I’ve been really busy these last few weeks, with one thing or the other. Much of it has been spent organising gaming stuff, but the majority has been trying to make a reputation for myself as a freelance writer/developer. I’ve recently indexed three supplements, and although it’s not “creative” it does encourage a certain amount of proficiency on my part. I’ve also taught myself to proofread. It’s a useful skill to have, although the speed I read at means I have to usually read a paragraph twice. Again, it’s a handy skill to have in that respect. One that I can continue to apply. I’ve a relatively good grasp of the English language, both grammar and vocabulary. None of these are formal qualifications, so I always feel a bit surprised when folk ask me for advice.
First off, I don’t consider myself an “expert” on writing. I’m technically proficient, that’s all. There’s entire books and University Degrees dedicated to creative writing. All I can offer is a few tips here; they may be of some use (or not). These are only suggestions, but they work for me! Everyone has different ways of writing, so these may – or may not – be for you. Fair enough.
I don’t write for fun. There. I’ve said it. I write for a reason. I’m either being paid to write a certain number of words; or I’ve a definite goal in mind. I’m sure there are those who can find fault with this, but for me there’s a certain discipline in it. It’s far more of a challenge as a result, and you feel a proper sense of achievement on completion. Plus, deadlines encourage you to actually beat procrastination; something I’ll come to later. When I’ve tried writing for “fun” I’ve wound up with a lot of unfinished projects.
If you’ve a specific word count, try to keep to it. If it is a paid-for number of words, it’s unlikely you’ll get paid for any extra. If you don’t turn in enough though, you may not get the full amount. It’s a balancing act. I find it handy to block out sections of the text under headings, along with a rough word count for each. Chapters should be the same length in fiction, less rigidly so in non-fiction. Summarise each chapter. Scrivener (see later) is great for this; so’s MS Word. Blocking out these sections is the best way to help plan things out. Plus, if you get stuck on a section, you can come back to it later.
If you’re doing something that involves researching a topic, do it with due diligence. Don’t make assumptions; it’s the absolute worst thing you can do. I remember a source book for an RPG based in the UK that labelled Glasgow as Scotland’s Capital. It’s not, in case you’re wondering. Don’t just rely on Wikipedia either; find out more via books or existing research. I did this for my Prayer for St. Nazaire Achtung! Cthulhu game and it gave me a huge number of ideas as a result of the research I did.
Now we come to what I call ESP: Edits, Self-doubt, and Procrastination. As Ed -Forgotten Realms, Elminster – Greenwood , once said to me.
We all get edited. – Ed Greenwood
True dat. It doesn’t matter how competent you think you are, there’s stuff you’ll miss when you write. Capitalisation. Spelling. Run-on sentences, etc. Just running something through a spelling or grammar check doesn’t always pick up any errors. For that reason, always get your work read over by someone else before submission – it may be a colleague, peer, significant other, or mate. Don’t be offended by any criticism. Negative criticism of some aspect of your work is a flaw you haven’t addressed yet.
Self-doubt usually kicks in when there’s a negative review. However, it can also be something akin to professional jealousy/envy (“I wish I’d thought of that!”). Sadly, that’s the risk you take as a writer. If in doubt, keep polishing your work until you – and others – are happy with it. Never take things personally when it comes to negative criticism; it can cripple you emotionally and leave you feeling hurt and angry when you do. Do what you can with what you have; don’t be afraid to rewrite. Most published authors were rejected by publishers until they get the right “mix”.
Procrastination next. So you’re a new writer, doing Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). You’ve never done it before. But you can’t get started. Ever wondered why? You’re writing a bloody novel. In a month. It’s like a marathon, but you’re feeling unfit. My advice: until you’ve written a few long (20,000 words +) stories, avoid it. Write at your own pace (if you’re not writing to a deadline); never hurry. As I said before, if you have a problem, move onto another section and come back to it. Plus it’s worth carrying an “Ideas book”; usually a small notebook that you can jot ideas down in. If you are writing to a deadline, you’re going to need to put some time in!
I’ve also been asked about software to recommend when writing. I usually use the best software available: the one between my ears (well, wetware I suppose)! Software-wise, Microsoft Word still has the lead on most other Word Processing packages (and is a standard format). Scrivener is a great way to organise your work. It has a bit of steep learning curve, though. It is well worth a look and will allow you to integrate, say, Word documents – and actually publish a book. Dropbox is also useful for a Work In Progress (WIP) – the ability to restore earlier versions is definitely a great feature!
So that’s kind of it. In summary, you’ve got to feel comfortable in what you can do – and remain dispassionate to a certain extent. Hope this has been of use!