Tuesday, November 17

Small Things That Will Make Your Writing Life Easier

By James R. Tuck, @JamesTuckwriter

Part of the How They Do It Series
(Monthly contributor)

Writing a novel takes time.

Often it takes a LOT of time.

I'm a fairly fast writer and still a new novel can take months. Some of this is the attrition of physically typing all the words, but some of it is spent on those little moments where we are writing and find ourselves stuck for long moments, frozen at the keyboard while our brain does the mental equivalent to the little spinning thing on your computer.

I don't know a writer out there who doesn't have these moments. Even when the words are flowing and you are on fire they still happen.

They add up.

And sometimes they can even end your productivity for the day.

Here are some tips to help cut those out and keep writing.

1. Train Yourself Not to Stop

If you're rolling along and the words are humming then the last thing you want is to pause. Work on learning the technique of simply hitting the caps lock and then making a note inside parentheses. Like this: (RESEARCH THAT GUY WHO DID THAT THING I NEED HERE).

I adapted this in book two of my first series and it is a true time saver. No more stopping writing to click over and do a google search, now I keep writing and do that research when it's appropriate. My flow isn't interrupted and more writing actually gets done.

I find that by making notes like this, I can find them very easily and address them after the writing session is over or in the second draft. They leap out and make it easy.

Obviously you can make your own version. Some folks just use the caps. Some use an * on each end of the note. It doesn't matter as long as YOU can do it almost without any separate thought than the mental flow that is letting you pound out the words.

2. Make Lists

There are things that trip me up over and over again. One of them is names. If I'm writing and I have a new character walk on the page sometimes their name will make me stop. Because I don't know it. To fix this I began keeping a list of male and female names I like the sound of. Anytime I find a new one I add it to the list. I do first names, last names, nicknames, place names . . . just any name I might need. Oftentimes I don't even need to consult the list, the act of making it has put most of these names in my head and they are easy to pull out. Just ask Truett McCall or even Jimmy Legbone, both of them named from the list.

I also keep a list of words I like to use, such as primordial. It keeps them fresh in my head as well.

3. Note Your Scene

Okay pantsers, this one may not be your bag, but you should try it. Before your session, take a piece of paper and a pen, very important that this is NOT something you type out, and make some notes of what you want to have happen in the scene you are writing.

This isn't an outline, just notes. Big actions. One sentence per or even a few words. Example: Jimmy Legbone and Truett McCall have conversation. Truett pulls his gun. Jimmy gets away.


I can write 5000 words from those three sentences alone.

And if you 're writing a chapter that has multiple shifts in POV or time, then this is an indispensable tool for getting more words on the page. It only takes a few minutes but it really adds to your productivity. And the reason you do it on paper with pen is two fold--writing it by hand puts it in your head in a way that typing on a screen does not. Plus, the more simple reason, you can have it beside you for reference!

So those are three things that add to my productivity. What tips and tricks do YOU have? Share in the comments below!

Until next time, write well.

James was born and raised in Georgia and grew up drawing and reading a steady helping of Robert E. Howard stories, Golden Age comics, and books he was far too young to be reading. Combined with a very Southern involvement in church and watching horror movies, this became the bedrock of his creativity. He became a tattoo artist, and now writes dark fantasy. He's the author of the Deacon Chalk: Occult Bounty Hunter series, a variety of short stories and novellas set in the same world (and some outside of it), and the editor of the Thunder on the Battlefield anthologies. His newest series (co-written with Debbie Viguie), is Robin Hood: Demon's Bane.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

About Robin Hood: Demon's Bane

Sherwood Forest is a place of magic, and Prince John and his allies are demons bent upon ruling Britain. The solstice draws close, and Prince John and the Sheriff hold Maid Marian, whose blood sacrifice will lock the prince’s hold on the kingdom and the crown. Unless Marian can reach Robin with a magic artifact coveted by the enemy and entrusted to her by the Cardinal, the ritual will occur. 

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound


  1. Great tips! I'm especially guilty of stopping mid-stream to research. I'm going to try just adding a note in the future. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. I'm a pantser, but I feel the need to do a short (super short) paragraph about each scene before I write it. It isn't because I need to stay focused though. I keep all of these paragraphs so that when isn't been more that 12 hours since I've written, I can go back and get a gripe on the story I'm want to tell.

  3. The name list should not have names that sound like or start with the same letter or letters as major character names. If your novel is set in a particular place with particular ethnic groups or a special history, you should find names that fit.

    In your scene notes, decide what the goal of the scene is for the viewpoint character. The scene should also include three bits of information--one or two plot points (information or events which move the plot forward), and one or two character points (important character information) so that you have at least three points total.

    At the beginning or the end of your writing, you should go over it and make notes in your book bible of character names, descriptions, etc. so you don't change a person's hair color or other info. It's a bit of extra work, but you'll be grateful for it during editing or writing a sequel.

    When you leave out info, use a symbol that you don't use in your writing so you can do a universal search to make sure you filled in all the blanks.

  4. Great tips in the post and the comments. Thanks!

  5. It is helpful if you use a character or character set to set off your inline comments or research questions that is unique and searchable. You don't want to search for every parenthesis in your WIP. But if you have comments set of by something like // that isn't used anywhere else, you can search and make sure you haven't missed any. I use it for all kinds of comments to keep from breaking the stream. Research, things to double-check from earlier in the manuscript, blanks to fill in, extra scenes to be built into the outline, whatever.

    Pictures of my characters help me when I am writing descriptions and to keep physical attributes consistent throughout the story.

    Keeping lists of minor characters who are likely to appear again (what was that grade 2 schoolteacher's name again?)

    I have a scratchpad (document note in Scrivener) where I keep a running list of odd bits of information. Names and ages, an inconsistency to check, a brilliant idea I just had for a future scene, words that I have written several ways in the book that need to be standardized (especially hyphenated words. Sometimes I put it in, sometimes I leave it out...)

    Background/white noise to drown out other distractions and remind your brain that you are currently being creative so that you can stay focused on the WIP. Whether you use Coffitivity, an iPhone App (I like Relax Sounds and Deep Relax), or what. Sometimes I just have my earbuds in and nothing playing, if I just want to muffle the background noises a little.

    Writing to a timer can help boost writing speed. Pomodoro method can be fun.

    I'm sure there are plenty more crutches I use, but that's all I can think about at the moment.

    Oh--having a word quota, deadline, or a word war or some kind of competition/friendly encouragement/accountability partner can be a real boost too.

  6. Great tips. I've moved over to typing what my scene is about and may need to go back to note taking. I always type WHAT when I don't know something. Too often that sentence gets rearranged or deleted anyway!

  7. Noting my scenes often goes along with when I outline. When I brainstorm, I summarize scenes into a few sentences and play with the order, just to make sure someone I kill off doesn't reappear in a later scene or something stupid like that. Then, when I'm writing the first draft, before beginning that scene, I read through those few sentences so I know what I'm writing about.

    The idea is to nail subplots through outlining, so I don't forget a plot thread halfway through the outline. It also helps me with character arcs. I don't think this will work for any pansters, though.

  8. That whole "not stopping" thing is so hard for me. I dictate so I want to take a break every 25 minutes or so, so my throat doesn't get raw. Only problem is that a 5 minute break turns into 30 or 40, every single time. Lost opportunity! I do the other two fairly religiously. I get a pretty good word count in, but it takes way longer than it needs to.

    As an aside, I recently read a book where the main female characters were Chloe, Carly and Clara (NOT related). I wanted to shoot myself. There was no way I could keep track of that.