“We off That.” Don’ts for Writers in 2017

Jay-Z’s “Off That” is a concise guide to what was no longer cool as of 2009: everything from baggy clothes and Timbs (Timberland boots,) to fighting in the club and telling your girl you love her.

We writers could use a similar style audit. With all the wackness being perpetrated in the writing game today, it’s time for a little perspective. Here’s a writer’s list of “don’ts” for 2017.

The Word “Just,” we off That.

Remember Marissa Cooper on The O.C? She had this tick where every time she needed to express herself or work through a dilemma she’d start by saying “It’s just…” in a breathless voice. It was part of the reason some people were happy when she got killed off.

That’s what you sound like when you send an email “Just checking in…,” or “Just following up…,” or “Just wanting to know…”

Just stop it. Get to the point, say what you mean, mean what you say. The word “just” damages your credibility.

Continue Reading at Medium, and follow me if you’re on there too. 

50 Things to Collect when you Read

This post has since been reposted by Thought Catalog

  1. Favorite quotes
  2. Gorgeous prose
  3. Bad prose
  4. Lines that make you laugh
  5. and cry
  6. Lines you wish you had written
  7. Scenes that make you wonder how the hell this book got so popular
  8. Place names
  9. Character names
  10. Obscure words (the word for a collector of words is sesquipedalian)
  11. Words you derive the meaning of from their context
  12. Moments when you know what will happen next
  13. Moments where you thought you knew and were surprised
  14. Moments that made you put the book down
  15. Where you were, who you were with, what was going on around you while you were reading (See Proust, Swan’s Way)
  16. Recommended further reading.
  17. Settings
  18. Drinks mentioned
  19. Drugs mentioned
  20. Number of drinks taken (This has been done by readers of  The Sun Also Rises, and in a British Medical Journal study of the James Bond novels and films.)
  21. Bad sex scenes. (The Literary Review puts out an award every year for bad sex in fiction.)
  22. Language that just wouldn’t fly today (again, see Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.
  23. Lines that will make you sound smart.
  24. Feelings you’ve had your whole life you’re only just finding the words for in someone else’s work
  25. Words of comfort
  26. Words that disturb
  27. Words a good friend needs to hear right now
  28. Moments that make you say “I could have thought of that”
  29. References to historical/ current events. (I recently found a scene in Watchmen based on an obscure and brutal prison riot in New Mexico, the details of which I DO NOT recommend Googling.)
  30. References to other works of literature and art
  31. Outright theft of other works of art
  32. The sources of later references
  33. Parallels and cross pollination to other stuff you’re reading
  34. Moments that make you see the limits of verbal storytelling
  35. and moments that make you believe there are no limits
  36. Questions for the author
  37. Questions for a character
  38. Questions for yourself, the reader
  39. Food mentioned
  40. Brand names
  41. Celebrities and historical figures name-dropped
  42. Scenes that were better/ worse in the movie
  43. What you liked
  44. What you hated
  45. Notes on an impossible sequel
  46. Who you’d cast in the movie
  47. Life lessons
  48. Songs mentioned
  49. Books mentioned
  50. Number of times a given word appears (David Foster Wallace does a hilarious take-down of John Updike in which compares the number of words devoted to the description of a golf course to the very few words describing the end of the world for which the course is a metaphor.)


This post started as a brainstorming session with The Imperfectionist.


Showing Up, By the Numbers

If you do three morning pages  every day, you’ll write 273,750 words every year (assuming 250 words/ page.) That’s Crime and Punishment plus Lord of the Flies, all before breakfast.


Writing three hours a day gets you to 10,000 hours of practice in ten years. A decade will go by fast if you’re living the kind of life worth writing about. Graham Greene wrote 25 books in a lifetime of three hour days.


Just three pages a day for a year is over a thousand pages. You could still draft a novel in a year writing just one page a day.


Will Self measures his output in “Conrads.” One Conrad is 800 words.  At a rate of one Conrad per day, you can write a short novel in under 70 days.


5 NaNoWriMo Tips from a Guy who Hasn’t Done it

Since 1999, Halloween has marked the eve of National Novel Writing Month,or NaNoWriMo, a web-based write-a-thon in which participants try to write a novel (of at least 50,000 words) in the month of November.

50,000 words in a month comes out to a daily word count of 1,667, or roughly seven pages. That’s challenging but not impossible.

I haven’t done it, not in November anyway. I did use NaNo’s rules to draft the (short) novel I’m currently rewriting. The deadline brought out something I didn’t know I had in me, and the pressure to finish on schedule might be the only reason I finished at all. The experience taught me some good habits that apply to everything I write.

Here are five tips that may help you this month from a guy who who hasn’t been there himself.

Shitty First Drafts

As the name suggests, the ‘shitty first draft’ method asks you to let go of perfectionism and just get down a draft no matter how rough it is. Anne Lamott coined the term in her book Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life.

30 days isn’t enough time to create something polished and impressive, but that’s not the point. The only thing that matters is hitting 50,000 words by 11:59 PM on November 30th. Not 50,000 good words, not 50,000 publishable words, not 50,000 proofread words, just 50,000 words. Your only criteria for success is achieving your word count before time’s up.

Forget about grammar, syntax, punctuation, and good form. Just get the words out. Make a mess.

Surprisingly, the best way to write a great final draft is to start with a shitty first draft. When the time comes to rewrite and edit, you’ll thank yourself for all the raw material you came up with. It’s much easier to subtract bad words than to add good ones.

After my 30 day draft, I found myself wishing I’d made things messier. Here are my thoughts from an early post over a year after I started working on the novel:

I set out to write a complete first draft in thirty days. I did it. The work wasn’t all-consuming or frantic, I may have even taken a day or two off. If anything, I underestimated how quickly I could get the words down. If I could do it all again I would have been more all over the place, I would have overwritten more, written out every alternative ending, to give myself more raw material to work with later.


Never Hit Delete

For the next thirty days, treat your laptop like a typewriter. Instead of rewriting a scene, just write an alternative version and bank both in your word count. The act of writing around a problem rather than backspacing can bring out pleasant surprises. Writing this way keeps you in a flow state and forces you to do your thinking and imagining on the page.

For hard-cases, try Write or Die which erases what you’ve already written if you don’t keep typing.  


Cut out Distractions

In On Writing,  Stephen King tells writers to ‘shut the door’ literally and figuratively. Do whatever you gotta do to create the time and space you need to do the work. Take it one day at a time.

Some Nano writers get off social media for the month, others install software like Freedom to block the internet during writing hours.  

An easy rule of thumb when it comes to distractions: if it doesn’t get you closer to 50,000 words, it can wait ‘til December.


Be Accountable

Tell everyone that you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Don’t talk about what you’re writing (Stephen King will kick your ass)  but do let people know that you’ve accepted this challenge.

Stay accountable to your followers by blogging about the experience or tweeting your word count as you go (assuming you haven’t gone off the grid.)

Connect with other writers on NaNo’s forums.


After Novel Writing Month Comes Novel Re-Writing Year(s)

The rewrite is where you find the truth of every clichéed marathon running and mountain climbing analogy. This really isn’t a sprint. When it comes to rewriting, discipline and habit beat inspiration and motivation every time. The folks who only write when they feel inspired can probably slog through a NaNoWriMo but they’ll never get to the real finish line of a final draft.

Use this month to become the kind of writer who writes whether or not she feels like writing.



For more NanoWrimo tips checkout Storyist and Writer’s Digest.

Good luck.