Whether you write for a hobby or to write is your vocation, whether you like to write fiction or non-fiction, to write is a creative feat. Unless you’re producing a practical manual, excellent writing relies upon storytelling techniques and broader writing techniques to relay information in a way that’s fun and engaging for the reader.
Hearing factual information activates just two parts of the human brain. The best writing technique, storytelling, activates many others; the two most exciting scientifically proven processes that take place in the brain during storytelling are ‘neural coupling’ – a process which provides the same sensory experience for both the storyteller and the recipient – and the release of a powerful chemical concoction of dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins, known to bond people.
Storytelling anchors information in people’s brains; it not only engages us and helps us remember information more easily, but it is also how human beings make connections with one another. In short, it’s incredibly important to get the hang of it in your writing.
Having said that, like many other creative habits, at times inspiration just seems to evade you. You’re ready to write, but your inner creative genie is having a day off. Your story is on the tip of your tongue, but when you go to write it down, your creation is more of a chronology than a canon. You have a deadline to hit, but there’s too much ‘stuff’ whirring round in your mind and you just cannot seem to put pen to paper.
All writers have unfortunately experienced a spot of writer’s block at some point – read on to find out what you do when it strikes (literally)…
7 Simple Writing Strategies Used By World Famous Authors (and me):
I’ve penned SEVEN simple and effective writing techniques used by the world’s most famous authors of both fiction and non-fiction that will get you going again no matter your experience or how stuck you are. There’s a tip for each day of the week but you can try them in whatever order or time frames you like. Do them all right now if you like. You’ll need to set aside approximately 2 hours to complete them in one sitting or between 10-30 minutes each day to do them one tip at a time.
Because you’re already busy and reading this, you could be thinking, “But Georgia, I need a quick fix, I haven’t got 10 minutes let alone all week!”, I’ve listed the seven principle headlines in the following paragraph. Read on for the full descriptions or feel free to use the list as a quick reference.
If you have time when you’re done before you write that book, I’d love to know which you liked (or indeed, disliked) the most. Still have writing-related questions? Just ask me in the comments or on email. I’ll either get back to you in person or I’ll create some fresh content if that’ll also help others.
- Write anything for 10 minutes
- Keep planning & writing separate
- Spend time in nature
- Write using pen and paper
- Indulge all SIX senses…
Monday: Write anything for 10 minutes
This writing tip will get you writing, no matter what your current ability or experience. It’s incredibly simple – so simple that it’s easy to dismiss. This is a powerful technique for reducing stress, improving mood and increasing productivity. If you think you can’t write or don’t have time to write, then all the more reason to challenge yourself and try this out.
Just clear a workspace, free yourself from distractions and write for 10 minutes.
That’s it, just write for 10 minutes. Write about absolutely anything – something that’s been on your mind, something you’re grateful for, something you want to happen in your future. If your mind suddenly goes as blank as the page in front of you, just write something that is true in the moment.
No need to control it or worry about spelling or structure. No need to set an alarm or time yourself, just note your start time before you begin. Then let it flow.
See what happens.
Tuesday: Keep planning & writing separate
Deciding what to write is akin to planning, an outward- and future-facing activity. Writing is an introspective and backwards-facing activity (even if you’re writing about events based on or inspired by an idea of the future).
Differentiate deciding what to write from writing itself.
Think about any book you’ve read or listened to, fiction or non-fiction, and you’ll notice it’s written in the past tense, sometimes the present tense and never in the future tense. So if you don’t plan your writing, when you sit down to write, you end up using your creative, mental energy to decide what to write as you’re writing. You’re asking your brain to do two contradictory tasks simultaneously.
Likely result? Writer’s block. So treat the two as the separate activities that they are. Plan what to write, and then write. Just not at the same time!
Wednesday: Spend time in nature
Wednesday’s writing tip lifts the writer’s block and provides a creative burst – it’s also known to decrease anxiety and helps you feel connected.
Spend 30 minutes a day in nature.
It’s so easy these days to only spend time outdoors during the walk from our house to the car/train/bus to go to work. We’re too busy to sit around outside, the English weather’s too unpredictable, you live in an industrial area or a city, there’s nothing around, you’re not an outdoors person…yet most of us have no issue finding a beer garden when the sun’s out! The truth is perhaps closer to the fact that we don’t like to be still.
We’re used to information being a tap away. We can Google things rather than spending too long thinking critically or logically and problem-solving for ourselves. Spending time in nature – whether it’s world travel, going for a walk in the countryside, a stroll along the river, doing some gardening or finding a nearby park – is valuable time to simply be and let your surroundings show themselves to you.
Try to think of some of the greatest writers, artists and business people throughout history. They are all clearly influenced by the world around them and make time to observe it, using their observations of the patterns they see to gain new perspectives which then inform the execution of their biggest ideas and enable them to problem-solve more effectively.
Realistically we can all find 30 minutes in our days, so if you’d like to start writing, write better or you started to write but now you’re stuck, treat yourself to a nature hit and let the answers come to you.
Thursday: Use pen & paper
Thursday’s writing tip is inspired by a comment on one of my LinkedIn posts. Someone said they were trying out the ‘write for 10 minutes’ tip and were finding it so good it was frustrating because they found they had so much to say, it was coming faster than they could write it down. I replied that was good, it means they have more content than they thought and could try simply giving themselves more time. Their experience means it’s worked! It is also about something far more fundamental…
Write out your ideas, feelings, questions using pen and paper, rather than typing.
