- Integrate: I don’t like to “steal.” It’s not my favorite way of saying what I’m about to say. Why? Because plagiarists steal. Artistic theft is wrong. What I mean when I say to integrate is to take a technical aspect of someone’s writing and incorporate it into your own stylized content. Appreciate your influences, and learn from them. Some of the writers I’ve taken “tricks” from are Stephen King, Salinger, Joshua Mohr and Kurt Vonnegut. There are many other writers I’ve taken bits and pieces of structure, form, and style from, but those are a few from the top of my head.
- Balance: When you take a technical aspect of someone else’s writing and attempt to make it your own, balance is key. If I focused on one of these writers and sought solely to emulate their writing without balancing it out with some of my own technical tricks, it wouldn’t read as an original work. It’s okay to write a piece where your influences read clearly through your work, but you definitely want to balance it between what works for a piece and what you’re capable of, as well as what you want out of the piece you’re writing. Does chunking the writing up into small pieces work for the structure of your story? Great—go for it. Do you want to express thought within action without breaking the fluidity of your piece? Cool. Do it. Do you want to take a piece of someone’s formatting and use it? Okay, that works. Do you want to focus on one writer’s structure and copy it? Maybe try to stay away from that unless you’re actively seeking a strong homage, and are willing to acknowledge that.
- Abandon: If someone else’s trick isn’t working for your content, ditch it. It’s all about what you’re comfortable taking and giving up. If Vonnegut’s syntax isn’t appropriate for the voice and structure your story needs, don’t write like he did. He wrote the way he wrote for a reason, and it worked for him. If you can’t figure out how to write like Stephen King, don’t. It’s not a point of stress. A lot of the reason I use other writer’s tricks in my own writing is because it feels like it works—and it allows me to reach the next point in my writing. I can then set down the tool I used to make my own tool, and that’s a great feeling. The idea is that the muscle memory of writing a certain way strengthens your writing and allows you to develop your own technical aspects.
- Develop: I don’t personally know any writers that came out of the birth canal with a functional writing process already intact, innately formed. I’m sure it happens, but if you’re that kind of a genius, this is just a fluff piece and I give you my blessing to stop reading and go back to working on your writing. I myself have been working on developing a writing process that works for me since I was nine, and I still don’t have a solid one. Every few years something pushes me to alter my process. I grow as a writer and realize that the way I’m approaching my words isn’t helpful, or it is but I’m ready for the next step. It’s okay to want to write and have a general idea of how you want to work, but to not have a clear conception of what that means in practice.
- Focus: Focus on what you want to achieve with a piece. Different writers have different processes, and this allows them to focus at different times and in different ways. Do you write an outline to focus on what you want to say? Do you think about your audience and how you want to communicate to them? Do you want to express a certain feeling or thought? Do you edit your work before you let someone read it? These are all great questions to ask yourself before you sit down to draft something.
These are just a few of the things I think about when I sit down to write. No advice is one size fits all, and as always, you should take my advice with a grain of salt. Everybody’s different, and there are different degrees of discipline and seriousness when it comes to writing. Some people aim for professional careers, and some just aim for fun, or an outlet. What do you think about when you write?