1. Make a writing date with yourself. Pick an hour or more each week, in advance, that will be devoted only to writing. Put it in your calendar and then treat it with the respect you would any other business or social appointment.
2. Borrow a technique from our friends in project management and write in “sprints.” Set an alarm or kitchen timer (not a smartphone) for ten minutes and write as fast as you can without stopping or worrying about spelling, style, etc. At the end of ten minutes take a five-minute break, and then do it twice more.
3. While writing, stow your cell phone — preferably in a different room, in a drawer, under some socks, in a box, at the bottom of the sea. This seems obvious, but our tendency to distraction is our worst enemy. Feel an urge, while writing, to check your twitter feed or e-mail? That means you’re probably on the cusp of a breakthrough.
4. Conversely: instead of playing BubbleCrush during your WiFi-less subway commute, why not use the time to speed-write on a smartphone NotePad application? Those minutes — and words — add up!
5. Write fast, edit slow… and on paper. Yes, it’s a pain to print things out, but the process of editing is a different animal, and it works best when done the old-fashioned way, on paper, with pencil in hand.
6. Most of these tips are about you and the page, because writing is, of course, an essentially solitary process. Nonetheless, it can be important to push yourself to engage with the writing community around you — whether it be a reading group at your public library, a book club meeting at your local bookstore, or something like last week’s Brooklyn Book Festival. The benefits of exposing yourself to other writers, other voices, other perspectives, may be difficult to quantify, but it is real, and lasting.
7. When editing, read your prose aloud. The ear is a more finely-tuned instrument than the eye, and you’ll find yourself restructuring clauses and re-arranging punctuation to good effect. Try it and see!
8. 1952 called, and they want their tough, spare, flexible prose style back. Yup, I’m talking about the venerable Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E. B. White, which to my mind remains the essential style guide, unfashionable and occasionally anachronistic as it may be. If you read it cover to cover every week, your writing will improve.
9. It has become axiomatic that over-reliance on adjectives and adverbs — as opposed to verbs and nouns — is the mark of a lazy or inferior writer. To this I say: hogwash! Properly used, adjectives and adverbs can charge your writing with color, passion, life, excitement, and I would no more reflexively abstain from them than would a painter choose not to use all the colors in his palette.
10. And the final tip: read, read, read, read, and then read some more. It’s how we learn to be writers. Here’s a quick anecdote: when I was first coming to think of myself as a writer, one of my idols was the late Hunter S. Thompson (and yes, it had a lot to do with the booze and the drugs!). I wrote — in my journal, in letters, in short essays — in the high-octane Thompson style, with jagged bursts of words full of profanity and italics and comic hyperbole. Now that I’m older and more experienced (and sober), I can smile indulgently at the transparency of my youthful imitation. But you know what? That part of my writing life, in some small, unquantifiable way, helped make me the writer I am today. Of course, if you’ve read this far, I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know… but it’s good to be reminded of the process, and of why we wanted to be writers in the first place.