UNSWeetened Writing Tips

Write every day. 

Even if it’s only ten words, it's easier to build on something than nothing. 

And a lovely quote from patron saint of Australian young writers, Benjamin Law: “All writing is failure – because you are changing the sentence until you get it right. Don’t worry too much about failing – that’s how you get good and that’s how you get brave. "

- Axel

Overcoming Writer's Block. 

When you're struggling getting past a particular point in a story or essay, look at the ten lines that come before it. Do things flow in that space of ten lines? What was promised ten lines ago that hasn't been delivered, or what needed to be established for the story or argument to progress?

With many 'blocks' in writing, whether in plot or in argument, it's likely the problem is coming from earlier in the piece, not a specific line itself. 

- Axel

The Macro-planner and the Micro-manager.

Are you a macro-planner or a micro-manager? These are terms Zadie Smith describes in "That Crafty Feeling". Macro-planners are the types that jot down their ideas well before they start in notebooks and post its and journals. They know what they want their stories to look like and they work to fill in their plans. Micro-managers respond to their own writing line by line. They don't always know what their work will end up being, so they discover as they write.

No one method is the best, but you'll probably find you fit on category more than the other. So this week's tip is to give the other writing type a shot! Macro-planners can benefit from the spontaneity of writing without knowing where they are going, and micro-managers can find more cohesion with prior thoughts. This is an excellent experiment to get yourself thinking differently and hopefully spurring new ideas!

- Mia

Choice of verbs. 

This is something my head teacher in high school suggested: try changing all of your verbs, and only your verbs. Adjectives can be great in creating images, but in the end its your verbs that do all the heavy lifting. Verbs are the most efficient parts of speech so when you’re trying to perfect the mood or direction your piece has, ensure the verbs you use match your intent.

Some examples: verbs like plunge, swamp, and cascade are associated with water and create a sense of movement or fluidity. Verbs containing plosives (p, t, k, b, d, g) make your writing more forceful and make actions more intense. Even in your essays, your choice of verb can affect your argument; the use of “illuminate” instead of “show” can imply you are shedding new light on a concept rather than just identifying it.

Individual word choice is not just important to poets! Every writer should choose their verbs carefully. 

- Mia

Don’t be afraid to get weird.

Literary genres, when they become established enough, are always saturated with convention and the best way to stand out is, obviously, to do something unexpected. But for this week, take it even further. Don't only do something unexpected - do something completely insane.

What does this look like? Have a look at this short story for some inspo: http://gulfcoastmag.org/.../2015-barthelme-prize-winner.../

The best way to describe it is pretty much a slap in the face, No exposition, no explanation. Just Taylor Swift clones and an extremely surreal atmosphere.

Here's another wacky piece by the fantastic George Saunders: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1999/06/21/i-can-speak

Its a seemingly predictable customer service email about a terrifying and bizarre product that just gets weirder and weirder.

These writers having a powerful ability to draw you into a whacky world that makes perfect and no sense at all. Give it a shot this week and write something zanny yourself!

- Mia

Finding the story's ending. 

There's a million and one tips on how to start a story, but we don't always hear as much about ending. So if you're stuck, try to choose an ending that fits in with the central focus of the story:

  • Single character focus: epiphany of character or some sort of revelation
  • Character relation focus: a conflict between the characters or a resolution of an ongoing conflict between (try not to be overly sanguine about this resolution - leave something ambiguous or melancholy)
  • Aesthetic/Object focus: transformation of a motif, symbol or setting
  • Other/if the above examples don't work: a cyclical ending, whether repetitive or developed

Your ending is actually right there already in your story! You just have to look for it. Remember, the best stories are simultaneously surprising and inevitable. Hope this helps!

- Mia