Before I write, a do a few things. I make a pot of coffee. I turn on some music. And I make a checklist. It’s usually a short checklist, no more than 5-10 items that I want to keep in mind as I write. Sometimes when I’m writing a genre that’s less familiar, the list will be longer. Here’s an example of my most recent checklist I made before writing a short story about a 40-something doctor who is counting his final days on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean.
- Show, don’t tell. Are the waves are crashing into the side of the lifeboat? Or does a surge of cold, unforgiving saltwater climb over the edge of the faded yellow raft, trying it’s best to guide the inflatable vessel to the bottom of the ocean.
- In a story revolving around one person, dialogue is ok. Would you talk to yourself if you were stranded in the middle of the god-damn Atlantic ocean? I would.
- Write, don’t ponder. The first draft should flow freely off the tip of your pen, not be forced out in fragments as you repeatedly diagnose yourself with writer’s block. Write now. Edit later.
- Drift from your outline. You cannot fully develop your characters, your story, whatever, until you find yourself in the heart of your own story. So don’t be afraid to explore alternate plot paths as you write your story. If it’s good, you’ll know it and you can keep it. If it’s bad, scratch it in editing.
- Details: if they come to you as you’re writing, that’s great. But don’t spend too much time visualizing a scene. Chances are, as you continue writing your story, you’ll form a clearer visualization of your story in your mind, Go back and add your details later, and they won’t seem so forced.
Creating a checklist like this ensures that you’re implementing the practices that you see in work that you enjoy. Does your favorite author have a tendency to write fragmented dialogue, or colorful action scenes? Emphasize that in your checklist.
And write on.