Ten alternative writing tips
Updated: Apr 26
Most writing tips follow the same vein: use shorter sentences, use lots of verbs, plan before writing etc etc. All the tips that lurk on the web and in writing advice books are the same.
But we think there are some alternative tips that every writer should know:
1. Do something boring
Monotony can unlock some of our most creative thoughts. It drives us to distraction – literally. When we do something boring, we often procrastinate and our minds wander. We can have some of our most inspirational thoughts when we’re repeating the same activity.
If you’re still working at home and feeling stuck, you don’t have to look far for a distraction. Take a 10-minute break to scrub the bathroom, do the washing up or reunite odd socks with their partner. If you've got small children, sort their lego into matching colours - it'll help you with creative problem solving (but might freak them out slightly).
Back in a half-empty office? Try taking a walk on your lunch break and let your mind be free.
2. Buy a good desk and chair
With many of us still working at home, our “office” may be a little unconventional. Perhaps you’re sat at the kitchen table, on the sofa or even in bed. But you can’t write if you’re in agony.
Make sure your chair is comfortable and a good fit for your makeshift desk. Hunching over is notoriously bad for your back. While your work is important, poor health and wellbeing will soon impact on your writing. Some people prefer kneeling chairs, or even those outsize aerobic balls. Whatever your fancy, you need to be comfortable when you write.
If you know you’re going to be working at home for the foreseeable future, invest in a sit-stand desk that goes up and down to match your mood. Standing up is energising too – just what you need for long Zoom calls. The energy you expend standing will make up for the extra 'grazing' you do at home.
3. Stay hydrated
Research shows that drivers who don’t drink water make as many mistakes as those who are just over the limit. Without the draw of communal kitchen chit chat, we can forget to drink enough. Dehydration can make us fatigued, weaken our immune system and cause dizziness. And the writing becomes a car crash instead.
Even if you’re sitting still, you still need to keep topped up with fluids. You’re exercising your brain, after all.
4. Look after your eyes
Computers are pretty darn critical in our line of work. But they aren’t good for our eyes. Vision degrades faster when you fixate on a screen all day. One tip is to look away from the screen for a few minutes every now and then. It gives a chance for your eye muscles to relax.
Look after your eyes and wear glasses if you need them. Don’t ignore those optician reminders. There’s no point in squinting at the screen, especially when it gives you eyestrain and headaches.
If you wear contact lenses, consider going back to glasses when at work. You blink less when you work at a screen so your eyes don’t get the hydration they need.
5. Learn how to switch off
Still at home? This tip is even more relevant to you. No longer do we pack up when the clock strikes 5:00 pm – and it’s become easy to let our workday eat into our evening. Before you know it, the time when you should have been relaxing has vanished.
Smartphones don’t help. Just because we can look at our emails at any hour, it doesn’t mean we should. You have precious few hours to spend time on yourself. Don’t waste that time sticking your nose in your phone, checking on work. Don’t email at night. Ever.
6. Change tools
Computers are amazing. We use them all the time. But we shouldn’t. It’s good to get into the habit of using pen and paper more often.
Writing by hand actually makes us more creative. Even though we can delete whatever we write instantly on a computer, we’re restricted to how we can present our thoughts. Pen and papers let us draw out our ideas and scribble. We rarely think in a conventional way when it comes to ideas.
7. Read crap
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure when it comes to reading material. Just because a book has had terrible reviews doesn’t make it ‘trash’. Look at Fifty Shades of Grey. Who knew that what the market was looking for was soft porn?
We can get a good idea of what sells and what writing captures the imagination by reading the stuff that flies off the shelves (or Amazon). Even if it’s absolutely shocking and laughable, it’ll reveal something fascinating about readers. We all have guilty pleasures.
8. Talk to people
2020 – the year when it became the norm to talk to 2D versions of your colleagues. Without the office environment, it’s tempting to become a recluse and ping off endless emails instead of picking up the phone (or sending a Zoom link).
Our top tip: don’t neglect small talk. It can get you through a lot of tough situations, and it helps us get better at talking to strangers. Talk about your home office. Show clients your dog on Zoom. Discuss the weather (a classic conversation starter).
If we can’t speak to strangers, how can we be expected to write for them?
9. Have a hangover
Great alcoholic writers like Dylan Thomas didn’t write drunk, they wrote hungover. The hangover suppresses the sense of caution and reserve. You’re more likely to care less and try something new. Which is good for creativity. Might be an idea not to send the work to clients till you’ve read it in the cold light of day.
10. Ignore tips on writing
They’re all the same. And if all the advice is the same, how’s that going to improve the way we write?