Most of the time we find social media to be a distraction from writing instead of a benefit. Politics, cute dog pictures, and researching exes can easily usurp endless rewrites. But sometimes a little social media can be just the kick your writing needed. We’ve been following the excellent #writingtips on twitter from author and instructor @bhurley. Blair shares the secrets behind her #writingtips along with some favorites to help jump-start your fall writing.
In writing we talk a lot about the big, sweeping ideas and skills that we must master: plot structure, character development, the turn of a beautiful phrase. But it was only in grad school that I started figuring out that great writing is just as much about the little things as the big ones.
My teachers said, notice how when Lorrie Moore makes a joke, she lists two ordinary things and then the third thing is funny. They pointed out that to make a smooth transition into a flashback, just use two “had done” verbs — She had been to the yoga studio yesterday and had confronted him there — and then use two more“>hads” to transition back out into the present. My teachers showed how to begin a scene in a new place, you don’t have to describe the arrival at the place — just plunk your characters down into the place and get going.
These little tricks, almost like writing “hacks”, were mind-blowing to me; with just a few short strokes, learned through reading and experience and studying the techniques of others, we could immensely improve the readability and sharpness of our writing. Cut an adverb here, eliminate that over-familiar phrase there; remember that certain word pairings go well together and others don’t. When revising, try cutting a paragraph down so that there is no “widowed” line at the end. It can make writing into a game again, a playful exploration of language.
I started paying attention to those little tips and writing hacks and squirreling them away, and then I started sharing them on Twitter and with my students. It’s amazing how those little elements of technique can make a piece seem more polished, more confident, and more professional.
- What does your character like to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon?
- Do an unusual exercise. Swim instead of run, rock climb. Think about how body can feel different when tested differently
- Every scene you write is a new lesson in how to write. What new technique will today’s scene teach?
- The first time I write a scene it’s always three times too long, then I learn how to compress and boil it down.
- Your character is going on an unplanned trip. What does he take in his suitcase? What does he leave behind?
- Go back to a story that excites you and reminds you why you started writing in the first place. Feel that excitement.
- Not every character gets a happy ending, but make sure your character gets some sort of ending. Don’t unravel.
- Follow a train of thought to a darker place than you’re comfortable exploring. That’s where the story is waiting.
- Don’t rely on clichés of fun. Would your character really love being at that crowded noisy party?
- What’s the skeleton in your character’s closet that s/he’d do anything to get rid of? Give him/her the chance to do so.
- Don’t force an uninspired story. Allow your personal well to fill up with experiences before letting a story out.
- Look at your own language as an alien language and explore words. Why is it called a flight of stairs, e.g.?
BLAIR HURLEY received her B.A. from Princeton University and her M.F.A. from NYU. Her stories are published or forthcoming in West Branch, Mid-American Review, Washington Square, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Descant, Fugue, and elsewhere. She has received a Pushcart Prize and scholarships from Bread Loaf and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Her debut novel, The Devoted is due in 2018 from WW Norton & Company.