on with writing a scene, this could be a great hack for you. Create a document somewhere you can access it easily; I like to keep mine in a Google Drive folder so I can get to it using my phone. Every time you have the thought “That would be a great name for a character!”, open up the document and add that name to your list. When you need to name a character and your brain doesn’t immediately offer up a good option, go to your name list for inspiration. This has saved me hours.
7. Keep an idea list
The natural continuation of a name list is an idea list. Ideas don’t conveniently happen the moment you sit down with a nice fresh notebook and a good pen. Ideas happen at the worst, most annoying times; while you’re out pulling weeds, washing the dishes or, that familiar criminal, at 4am in the miserable hours of the morning. I like to keep my idea list somewhere really accessible, just like my name list. The moment I have an idea, out comes my phone and I write it down. Right before I wrote this article, I took a quick look at my list; there were some awesome and exciting ideas on there that I can’t even remember having. Don’t waste ideas, obsessively collect them.
8. Listen to music that fits the mood of the scene you’re about to write
I know a lot of writers like to play music while they type; personally, I need quiet. However, music is really useful for getting into a useful frame of mind. About to write a comic chase scene? William Tell Overture. A scene about flying? Test Drive from How to Train Your Dragon. Epic quest? Take your pick from Howard Shore’s Lord of Rings suite. Listening to emotive music is a great way to slip into the creative rhythm and mood required for a scene before you start writing. You can take this a step farther by taking a moment to close your eyes and imagine how the scene will play out as you listen; then just write down what you see. I’ve even used this method to help create corporate video scripts.
9. Use deadlines to your advantage
If you work better under the gun, you’re in good company and this is a great hack for you! Many writers find the pressure and finality of a deadline to be a most effective motivator. Even if you don’t have deadlines set by an agent or publisher, or a competition closing date to aim for, why not look at some different ways to motivate yourself with a deadline. Commit to sending regular chapters to a trusted friend, perhaps? Or arrange to send a completed draft to an editor or proof-reader.
10. Write badly
I’m a sod for downing tools in favour of picking apart a paragraph or sentence. This is me, I have a problem. I love editing; it’s like doing a word puzzle. But I will admit that obsessing over well polished prose does slow down progress and pull you out of your flow. You can largely get away with it if you’re writing something relatively short but stopping to rework isn’t that conducive to larger word counts. I’m not going to tell you not to edit as you go (because I’m not sure I’ll ever get out of the habit and it would be hypocritical) but if you find yourself stuck because you’re not sure how to word something, my advice is to write it badly and keep going.
You can apply this principle to tricky sentences, tricky paragraphs, even entire scenes. Write it badly, maybe leave a few notes or even just a space with a question mark or asterisk in it and come back to it later. When I do this, I turn the text red so I can find the bits that need attention easily when I begin to redraft. I rarely have a problem repairing these holes later; the trick is not to let them stump you when they happen.
And there you have it; ten easy hacks for writers, whether you create fiction, blog posts or press releases. I can’t guarantee that these tips will make you a “better” writer, but they might help make you a more effective one!
Liz specialises in fiction, short fiction and memoir. She loves science fiction, crime and creepy. Liz's first formally published short story was released by Greenteeth Press in 2020 and the second was with the same press in May 2021. Liz writes short stories for both formal and web publication, and is currently working on two full length manuscripts. Find out more.
Imagery Mika Baumeister, Toa Heftiba, Mika Baumeister and JESHOOTS.COM via Unsplash