Writing Tips From Reddit
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
If you're not on Redditt, you're missing out on nearly 2.2 million sub-reddits, 130,000 active communities, and a whole lot of free, fun, halfway useful content. Reddit is described by Tim Squirrell as such: "If Facebook is people you know sharing things you don’t care about, Reddit is things you care about shared by people you don’t know." Whatever you're interested in, there's a Reddit community for it. Reddit is easy to use and gives users more control over the content than arguably any other platform.
So when a reader asked me to give them some writing advice, I dove into a few Reddit forums, including "What is the best writing advice you've ever received?" "Writers helping writers," and this forum started by a user compiling a list of tips for his friends birthday. Go read some stuff. Below are some of my favorite tips.
1. This advice from Steven King:
"An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this."
Poor opening lines, or opening pages, will lose a reader faster than anything else. If you're writing anything: fiction, poetry, an essay, a speech, a screenplay, or simply a letter, you need to grab your readers' attention.
2. Your character's story begins when their life changes.
Sometimes writers spend a whole lot of time describing a scene or building a cast of characters before they get to the point. Cut to the juicy stuff and go from there.
3. Your old writing might make you cringe.
That just means you're getting better. And hey, no reason to cringe at the younger, more naïve version of you. You're growing and getting better (or you should be), so celebrate that.
4. This advice from Hemingway:
"Writing is architecture. Not interior decoration." This could mean a lot of things, but I take it to mean, 1.) the bones of your story are more important than the pretty details, and 2.) if the bones aren't good, the whole story will fucking collapse.
5. Stop reading about writing and actually do the damn thing.
You need to practice consistently. There is no use reading a bunch of books or articles about writing lest you actually do the thing. Humans learn better by doing anyway, so jump in my friend. Make mistakes. Write terrible things, and come back for more tomorrow.
6. Write (metaphorically) drunk; edit sober.
I love this tip. When you're writing a first draft, you need to set your inhibitions aside and just finish. Dump a bunch of shit out and worry about cleaning up the nonsense later.
7. Kill your babies.
Common advice, but cogent. You will have to delete some line you love, some paragraph you toiled over, some information that seems poetic but isn't pertinent. You will have to get rid of something you love, and that always hurts a bit, but your work will be better for it.
8. Establish a routine.
Duh. It's easier to practice consistently if you set yourself up for success. My routine is to write for 30 minutes each morning and (hopefully) 30 minutes each night. If I get my morning session in, I consider my evening session extra credit.
9. This advice from Christine Love:
"It's not about being clever, it's about being decent." It helps to keep this in mind when you're running through your first draft. Being decent means getting the architecture of your story down. You can be clever later when you do your second and third drafts.
10. Read what you write out loud.
If you're bad at writing dialogue, or think a particular segment is cringe-worthy, cliché, or unrealistic, say it out loud. Read anything you write out loud: poetry, prose, and boring work documents.
11. Don't tell people about your cool idea for a story.
Just like you shouldn't tell your friends your million dollar idea. Talking about your story before you actually write it satisfies your brain in the same way as having told the story, and so you will be significantly less motivated to write it. I guess this translates well to, "shut up and write."
12. Show, don't tell.
We've all heard this a million times, but here is a better explanation of what this means; avoid exposition if it can be written about actively. Don't describe how the 'so and so' people do this because of x,y,z, or how this specific 'character' is intelligent because of 'this.' Write actively and let readers make their own assumptions. Not everything has to be explained.
13. This advice from Stephen King.
"The road to hell is paved with adverbs."
Using too many adverbs is a rookie mistake. We think it makes our writing sound better but it just makes it sound like we're trying too hard.
14. Learn how to use paragraphs.
I've edited hundreds of papers and most people do not understand how to use paragraphs. They use them to arbitrarily break up big chunks of language containing multiple ideas. But paragraphs are used to transition between concrete ideas or pieces of a story. They can be as long or short as necessary. A paragraph break invites the reader to pause and contemplate what they just read. Don't break your flow if your flow is not ready to be broken.
15. Be funny.
If you're writing a story, a personal essay, or even a more formal document, a bit of humor can go a long way. When it comes to storytelling, readers are more likely to stay on your hook if you bait them with a bit of humor. Case in point: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller is widely considered a darkly funny book, and it's a banned-book-classic.
P.S. Watch Ira Glass's take on storytelling and beginners here, read about how to be a better writer here, or read one of the best books for writers here.