The first long weekend of cookouts, swimming and 90-degree days is behind us here in the Midwest, which can mean only one thing: The unofficial start of summer.
New seasons have a way of bringing about change just when things are getting stale—an apt metaphor for both writing and life. In my house, the start of summer means our screened-in porch replaces the living room as our central gathering place. It means our table is set with pasta salad, berry shortcake, and other favorites we’ve missed during the colder months. It means after-dinner strolls to the playground up the street, where my baby boy recently discovered the simple joy of a swing. And it means a nagging feeling that it’s time to revisit my approach to my writing, as the rest of my daily life shifts with the season.
I know I’m not alone in this—so I thought I’d share some of the most creative writing tips I’ve spotted lately for revamping a writing practice or work-in-progress that could use a little fresh air.
In between deadlines here at the office, I’ve been grazing my way through a new crop of books for writers we’ve been lucky enough to preview. Each one is filled with new tips on improving how you think about your work … perfect for a seasonal shift in whatever kind of writing you do. Here’s a taste of my favorites.
Creative Ways to Revamp Your Work and Routine: 5 Writing Tips
1. Watch out for subtle wordiness. We’ve all been taught to eliminate redundancies in our writing, but it takes constant vigilance to catch the most elusive culprits—those that go beyond redundancy into pleonasm.
Pleonasm is the use of words unnecessary for clear expression. Here are some other common offenders to watch for:
• advanced warning
• basic fundamentals
• circulated around
• close proximity
• close scrutiny
• constant nagging
• downward descent
• exact replica
• exact same
• new discovery
• top priority
Isn’t that a great list for more concise writing? These are my top picks from a much longer list in the clever new book Tyrannosaurus Lex: The Marvelous Book of Palindromes, Anagrams & Other Delightful & Outrageous Wordplay, by Rod L. Evans, Ph.D. (Perigree). It’s a fun, easy-to-skim book for word nerds like—well, like me.
2. Don’t use a long (read: complicated) word where I short (read: simple) word will do. Here’s an interesting analysis of why less really is more when it comes to your writing:
In 10 novels I studied, I found bestselling novelists consistently use shorter words than non-bestsellers. It’s one of the reasons their writing reads at a faster pace. The samples from the bestsellers I studied averaged 4.21 characters a word. Other samples I analyzed for comparison averaged about a full character more. In the worst corporate writing samples I studied, it’s common for samples to average more than 6 characters per word. In academic journals, writing is so dense as to be unreadable at more than 7 letters per word.
This tip comes from The Writer’s Little Helper, by James V. Smith, Jr. (new from my colleagues at Writer’s Digest Books), which is filled with bite-sized bits of info that might just make a big difference in your work.
3. Redefine how you think of writer’s block. I’ve never heard anyone define it in quite this way before:
“Writer’s block is real but intangible. It is a momentary lack of anything to say that gives rise to the fear that you have nothing more to say—ever. … Coming to the end of speech can be a moment of blessed silence, and ought to be welcomed when it comes rather than featured. It isn’t the lack of something to say or write at the moment that is the problem, but the fear generated by the story that this present quiet will extend through the rest of your life.”
Sort of makes it sound easy to eliminate that anxiety, doesn’t it? This illuminating thought is from Writing: The Sacred Art—Beyond the Page to Spiritual Practice, by Rami Shapiro and Aaron Shapiro (coming next month from Skylight Paths Publishing).
4. Write more by setting a smaller daily goal. If you’re one of those writers who struggles with finding time to write, here are some convincing reasons why this approach might work for you:
- It’s easier to find smaller bites of time than long, uninterrupted periods.
- Repetition strengthens habits.
- Repetition also builds momentum.
- If it’s only for 15 minutes, you can justifiably postpone other tasks. You can reverse procrastination—instead of procrastinating the start of your writing, you procrastinate following the distractions that used to keep you from writing.
- You can envision letting go of all the other things competing for your attention and allow yourself to really focus, because it’s for only 15 minutes. This kind of focus, where we get lost in the writing, is one of the biggest joys of writing.
These helpful hints come from my advance copy of Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance, by Rosanne Bane, forthcoming from Tarcher/Penguin later this summer.
5. Don’t abandon your other passions to focus on writing. I find this tip especially helpful in the summertime, when the kid in me wants to play outside. I love the way Austin Kleon puts this in Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative (Workman):
“Don’t throw any of yourself away. If you have two or three real passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life. This is something I learned from playwright Steven Tomlinson. Tomlinson suggests that if you love different things, you just keep spending time with them. ‘Let them talk to each other. Something will begin to happen.’ The thing is, you can cut off a couple passions and only focus on one, but after a while, you’ll start to feel phantom limb pain.”
This idea also supports my earlier post about ignoring writing tips that lead you to give up other things you enjoy (even mundane things) to make more time to write—but instead discover How to Find, Rather Than Make, Writing Time.
How are you revamping your approach to your writing this summer? And what writing tips or resources are helping you do it? Share your own best advice for the season in the comments section below—I’d love to keep the conversation going.
Editor, Writer’s Digest Magazine
Follow me on Twitter: @jessicastrawser
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