As an aspiring author I have spent a great deal of time reading books on self-editing and ways to improve your writing. In college I took creative writing courses and I am constantly critiquing and editing my own work. I think of writing (mostly the editing bit) as an act of self-reflection and an opportunity to grow. But honestly, with so many different techniques and critiques out there, I found it confusing and difficult to remember some of the important points.
In order to clarify and keep all this stuff in mind while I write and edit, I now have a morning mantra.
When I first get up (usually I have to write something down from a crazy dream the night before). I get a glass of water, take some vitamins and then go to my desk. There, as you can see in the picture, a ton of sticky notes are hanging. This drives my wife crazy, but hey, I am a messy guy. I then spend some time reading each note, to remind myself of various important elements of writing.
Here are five (I have 19 currently) of the daily reminders I use to improve my writing.
How much time do you spend describing the characters, character?
This is classic show don’t tell but specific to characters. When I am going through additional drafts I copy and paste this to a new document and delete anything like this. Then I try to incorporate elements of the character’s personality into the scene in a way that moves the story forward.
Engage in Talking Head Avoidance Devices
In other words, instead of straight dialogue (imagine floating heads detached from a scene) try to incorporate action that tells you something about the character. This also means allowing the character to use the environment to tell you about their habits and behaviors or what kinds of actions they do on a daily basis.
The War of the Long and the Short
This one is about creating good tension in a scene. Long sentences tend to mean that a lot of activity is happening all at once. Short sentences usually represent quick action or flashes of insight. For good tension and better narrative flow the long and the short sentences should be in a kind of battle for control, constantly trading off.
Be Specific, Definitive and Concrete
A simple reminder that vague writing is often boring writing. Creating specific and decisive sentences is the key to strong description. If you can’t make up your mind about what is happening in a scene (via vague writing and passive voice) then you will bore the reader.
Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE)
I think this is the one that I have to remember most. I am constantly removing this stuff after my first drafts. I find myself wanting to justify the character’s actions with a bit of history or some roundabout explanation that really doesn’t advance the story. I usually have a separate document for these so that I keep track of what I have said about the characters and delete as much explanation as possible from the main story. Later these can emerge in the dialogue or through action.
Hope this was helpful to some of the other writers out there. I would love to hear if you have any morning mantras or rituals that help to improve your writing. If so what are they? Feel free to share them in the comment section below.