Written by A Guest Author July 13th, 2023

Writing Tips that Help Me Sleep: Plus Thoughts From Other Authors

By Tom Vandel

I started writing because I couldn’t sleep. I’d lie awake at night thinking of a story (mine was about getting lost in Montana) and my mind would conjure and ponder and wonder what if, what if, on and on, until I realized I had to write the damn thing in order to sleep.

I finished the story then found myself writing more, including a crime noir novel, book of poems, and award-winning collection of short stories.

Along the way I’ve learned a great deal – from workshops, speakers, books on writing by acclaimed authors, and my own experience.

Following are tips, quotes, and thoughts that continue to bubble up and resonate for me. Maybe they will for you.

Tips and thoughts

When starting a book, tell just a few close friends. No one else. If you tell too many, the pressure will be immense and you could crack. But you must tell a few or you could crack from keeping the secret.

Work on it every day, either in words or thoughts. Become selfish with your time.

Tell yourself it’s good, over and over and over. Lie to yourself if need be. You can fix the problems later.

Make it interesting. Make it fun.

Be patient, repeat, be patient. Don’t rush, rush, rush.

Take your time in revealing information. Don’t cram it all in up front. Give the story and characters time to breathe.

Tell enough but not too much. Let the reader make the connections and fill in the gaps.

Forget to care what others may think of your work. Other opinions are as useless as galoshes for a goose.

Most stories can be boiled down to a single question. Find yours. Be interested in it. Drill into it. Wait for the answer, it will come. If not, ask another question.

Curiosity is the portal to intelligence and answers. The writer’s job is to be curious and show up.

Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

If the writing pops for you, it will pop for the reader. Your excitement will translate.

Genre fiction focuses on what happened. Literary fiction focuses on why.

In nonfiction, go for the head. In fiction, go for the heart.

Pay attention to how you feel. Pay attention to what attracts you.

Think of writing as hanging out with a good friend. Enjoy it. Want it.

Do more with less – choose key, specific details, just a few to show character, place, feeling.

Get into the story late, get out early. Compress the timeline.

Escalate tension as you go.

Voice and style are simply your personality. The more you write, the more they come out.

Read your writing out loud. Notice stumbles, smooth it out.

Sentence fragments are fine, but don’t overdo it. Mix in long and short.

Fit sentence length to the mood and tone of the scene. Short, simple words for tension and action. Longer sentences for description and insight.

Watch out for repetitions, words, phrases used often. We all have them. They’re spinach in our teeth. For me, it’s the word “ponder”, which I tend to overuse.

If trying to be funny, make the end of a sentence or paragraph the funniest or weirdest part. Juxtaposition works, so does surprise.

The funniest letters in the alphabet are k and hard g. Which is why “gobsmacked” always gets a laugh.

Print your piece for final edit and proofing. It’s better than reading it on screen and you’ll get a sense for pacing.

Take a short break after your first draft and a longer break after you’re done editing. Go for a hike, go to a gallery, go to a bar. Reopen your mind. Then, look around and think about what to write next.

What others have said –

Mary Oliver:  Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell me about it.

Margaret Atwood:  It is not unusual that writers tell stories. It’s unusual that other people stop.

Maxwell Perkins:  Generalizations are no use – give one specific thing and let action say it. Dialogue is action. Don’t explain too much. You can’t know a book until you reach the end of it, then go back and modify to fit it. Learn what people do, how they talk. See plenty, hear plenty, that is much more important even than reading.

John Steinbeck:  Just write one page a day if you have trouble starting. Then you’ll be surprised at the end. Throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or edit until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material. No two people have the same methods. However, these mostly work for me.

In Conclusion

I try to follow all these tips but it’s an ongoing struggle. I do sleep better now.

Writing a book is like building a canoe in your garage. You take it out on water and it leaks and you sink, so you patch it or build a better one, and finally it floats. And if it still doesn’t, you build a birdhouse.

Bio: Tom Vandel is author of a crime noir novel, a collection of poems, and a book of short stories (2022 High Plains Book Awards finalist). He has also collaborated on two art books – on the pandemic and Uber driving. He lives in Montana and Oregon and posts his writing at tomvandel.substack.com.


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