We’ve all heard the same rotation of writing tips a thousand times. Use a text reader to check for typos, write at the same time every day, carry a notebook, do the zombie thing to spot passive voice, etc, etc.
Today I’ve got a list of ten less common writing tips that I have found a lot of success with. If you have an unusual or unique writing tip, feel free to share it in a comment on this post!
Ten Original Writing Tips
1. The name swap
Do you have a character you love too much, and you write them too one-dimensionally perfect? Or do you have a character you randomly despise, so you write them unfairly? Happens to everyone! We all have our favorites, but it becomes a problem when it leads to writing flat characters.
In general, you want your characters to be complex, with a healthy mix of good, bad, and conflicting traits to make them feel real. If you’ve having trouble imagining one complexly, my hack is to temporarily change their names. Replace the character’s name with the name of a real person you like or dislike to write them more complexly.
If I really dislike a character and want to write them more fairly, I swap their name to my best friend’s name, because he’s one of my favorite people in the world and his name works for any gender, so I can toss it on anyone. This makes me give the hated character the benefit of the doubt, so I write them more fairly.
If I have a particular character that I favor too much, I’ll swap their name out for someone’s I cannot stand, and I suddenly find their flaws.
You can get even more specific than “someone I like” or “someone I dislike”. Every relationship is complicated and unique, so if you want to feel some kind of way about a character, you can almost always find a name to swap it for.
For example, if you’re writing a first-person story and your character has a crush on someone they pretend to hate, toss in the name of that bully from third grade you kind of wanted to kiss. If your character has a complicated relationship with their mom, but you and your own mother are besties, swap their name for that snotty aunt that always makes comments about your weird knees. You get the idea. And your knees aren’t that weird.
When you’ve finished that draft, do a CTRL+F to swap the names back. Or CMD+F. No judgement here–all kinds are welcome.
2. Cut the last thing you wrote
This is a great hack for any style or genre of writing. Most writers have a habit of talking past their point, so cut the last thing you wrote. Any extra words after you’ve made the point typically make your ending weaker.
Whether it’s the last scene of a chapter, last paragraph, last sentence, last word or line of a stanza, last stanza of a poem, or even the entire last chapter of a book–we’re often better off trimming the end of that first draft. Most of the time I’m critiquing or editing another writer’s piece, I end up cutting the last or last few paragraphs.
This tip can be a gray area, so use your own discretion, but always look at the last thing you wrote to see if a stronger ending was buried. A lot of the time, you passed up the best ending and left it muddled in a pile of unnecessary words.
3. Quit while you’re ahead
Consider ending your writing session while you still have ideas. This might seem counter-intuitive if you have a good flow going, but knowing exactly where to pick up at the beginning of your next writing session helps you get going quicker, which makes you more productive.
If you have a certain word count goal for the day, and you’ve already hit it but still have ideas, it’s usually better to quit while you’re ahead. Take a few notes of where you’d like the scene to go next, then clock out.
The next writing session won’t have the “what do I do now?” lag, because you know exactly what to do. Then you can ride that momentum right to your next word count goal.
If you burn yourself out of ideas in one sitting, the beginning of your next writing session has to start with THINKING about what should happen next, rather than actually writing it.
4. Print for proofing
Having a physical paper copy of your manuscript can make it way easier to edit. The tangibility and change in medium can give you new eyes on the piece, so print out your manuscript for editing.
Whether you do this for the line edit, copyedit, final proofing, or all three is totally up to you. Printing an entire manuscript multiple times can eat up a ton of paper, so I usually only do this to send to my editor, then for the final proofing after the book has been formatted.
If you’re still worried about the cost of printing physical copies, toner printers are much cheaper than ink, and most library cards can get you access to free or cheap printers!
Some writers prefer exporting their document to PDF, changing the font, or viewing on an e-reader as alternatives, but personally I don’t find that those options work as well.
5. Sentence outlines
Keep sentence-long summaries of your scenes. This is a great alternative for people who hate outlining, because it keeps a sort of running outline as you write, so you still have the benefit of an overview shot of your book without the feeling of constraint.
This helps me a lot when I’m organizing longer novels, because I often forget what happens where, so being able to see my whole book on one page is helpful. I also like being able to click and drag those scenes around, because I write with NovelPad.
