Part of being an author is having trouble writing. No matter how great the story, even well-polished writers inevitably get stuck, frustrated, or lost somewhere along the way.
Before I started working on Tale of Tala, my most recent novel, set to be released later this year, inspired by a girl who leaves home to join ISIS with her husband, I spent a considerable amount of time researching some techniques to help facilitate my writing process. But many suggestions, such as "remember to live," seemed a little too vague for practical use.
With every book I write I seem to pick up a few techniques that make everything a little easier the next time around. Below are some of the best practical writing tips I've acquired for writers like me who occasionally need a push in the right direction.
Compelling and Realistic Characters
Building a deep, unique, and believable cast of characters is essential to the art of storytelling. Don't hesitate to draw inspiration from the personal experiences with people in your life--it's easier to write eloquently about personality traits you're familiar with, and it's likely to come off as more authentic to your readers as well.
Crafting dynamic characters could be an article of itself, but for the purpose of this article I'll pass on some of the knowledge I've found most helpful:
1. Invest time into your characters early, because it will pay dividends during the writing phase. A strong command of your characters will help you weave through each phase of your plot with relative ease. Try to know the ultimate fate of each one before you even begin.
2. Determine what traits define and motivate each person, and why. Everybody should be constantly wanting, even needing something. These inner desires, combined with the circumstances of your plot, are how you create conflict. You can also try using a helpful list of persona builders, like this one!
3. Ask your character questions to help identify him/her. What is their greatest achievement? Who is their hero? What's their greatest vulnerability? Most guarded secret? It is normal to speak with your characters in order to understand them. See more question suggestions from Writer's Digest here.
Strike a Balance
Sometimes, you have to try and "write like no one is reading."
I see this all the time. It's not bad advice, per se, but also not very practical for authors who want their book to sell. How can you write a book that appeals to a mass audience, while still enjoying the creative aspects?
If you feel like your writing is leaning one way or the other, try to realign your mindset before your next work session. Do this by compiling a list of your favorite elements from the story you want to tell. Expand upon these ideas if possible, and keep the page as a cheat sheet for when you're feeling stuck.
It's important to understand that your best writing will come naturally when your heart and mind are working together in balance. Every sentence you commit to paper is a small piece of you--an extension of your being that can live longer than you do.
Everyone wants their work to be perfect, but spending too much time deliberating the details could leave you with a technically perfect book that isn't quite what you wanted.
Keep in mind why you started writing your book in the first place, and let the other pieces fall where they may. There's plenty of time for editing later!
"When Words Fail, Music Speaks"
Hans Christian Andersen, best known for writing children's stories like "The Little Mermaid" and "The Ugly Duckling," was the originator of this timeless quote about writing and music. While science has made great leaps uncovering the biological reasons we enjoy rhythm, you don't have to be a scientist to know that good music invokes an emotional response in people.
I find that music helps me achieve a more creative state of mind, and I enjoy listening both before and during my writing sessions. Utilize it to get the wheels turning during particularly difficult stretches of work.
If you can't focus on your writing with your favorite band playing in the background, try to find a writing spot that can influence you with natural sounds from the environment. If you require absolute silence, that's okay too. Silence is the soul's music during a period of solidarity, and sometimes that can invoke more emotion than any amount of noise ever could.
While writing Tale of Tala, I am listening to: "Ya Rayt/Law/Law Taarafou" by Elissa, "American Pie" by Don McLean, and the Palestinian band Trio Joubran. I encourage you to try different types of music when you work, and see how it influences your writing.
Don't Forget to Share
Let other people know you're writing. Those who understand the pursuit of art will understand and appreciate the space you take for yourself to create something meaningful. When you're ready to show and tell, try to be welcoming of both positive and negative feedback. Everybody experiences art differently, and seeing the way your friends perceive your work should help you to better understand your writing's effect on others.
Don't worry if your circle of friends can't really appreciate your work. There's an abundance of online writing communities where you can get a more informed opinion. Not only do these communities give you a convenient platform to share your work, but engaging with other writers and their work can give you inspiration for your own stories.
Remember that every writer has trouble writing, especially in the beginning. Even if you haven't started your book, open up a dialogue with others about your ideas. Discussing stories will help inspire you, direct your ambitions, and might even help you finally start that next bestseller!
Also check out my previous article: 13 Tips for Writing a Novel