Essay: Writing hacks (hacks on writing), Part 1

The series of O’Reilly hacks books is tons of fun. Despite how you don’t want to hear about hacks for certain things (Brain surgery, Nuclear weapons, etc.) the idea of sharing the high leverage little tricks is awesome.

So here’s Part 1 of what will be a series on writing hacks: this first one is about getting started.

Writing hacks, Part 1: Starting

25 Responses to “Essay: Writing hacks (hacks on writing), Part 1”

  1. Scott (admin)

    Excellent, thanks. I know who Ben Bova is: he also wrote a book called Writing Science Fiction.

  2. Daniel Kim

    I hate to write, but I like to lecture. I took to writing on my office window with a dry-erase marker while lecturing an unseen audience with a microcassette recorder in my pocket. This also works while I am taking a walk around campus. People already know that I talk to myself, so they’re used to seeing this.

    . . . I believe that if I am aware that there is not another person present while I am talking, it’s not actually a sign of illness to talk to myself. ; )

  3. Patrick McLean

    Write longhand. Seems silly, but this one is gold for me. The problem is the same problem with hitting a golf ball. Both the page and the ball just sit there. And when you write you have (theoretically) a lifetime to rewrite it until you get it right. The problem is that the critical part of your brain gets in the way. It needs something to critize. That’s it’s job after all. But when I write longhand, instead of giving me a stream of, “you’re writing sucks, it sucks, it sucks, sucks, sucks and you just changed tenses you eggsucking loser” it pours forth with “you’re HANDwriting sucks, it sucks, it sucks, sucks, sucks, what don’t you go back to those huge pencils you had in kindergarden you loser.” Meanwhile the creative part of your brain is free to play and the words just flow out.

  4. Joanne

    I sent you an email about your article, but I guess I could’ve just commented here (doh!)…

    Anyways, in a nutshell, excellent article!! As a former professor of English (now I work in the computer field…go figure…), I would encourage my students to just write, write, write…about anything…about not wanting to write…about how much they perhaps hated me …. just write!!

    As for myself…you’d think I’d heed all this advice….but alas… I can never get past “Chapter One”….

    I have tried the ‘dancing naked in the living room’ bit…. My problem: I was in my dad’s living room… it was broad daylight…and I had the drapes open…

    I’ve also tried the “underwear clad run up the driveway”… Again, my problem: dad’s driveway….broad daylight…forgot the underwear…

    Perhaps I need to focus more on the writing than the activities….or writing about the fact that I need to focus more on the writing than the activities….

    My favorite sentence…(plus you had me at ‘cookie’):

    “By the act of writing ‘writers often write about writing’ I’m writing about writers often writing about writing, which means you’re reading about writing about writers writing about writing. Say that ten times fast and I’ll give you a cookie.”

    Thanks again for an awesome article!!

  5. Jason Kirin

    Hey – I love your hacks. I was taking notes from the start in my Moleskine lined book. Going to carry these around for a while.

    You want some more? I got a swell dose for you. Bernadette Mayor and her list of writing experiments

  6. Matthew Petty

    I have a fallback for when I get writers block that’s similar to what you were saying about writing about writers. I call it the Last Song of a Dying Language.

    It’s about the last thing written in language that died out years ago. No one can translate it but it has become an enigma for people with writers block. So when I can’t actually write, I write an odd tale about some obscure reference where the last song is mentioned and do a critical essay on what the author might have though was the relevance of the last song and their reason for mentioning it. Eventually I wind up with a nifty little short story and a well warmed up imagination.

  7. Noah Miles

    I always find that a change of location is sometimes the only way to get things done. I will stare at a blank screen for hours in my bedroom, but when I move the laptop outside, or to the living room, I find things begin to flow a lot easier. Being outside, for instance, really influences the mood, as you are given very passive stimuli- the wind, the sound of cars passing down your street, bugs…all together they really help change your mood, and can really produce some gems.

  8. Josiah McG.

    I find it useful to have a mental repertoire of highly contextual sentence starters that absolutely beg to be finished, and then by the time I have developed whatever it is that came to mind first and foremost I’ll have a half decent sentence or two. Then I try to make it a lil longer if this wasn’t enough, and on days were I’m really lagging I’ll force myself to do a paragraph, and then out comes the red ink and I edit until I’m satisfied with it.
    A couple examples of the kind of sentence starters I like to use:

    Had it not been for….

    And there I found myself…

    I would like (blank) if it weren’t for the (fill in blank) of the (blank)….

    By the time I have finished one of these I’m usually feeling ready to roll with something pertaining to what I actually want to write.

  9. Brian Taylor

    After being forced to write on deadline for years, there is only one thing that ever helped me.

    Don’t stumble on a bad opening. Focus on what you want to say, and then write the SECOND sentence. Add some details, and keep going. Usually, a lead and a cohesive theme will come to you before you reach the end.

  10. Haley

    I absolutely cannot write until my home or desk is clean. There is some kind of direct correlation between the mess in your environment and the mess in your head.

