5 Unconventional Methods of Writing a Story
Sometimes the writing flows and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s just a natural fact of what it’s like to be a writer, much how “sometimes you spit in some jerk’s clam chowder and sometimes you don’t” is a natural fact of what it’s like to work at a restaurant. On days the writing fails to arrive, most writers like to sit back and cross their arms and declare, “Gosh! Bested by writer’s block once again!” They give up without a fair fight and go binge another mediocre Netflix original instead of trying to face the problem. To quote one of the greatest poets of the modern age: “Back off, I’ll take you on; headstrong to take on anyone.”
If you want to be a writer, you can’t be weak. You can’t surrender at the slightest sign of trouble. Sometimes to get over a speed bump you just have to floor it and hope for the best. Okay, that’s actually terrible advice if you take it in the most literal sense. Do not floor it over speed bumps. You’ll screw up your car and, potentially, kill a pedestrian. But when it comes to writing, sometimes the best way to get out of a funk is to write a bunch of trash. You can’t edit a blank page, but you can always go back and fix bad writing. That’s usually my best advice for those struggling with motivation. I tell them they have to treat writing like a job, because it is a job. You either write or you don’t. You either show up to your nine-to-five or your boss finds someone else to plunge toilets and sword-fight raccoons.
But sometimes just forcing yourself to show up isn’t enough. Sometimes, even after you’ve planted ass in seat, you still find yourself staring at a buzzing monitor subtly humiliating everything you’ve ever stood for. That’s why I recommend periodically changing up the way in which you dish out words. It’s not a secret that the human brain easily gets bored. It helps to mix things up once in a while. That’s what I’m here for, to serve as your guide, your mentor; to offer new, perhaps unconventional methods of kicking your butt into gear and hopping back on the ol' writing train. Wait, is writing a train? I don’t know! But, to once again quote a true master of the written word: “I see your fantasies / You wanna make it a reality, baby, paved in gold / See inside, inside of our heads, yeah.”
Anyway. A list!
Consider the Typewriter
This isn’t my first article plugging the typewriter. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s what everybody used to type on before Stephen Hawking invented the computer (this seems accurate, but I’m not bothering to fact-check it; do not @ me). Once in a while, when I’m feeling particularly blocked, I like to shut off my computer and isolate myself in a room with only a typewriter. Blocked from all technology, all distractions, it’s kind of amazing how much more productive you can be. There’s something about the sound of typewriter keys machine-gunning beneath your fingers that’s incredibly alluring to writers. I admit it sounds pretentious. Sometimes it’s okay to be pretentious if it’s within the privacy of your own home. Just don’t take the typewriter out in public and everything should be fine.
When you’re working with a typewriter, there’s no room to doubt yourself. There is literally no backspace button. You type and type and if you screw up, oh well, you can just fix it in the next draft. I frequently use typewriters on first drafts for short stories, but admit to getting burned out on them rather quickly. They’re best for the first couple pages, to jumpstart the high that’ll hopefully carry you through to the end.
Talk Dirty To Me
Out of every example listed in this article, voice-to-text might be my least favorite. Technology and I don’t exactly have the best history together, especially when it comes to it understanding what words I’m pronouncing. Sometimes I’ll hold down the little voice-to-text option and say, “Tell Mom don’t forget to feed the ducks,” and it’ll send her something like, “Hey Mom, don’t forget to get fucked.” Another occasion I tried to text my girlfriend, “You are the love of my life,” but for whatever reason it sent, “Our entire relationship has been a lie from the beginning, and I can no longer continue seeing you.” I guess maybe I’m not always the best at pronouncing things, is what I’m saying (or is it?).
But, with that said, other people might have better luck with such audible witchcraft. I feel like it probably makes sense some folks would find the writing process more comfortable by just saying stuff out loud. Why not give it a shot, see if it works for you? Maybe voice to text isn’t the way to go, though, given its nefarious reputation. But you could certainly just record your voice into a recorder then transcribe it later. I’ve definitely seen movies where writers have done this. I promise you I am not making this up.
Most writers use social media for only three things: to post word count updates, to bitch about story rejections, and to joke about how “if you aren’t too careful, I’ll put you in my next novel! Hahahaha!” All of these are largely a waste of time, especially the last one. Seriously. Nobody thinks that shit is funny, so knock it off. You hear me? Knock it off. Either post cute pictures of cats and dogs or don’t bother wasting our time.
