These aren’t my super tips. They are from Joe Norman, whose book – The Super Tutor: The Best Education Money Can Buy in Seven Short Chapters, is published this week.Luckily for us, two chapters are devoted to writing and here are some of the tips he comes up with.
In the chapter on how to hone your writing style he recommends splitting your allotted time into three parts. First try staring out of the window a lot without really thinking about exactly what you want to say, followed by examining your thoughts – perhaps making a few rough notes, but not actual sentences.
Next, when you get round to the actual writing, try writing as you speak – find you voice, in other words. Though, if you don’t like your own voice, you can always aim at being a cleverer, wittier, version of yourself. As Cary Grant once said, ‘I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until I finally became that person. Or he became me.’ Writing by hand can force you to think harder and to cut out waffle and padding words like ‘very’ and ‘really.’ Use ‘said’ in preference to any other word relating to speech, and avoid exclamation marks.
Having spent the second third of your time writing, you should spend the last third checking it, at least to start with. As Hemingway said, ‘The first draft is always shit.’
In his chapter on how to write fiction, Norman says there are only three kinds of sentence: action, dialogue, description. ‘You don’t have to use them in equal amounts, but if you don’t know what to write you could simply put the letters A,D,D down the left hand side of a blank page of paper, then write a sentence (or paragraph) of action, followed by dialogue, followed by description.’
He quotes Aristotle who says there are only three acts to a story: beginning, middle, and end.
as David Mamet puts it:
Act one – stick your hero up a tree.
Act two – Throw rocks at her.
Act three – Get her down again.
Norman recommends eavesdropping on people in public places to get a grasp of authentic dialogue.
His tips are aimed at exam taking school students and their parents, and may strike the aspiring adult writer as a bit simplistic. But he is a highly paid ‘super tutor,’ so his methods must work for a lot of people. If you are stuck with writer’s block, or struggling to move your story along quite as you want to, one or other of his ideas may work for you. Personally, I’m going to try the staring out of the window suggestion.
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