“But surely that takes longer”, “I want to get more efficient not less”, etc etc…researchers in the US found that when students type up lecture notes, they tend to do so word for word. When they hand write them, they put them into their own words and discern which information is important enough to need writing out, leaving out the bits they don’t need.
This is because people usually write slower than they type. The researchers concluded that writing out information by hand is, therefore, a process of summarizing information which leads to a deeper understanding of the content itself.
This tip may not be everyone’s favourite but it is fundamental to making progress with your writing, whether a blog, a book, a journal or a creative story. It’s also relaxing and the perfect way to switch off.
In order to write anything even half decent, you must also read.
Reading across all different genres and formats will give you perspective on the codes and conventions of each one, it’ll expand your vocabulary and in turn, it’ll give you access to a wider range of techniques and forms of expression than someone who doesn’t engage with writing in that way.
No-one one can write well when they’re constantly trying to create without consuming anything first.
I’ve professionally written/edited hundreds of business books, short stories, blogs and academic articles. I also read 70+ books a year. I read the dictionary (I love it!) and play word games on most days. I consume countless blogs and articles. Of course, some would say that’s extreme – it’s what I love and what I do, so I’m not suggesting you have to read in those volumes.
However, if you want to write well, try to have a book on the go at all times. Whatever your favourite type of book, just pick one up and start to read.
Saturday: Indulge all SIX senses
How often do you set the scene in your writing? Do you think about your readers’ experience when producing your content, more than your own? Saturday’s tip offers a new way to engage your reader.
Indulge all SIX of their senses.
Hear me out, this is not as spooky as it sounds. It’s important to set the scene for your readers before going on to make your point or tell your story because it’s what engages them. A well-constructed scene acts as a hook – a literary technique that keeps your readers, well, hooked. Rather than lose them early-doors, provide a full sensory experience to draw them into your content.
How do you do this? Well firstly, think of the scene your content takes place in.
What can you see?
Imagine stepping into your story. Firstly, write down everything you can see. Look straight in front of you, to both sides, do a 360 turn. What’s can you tell about your surroundings based on what you can see? What’s in the distance?
What can you hear?
Next, think about what you can hear. Is someone talking, are there many people talking i.e. a crowd of people? If so, what’s their pitch? High pitch might equal panic, whereas low and hushed denotes secrecy. Can you hear what they’re saying? Is that relevant to the story you’re trying to tell? Write all this down, along with anything else you can hear. Birdsong or leaves rustling (so you’re outside, or by an open window), music playing (what genre and at what volume? Rap vs classical could suggest something about your location).
What can you smell?
After that, consider smell. Write down what smells you notice in your story. Freshly cut grass, fumes, perfume or aftershave…all of these things tell your reader even more about where you could be, who’s around you, what you could be up to. You could just tell them of course, but then you’re not storytelling, you’re simply imparting factual information and it doesn’t activate their senses and therefore their brain in the same way. They don’t need to engage with your content to understand it. If you just tell them, they don’t need to ask any questions or be even remotely curious.
Smell is also hugely nostalgic. The smell of Mum’s face cream or harvested fields sends me straight back to my childhood growing up on a farm in North Lincolnshire. So you can see now how important the senses are.
What can you taste?
After smell comes taste. What can you taste? Is there something out of the ordinary you can notice, metal, for example – or have you just eaten something delicious that left your tongue tingling? Did a smell remind you of something you can taste? Did something leave a metaphorical taste in your mouth? Write it down, too.
What can you touch?
Then do the same for touch. What can you reach out and physically touch right now. What does it feel like? What would you like to touch but maybe can’t? Is there something just out of reach? Write it down.
What (or who) else is there?
Lastly, think of the sixth sense to add a bit of mystery to your writing and keep reader engagement levels high. What is there in the air that you can detect? Do you have a strange feeling, like that of being watched or deja vu? Is there something you can see in your mind’s eye that you can describe to the reader?
Select the top 3-5 things to describe
Once you’ve noted down everything in your scene, choose the top 3-5 things that stand out the most and describe them to your reader using as few words as possible to get the point across. the key is to incite curiosity, invite questions (that you will later answer, no open files please!), and keep them wanting to read on. A rooky mistake a lot of beginner writers make is the over-use of adjectives. It’s obvious, unnecessary and totally kills reader involvement. It actually makes writing harder to follow, not easier.
Describe the key ‘events’ in your scene with agility and simplicity to allow the reader to use their imagination to fill in the gaps.
Sometimes you might be under pressure to write but don’t to – perhaps a looming deadline and a busy schedule mean that you don’t have the creative mental energy you need to create compelling content. Stuck? No need to be. If you’ve followed each of the six tips above and know you’re not going to get that writing done, there’s only one thing you can do.
You can delegate your writing while still owning the content. It will still be your content and your voice because you are still the author. You can just get someone else to do the physical production.
Did you know that some of the biggest names in modern publishing do not write their own books? James Patterson has written 150 novels, 114 of those are NYT bestsellers. Most are outlined by him and then ghostwritten by others. Robert Ludlum died before he’d finished the Bourne series so they were finished by writers under his name, posthumously.
It’s less about content ownership and more about recognising what you’re good at and passionate about and dedicating your time to that.
Luckily being a writer and being an author are two totally separate roles – don’t put pressure on yourself to be both if it’s not your thing. For example, I provide done-for-you book writing and blog writing services to busy business owners. They own 100% of the copyright, I simply facilitate the production of it. In today’s creative and connected world, it is easier than ever before to find someone who loves the tasks you don’t.
What to do next?