6. Brainstorm document
Keep a document for ideas and brainstorm there regularly, especially if you write shorter things like poems or blogs. Once we have an idea, our subconscious works to develop it in our downtime, so having an actual list that you look at and add to regularly helps with idea development. By the time you finish your current project, you could have ten others that you passively outlined in your head or in your brainstorming list ready to go. Keeping a project in every stage of that idea funnel is good for production.
This works particularly well for running a blog or anything else you need regular content for. Setting aside five minutes a day or half an hour a week to brainstorm in your ideas document will ensure you always have something cooking.
Similarly, in the case of a blog format, outlining and/or rough drafting in batches ahead of time can put you way ahead of the game and help you avoid content gaps.
7. Revisions to-do list
While you’re writing longer projects, keep a list of edits you want to make, rather than trying to fix them while you draft. I find this helpful for novel revisions. If you notice one of your characters needs a stronger arc, or you’re trying to figure out how to fill a plot hole, write down all of the details and ideas you have about it in a separate document (chapters or page numbers are helpful for tracking them down later).
I started doing this just to track my macro edits for later, but having them written down gave my subconscious something to work on while I did other things, so I’d usually come up with the solution without really thinking about it. Writing down problems or potential problems as you notice them can make the revision process much easier, and it can help you maintain drafting momentum.
However, if you notice a problem that’s too big, you might have to stop and fix it before you continue writing. If I find myself losing momentum on a project that was running smoothly, I probably did something wrong, so I’ll go back and read it from the beginning to see where it fell off. But other than those outlier cases, keeping your edits in a list for later is more efficient.
8. Summarize paragraphs
If you find yourself losing steam over one paragraph or bit of description, try summarizing what you want to happen instead. I lose momentum during a writing session if I get hung up on something that just isn’t coming easily, so I write a detailed summary of what I think needs to happen in that section.
It might be a bulleted list of things the scene needs to accomplish, a play-by-play of clunky and awkward description, a dialogue outline, or something like “an interaction that makes Character A more sympathetic”.
Write out everything you know about the problem section without worrying about the prose, flow, or formatting. It might be the roughest draft in the world, a summary that should be written in scene, or any other type of stand-in that will let Future You know what to do with it.
If you’re too vague with it, like (another scene here), Future You will have serious beef with Past You. I’ve done that with drafts before, and when I went back for rewrites, there were so many incredibly vague stand-in notes, and the second draft was a real sludge to get through.
You might even write that summary, wrap up the chapter, then circle back to see if you can fill in those blanks in the same writing session.
9. Scene swap
Swap scenes with a writing partner. This is a fun idea if you have someone you write with regularly who knows your current work-in-progress pretty well. If you’re stuck on a certain scene or concept (or just for fun, really) you can write a scene for your writing partner and let them write one for you.
The scene might be a specific one you’re struggling with, a character relationship that isn’t quite clicking, or any other issue. You can pitch a concept to your writing partner and let them write the scene that is either a solution or simply exploring the concept. You might borrow some of the stuff they write, find some inspiration, or just see a different perspective on how your story is coming across from the outside.
I think this strategy works well for a lot of the same reasons that having beta readers works well: We get so close to our stories that we actually understand them less. Since your writing partner has been reading the project and likely brainstorming problems with you, they’re as close as a person can be to the story without being so close they lose sight of the big picture.
10. Relate to your character
If you can’t get into your character’s head, try to write your character going through something you’re currently going through yourself. For example, when I was planning my tattoo sleeve, it was taking up a pretty significant portion of my mind’s real estate. I got stuck on a scene in my WIP where I knew I needed a moment of strong reader-character connection. I was struggling to get into her head authentically, so I wrote a scene where she was thinking about getting a tattoo sleeve. The best lies are grounded in truth, and so is fiction. If you need to connect with your character, use something you’re actually thinking or worrying about right now to connect with them.
The scene you write will probably not make it into the final draft (unless you happen to be having a personal struggle that fits with your character, which seems unlikely), but it can help you step into the character and get rolling from there. Then you can just delete the part that you used as a point of entry.
Those are my tips! I hope they can get you thinking about creative solutions for your own writer hang-ups.