However, if you insist on keeping social media, considering using it as a warm-up exercise for the actual act of writing. Having a tough time getting into the flow of things? Hop on Twitter and bust out a quick ten-tweet piece of flash fiction; something you don’t put a lot of thought into. Not only does it help loosen you up, but it’s also a pretty cool method of telling a story that not a lot of people are taking advantage of right now. The goal of the writer is to entertain—or, at the very least, to be read. So, what’s read more than a Twitter feed? I mean...maybe nothing, right? Oh my god. Maybe nothing. Anyway, get your work out there. Show these jerks who you are.
Here’s a little horror story I wrote a couple years ago for Twitter. Weirdly enough, it did not go viral and, as of the writing of this article, nobody has offered me my own Netflix original series. But hey. Maybe next time.
Talk the Talk
Read this interview with Craig Clevenger. This quote, specifically:
I write all my dialogue separately. I don’t like reading a novel in which all the characters sound alike, and/or they all sound like the narrator. And I’m very self-conscious about the believability of my dialogue. I pulled the dialogue from the first draft of the Handbook and formatted it like a stage play, read it aloud and re-worked it, then dropped it into the subsequent draft. With Dermaphoria, I wrote the narrative without any dialogue at all, just place holders with maybe a key phrase or two. Then I wrote an entire draft of the novel’s dialogue from beginning to end and worked it into the narrative, assigned tags and attribution, re-shuffled the narrative as needed. I’m doing the same with my current book, but for the most part I’m writing the dialogue first, then the narrative, so that the story hangs on the characters and not the exposition.
I read this interview ages ago and fell in love with the idea of writing an entire novel with just the dialogue, then going back and adding the rest in subsequent drafts. I finally had the opportunity to do this on my latest novel, Carnivorous Lunar Activities, which comes out in just a week or so from Fangoria. In my novel, two childhood best friends reconnect under terrible circumstances and spend a night in a basement...just, kind of talking about dumb shit. Also, one of them might be a werewolf.
It was the perfect chance to try the dialogue-first idea, and let me tell you: it rules. The writing flowed like it never had before. Just getting these two guys together in the same room and letting this insane conversation play out without having to worry about anything else—I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. If you’re having troubles getting started on a story, I highly recommend just trying to get a conversation started between a couple characters and let what they say guide you through the rest.
Also, slightly off-topic, but when the fuck are we going to get to read Craig Clevenger’s next novel?
Walk the Walk
An issue I faced during rewrites of Carnivorous Lunar Activities had to do with location. I had set the novel in a real house: my grandparents’ old place in Hammond, Indiana. As a kid, sometimes we’d stay there when we couldn’t afford a motel room. The house had a basement that I found perfect for what I needed in this novel. However, later on in the story, some of the characters have to venture outside the house. Since I had set the story in a real location, I started doubting my ability to successfully do the place justice. I ended up just putting the manuscript away for several days, too frustrated with an issue that shouldn’t have been such a big deal in the first place. Of course, the solution seems obvious in retrospect, but at the time you would have thought I’d just discovered evidence of alien life on other planets.
What I did was this: I typed my grandparents’ old address into Google Maps and enabled street view, which allowed me to see not only the house they used to live in, but also the surrounding streets and nearby businesses. It provided me with a complete layout of the land I wouldn’t have been able to gain without driving eighteen hours back to Hammond. Because of Google Maps, I remembered there’s a set of train tracks rather close to the house. These train tracks quickly proved to be quite useful for my novel. Obviously I’m not going to tell you how. You’ll just have to read the gosh dang book to figure that one out.
But, anyway: using Google Maps is something I would have never thought to do until setting a book in a familiar location. Going forward, I plan on utilizing this option with all future books. It’s a tremendous help on the outlining side of things. Sometimes, when the writing isn’t coming, all you need to do is go for a walk. But exercise is terrible and surely not healthy for the human body. That’s why I suggest going for a virtual walk within your book’s setting. Log onto Google Maps, plug in the address, and take a stroll along the same streets your characters are living on. You never know what you might stumble across that’ll come in handy down the line. Under no circumstances should you actually go outside, though. After all, that’s why Stephen Hawking invented computers.
Have any unconventional writing methods that work for you? Let us know.
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