  11. Barry

    Actually, when I start to write, I do stem from a basic description. I found a book by Tracy Hickman that I found perfect on this aspect. He used the term “Golden” as the first sentence and description for a day in one of the StarCraft books.

    I love fantasy fiction. So many times I just try to envision my basic idea for the story, jot it down, and break the outline into smaller parts that I will need to have later on. I have found that this can take me from a couple of minutes to anywhere near a couple of months. I’m just nit picky about what I write and how I portray my own writing style.

    I have also found that putting myself around objects or pictures, reading books, watching movies and listening to music have calmed me down and bring more ideas to mind.

  12. David

    I couln’t agree more with your thought on alcohol. When I’m moderately pissed, I’m 100% more creative and spontaneous, at least in my own mind.

    But I reckon there’s some deeper learning theory behind this. Remember how it seemed so easy to do creative writing when you were 9 years old? Being under the influence dulls our senses to the logic and structure we’ve had to adopt in our professional lives since then. Plus the whole left-brain / right-brain thing.

    I tried to work this idea into my son’s school speech, when he had to speak on “The first step shall be to lose the way”. Needless to say it didn’t go down as well as I’d hoped. :)

  13. David

    How many times am I allowed to blog on this post?
    Here a list, let me know if you really want to know why
    – do it at work
    – use Word outline
    – hang around at the airport (or preferably, fly)
    – have an accident (preferably at the airport)
    – marry someone from overseas

  14. Stephanie

    I find that I have no problem writing. In fact, I narrate whatever I’m doing at the time. When I go to the grocery store I tend to think like this, “She walked into the automatic, sliding doors, hoping to find something amazing.” or “She picked up the banana, and exmained it closely…yadda yadda yadda”

    My problem is doing this “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!….Hm, do you think Neil Gaiman is going to write another book soon?…oh no, wait I was writing something….crap! Where was I going with this!?”

    So, my problem is staying on track. I can never remember what my point was. When I am focused, I’d say I do quite well at writing. But this staying on track thing is just- oh look, something shiny!

  15. Stephanie

    Oh yeah!

    What I was going to say:

    I have found that writing as soon as I wake up is more than just a little beneficial. Seriously, write about your dreams, or how badly you have to pee! It clears the mind. I have so many notebooks filled with my inane ramblings.

    In fact, the first line of my first notebook says (verbatim), “What the hell?! Ralph said ‘just do it’ so here I am, writing abso-friggin-lutely nothing! Agh! Write write write… oh look, I’m flippin’ writing! Writng writing. Wow, I’m so hardcore now, I have a f*** notebook!” And so on and so forth. I have some realy powerful pieces following those particular lines.

  16. Sudmeyer, Joshua B.

    I have often found that if your going to write on a topic, such as a ghost or a soilder in a war, it sometimes help to sit down and watch a movie about it, or that just has somthing similuar to it. This way you can get ideas for your novel, im not saying plagerize but just look around and expand. also just a little tid bit of info…. Conversations between two or more people can often tell the conflict ( whether it be between them or the world ) better than a narrorator.

  17. Essay Writing Help

    “Essay: Writing hacks (hacks on writing), Part 1”. Yeah nice Part very natural fact has been discussed here.

  18. Jose Paez

    I started to write just recently, I am still finding my style, the kind of writing that gets me going.

    What has worked for me is to start writing gibberish, I’ll go for a couple of sentences that mean absolutely nothing and then try to make sense of them. If I can’t get anything good from it I’ll just delete everything and start again.

    This morning I did so and this is what came up (I actually like to save some of the gibberish I write, in some cases it seems poetic, and others funny):

    ‘So when they cat comes the fastest I will be ready to tackle the rug and give you the reason to mind your own business, it will guide the spirit of the foul and create a paradigm for you to know that nothing you think you know might be as real as the last time you fought that battle in which you lost your faith to the same reason of the one that now writes with you on the same page that you read and the same line that you hate.’

    See? absolute nonsense.

    Hacks are good, they are little switches you can turn on and off as you wish.

  19. Robert Dutton

    I am pleased to feel crazy when I write; crazy? It’s what I feel after going back into my archives. I read your article and I have found a lot of similarities. Such as, writing after exercise, free-writing, and writing about noting in particular. My archive isn’t huge by any means but I’m working on it. I’ve wanted to write for a very long time but lacked the motivation; or is that fear? Anyway, your article reassured me that I’m moving in the right direction. Thank you.

    Being motivated in writing is easier now as I practice. I also know that I have a long time before I should be thinking about a publisher. I have one in mind, which I have been kind of eyeballing for about a year now. This particular site made me think that I shouldn’t allow companies to demand a payment up front. They also gave me sound advice pertaing to troubled spots. I was wondering if I should look for others like this. I don’t want put all my eggs into one basket; so to speak.

  20. Essay Writing

    I would like to add one more thing, when planning a persuasive essay, follow these steps:

    1. Choose their position.
    2. Analyze their audience.
    3. Research their topic.
    4. Follow the proper format for their persuasive essay.



Leave a Reply

* Required