Ernest Hemingway and Chuck Wendig are two of my favorite writers: Hemingway for his stories and prose, Wendig for his writing on writing.
Ernest Hemingway On How To Write And What To Read
Every year I re-read Hemingway's short story Hills Like White Elephants and marvel. Many times an author will have prose I love but I don't care for their stories/plots or they'll write a great story/plot, but their prose is unimaginative. Ernest Hemingway was brilliant at both.
So when Hemingway gives writers advice I take notice.
Here's a quotation from Ernest Hemingway Creates a Reading List for a Young Writer, 1934:
“The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time,” Hemingway said, tapping my arm [a young writer named Samuelson] with his finger. “Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work. The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along.”Hemingway also gave Samuelson a list of books and short stories he thought the young man should read:
“The Blue Hotel” by Stephen CraneHemingway also ...
“The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Red and the Black by Stendhal
Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Hail and Farewell by George Moore
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Oxford Book of English Verse
The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
The American by Henry James
... advised Samuelson to avoid contemporary writers and compete only with the dead ones whose works have stood the test of time. “When you pass them up you know you’re going good.”
Chuck Wendig's Stupid Writer Tricks
Let me just say that Chuck Wendig's writer tips and tricks are far from stupid. I've benefited enormously both from his advice and his example (writing 3,000 words a day) and I know other writers have as well.
But I guess if he called them his fabulous writer tricks he'd seem immodest!
Here's Chuck Wendig's tip for how to help yourself get back in the groove the next day:
The Tiniest Outline Of Them All: The last 50-100 words you write at the end of your day should be a note to yourself detailing just what ... you should write tomorrow. (“HORACE MURDERS LORD THORNJIZZ AND THE LITHUANIAN DETECTIVE CIRCUS IS ASSIGNED TO THE CASE”). (Adult language warning--> Ten Stupid Writer Tricks (That Might Actually Work))
Using Excel to track one's progress
I never thought of using Excel--or any spreadsheet program--to track my writing progress (daily, weekly, monthly), my goals, before I started reading Chuck Wendig's posts on writing.
But it works.
I also create events in Google Calendar that send me updates throughout the day reminding me what my goals are.
I know it probably sounds weird/strange, but I find it helps if I get my calendar to nag me!
Often I'll get caught up in a task and not want to stop, but that's exactly what I need to do. For instance, I'll need to stop editing one story and move on to putting more words down for the first draft of another.
BOTH writing and editing (though not on the same manuscript, that would just be crazy-making) need to be done each day.
Of course you might be different, have a different method/workflow. There's no one way, whatever works for you. And, generally, we find that out by experimenting, so don't be afraid to try different things.
In your first draft, use a placeholder for things you don't know and keep writing
I started doing something like this after I became a beta reader for a writer who used this trick. Excellent idea!
Often I end up not using a bunch of stuff from my first draft so using placeholders for things I need to research not only prevents me from losing the flow of the story but it also stops me wasting a lot of time researching something I won't use.
I haven't been using an easy-to-locate code so I can find my placeholders easily. But now I will!
The WTF Code: Sometimes you’re writing and you hit a part in the story where you’re just like, “Nope, no ... idea what happens here. Maybe they fight? Maybe they make love? I’m envisioning an orangutan for some reason.” Or maybe you reach a portion where you need more information (“Note to self: research the sewer tunnel layout of Schenectady”). That’s okay. Leave it blank and drop a code you’ll remember right into the section, a code that will specifically not be duplicated anywhere else in the text (WTF2013, for instance). Then when you complete the first pass of the manuscript, just do a FIND for all instances of YOUR SEKRIT CODE and hop through your many narrative gaps and chasms. FILL AND SPACKLE.Chuck gives great advice in (adult language warning -->) Ten Stupid Writer Tricks, and I encourage you to read it. I know I say that often, but this one's special.
Do you have a stupid writer trick that saves you time. Please, share!
Photo credit: "The Lonely Vacuum Of Space" by JD Hancock under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.