Stephen King once wrote, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
But apart from reading a lot and writing a lot, are there any other writing strategies that can help you elevate your skills?
As it turns out, yes, there are a great number of ways to do just that.
Let’s explore them together, shall we?
Writing Strategy: A Definition
Simply put, a writing strategy is a set of actions you perform to reach your writing goals.
It can be applied in stages of drafting, revising, editing, proofreading, or even hiring professionals to get a new perspective.
In this article, we’ll tackle writing strategies that help you draft better as this is often considered the trickiest part.
4 Writing Strategies to Hone Your Craft
Writing a novel can feel like an overwhelming task – after all, eighty thousand words don’t just appear out of thin air! Hard work, determination, and the stubborn decision to believe in oneself despite rejection all hide between the lines of each published novel.
So, before you start panicking, let’s break the abstract concept of writing a book into achievable steps grounded in writing strategies.
Freewrite to brainstorm ideas
Ever heard of brain dumping? It’s a form of journaling that consists of writing all your random thoughts down on paper.
Freewriting is essentially the same thing but tailored to creating story ideas. One of the best ways to figure out a great plot twist, breathe life into characters, or find the perfect writing style for your story is to just sit down and write.
Put down some core ideas that have been swirling in your mind and elaborate on them. You can even start writing a scene and discover your world through the act of doing so. Indeed, a very effective way to get to know your characters is to just drop them in new situations and watch them act.
For best results, put a timer on and don’t get up until it’s gone off. A short twenty-minute session is enough to get you excited about the story you’re building.
Extra Tip: If you don’t have any ideas, look for prompts. Come up with a story behind a specific painting, let a friend give you five random words that need to connect in your story, or use an online prompt generator.
RELATED READ: Creative Writing Advice from Joanne Lane
Create the A Story and B Story
There are two types of writers – pantsers (who often freewrite and don’t outline much) and plotters (people like V. E. Schwab, who has every single scene planned out before she starts drafting). No matter which kind you are, it’s important that your novel has a well-thought-out A Story and B Story.
As Jessica Broody explains in Save the Cat! Writes a Novel:
- A Story is the premise and plot of the book (it should follow the dramatic arc – exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution)
- B Story is essentially character development (how your protagonist changes internally, what they learn, how they progress)
In many best-selling novels, it’s precisely a well-crafted B Story that makes the book stand out. Your protagonist should always grow throughout the plot. For instance:
- Give them flaws
- Show how these flaws get in the way of reaching their true potential
- Lead them to situations that force them to confront their flaws
- Incite action where they work on their flaws and overcome some internal struggle
An example of this is Harry Potter choosing not to act and listen to reason instead during a scene in the seventh book (when Voldemort retrieves the Elder Wand). Since Harry has always jumped into everything head first due to his impulsiveness, this shows strong character development.
What’s more, your B Story should dive into universal messages that will resonate with readers, such as the importance of love, courage, forgiveness, or even redemption.
Give your story the space to simmer
One of the strangest things about art is that it’s unlike any other type of work. To write a brilliant novel, you can’t just write 24/7 – completing a daily quota is not the main requirement here.
Sometimes, the best writing tip is to engage in idleness. Go for a walk. Take a hot shower. Listen to inspiring music. These activities may not be writing, but they are integral to plotting. This is why a writer essentially never stops writing – even if you’re away from the keyboard, your mind is still working on your novel in the background.
Graham Wallas, psychologist and author of Art of Thought, calls this “incubation” and classifies it as an important step in the creative process. It’s what often leads to sudden spikes of inspiration or lightbulb moments when you’re falling asleep.
If the words aren’t coming today, take a break. You don’t have to sit at the computer to draft. In fact, a significant part of drafting takes place in your head – and often when you least expect it.
RELATED READ: Tips for writing a perfect first chapter
Choose how you edit
Putting on your editing glasses during the process of writing a book is crucial, but when you do so is entirely up to you.
One writing strategy is to begin each session by reading the last chapter you’ve written. This immerses you in the world and helps you find your voice again. While you’re reading, you can choose to edit as you go, which will result in a cleaner first draft – you’re more likely to notice plot holes, you’ll create more effective writing transitions, and your language will flow better.
However, this style of working may not be ideal for perfectionists as you might spend an hour quizzing over a few sentences, taking valuable time away from actual writing. It might also take you out of the flow, in which case it’s a good idea to save editing for last and write the whole draft first.
Remember that no matter how daunting writing a book seems, it is only a sequence of smaller tasks. As King said, writing a lot is a major part of developing your craft – so make sure you prioritize writing and integrate it into your daily life.
To do this, you can try:
- Giving yourself a specific word count you ought to reach each day/week/month
- Having set days on which you write
- Incorporating writing into your morning/evening routine
Last but not least, don’t be too hard on yourself. Writing a novel takes months, sometimes years. All that matters is that you enjoy writing and always strive to get better at it.