I’ve been writing since I was pretty young, and as I’ve gotten a general sense of the craft (how’s that for a snooty word?), I’ve noticed a few things. Here they are:
- Revision is sometimes unnecessary. Most of the time, when I write something that I really like, I get it mostly right the first time. There may be some minor cosmetic changes that need to be made and spelling errors that need to be corrected, but a really good first draft is hard to improve upon.
- Flow is a good sign. When I’m writing and find myself entering that state psychologists call “flow” (that is, intense concentration and no desire to stop writing or do anything else), I know I have something good going. I’ve noticed that I almost never reach flow unless I’ve got a fairly good storyline, good characters, and I’m able to see the action in my mind’s eye.
- Imagery never hurts. Whatever I’m writing, imagery always helps. There have been times when I tried to write in the third-person limited point of view, focusing on an entity that was, for the most part, noncorporeal. Needless to say, when you’ve got an amorphous main character, it can be very difficult to build a good image. But, when I go ahead and do it anyway, I find that it’s always helpful to try to see it. If you don’t do that, there’s a pretty big risk of wandering off into unvisualizable generalities that won’t interest readers much.
- You never know where a good idea might come from. Recently, I was thinking about spiders. I can’t remember why, but I was thinking about them. I’ve always kind of liked insects and spiders, and the topic was hovering around in my mind. Then, for one reason or another, I started thinking “I wonder what would happen if human beings had natural predators” (besides bacteria and viruses and the occasional leopard, I mean). Suddenly, I had a flash of inspiration, and my short story Spiders (which is looking like it’s going to be my first officially-published short story. Yay!) was born. So, never forget that inspiration, as much of a cliché as it may be to say this, comes from very surprising places and very odd coincidences. That, incidentally, is the same sort of coincidence by which my (hopefully) upcoming (eventually) novel “The Bagger” came into existence.
- Write a lot. A whole lot. In my long-ago post “How to Write Well,” I talked about this, but it bears repeating. You have to write all the time if you want to be ready when a good idea comes your way. I can’t count the number of good ideas that have died in the deep recesses of my memory because I wasn’t in the mood to write them. I find, however, that when I’m writing fairly regularly, I’m in the mood more often, and so I lose fewer ideas that way.
There are other things I’ve noticed, but these five are probably the most general and the most helpful. I hope this is of some use.