Over the Labour Day weekend, I wrote a novel. Really. I registered for the 3-Day Novel Contest, then regretted every decision I had made that had led to that moment. I was terrified.
There is nothing more intimidating than the blinking cursor in the corner of a new document. But the experience showed me that the ratio for success is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
My novel is about a girl from humble beginnings who becomes a queen. She uses her gift with words to save her people. Some of what I learned in the process of telling her story can be used in your writing.
In fiction, writing prompts are a popular way to get over the glaring emptiness of a blank page. And they work for non-fiction too.
You might remember ‘clustering’ from a high school English class. Jot down a word related to the topic you want to write about, set a timer for 90 seconds, and just free-associate. Write quickly and don't edit yourself. Repeat this process until you have some workable ideas.
In writing my novel, I used this trick for finding key plot points. For non-fiction, starting with a relevant word and seeing what flows will help you overcome writer’s block and map out what you want to say.
Now that you have forced yourself into a creative space, make an outline:
Open with something impactful—an anecdote or quote to set the stage.
Have a point of view—writing is easier when you have a clear perspective.
Make it a conversation—share what you know and invite readers in.
Keep paragraphs and sentences short. Each sentence should have one simple, digestible thought.
In academic writing, every paragraph develops an idea. In everyday writing, the style is less formal, and paragraphs can be as short as one sentence or one word.
Unless you’re writing for a niche audience, avoid jargon and acronyms. Leave out fancy words and adverbs. They can be distracting. Mark Twain said you should “…substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
Consider these two sentences:
There are a variety of trees in Stanley Park.
Visitors to Stanley Park enjoy a variety of trees, including magnolias, Douglas firs, pines, and sand palms.
Which is more interesting? Specifics make writing more inviting.
Use subheadings to help readers see where the breaks are. This helps with the scannability of non-fiction writing, the way chapters do in novels.
And take real breaks too. Dedicate time to focus on writing, but if you find you’re getting stuck, step away. Then when you’re doing ordinary activities, think through the story you want to tell. As you prepare vegetables for dinner or walk to the store, you might find a solution to the problem. It can feel like magic.
Carry a small notebook or email ideas to yourself to make sure you don’t lose that flash of brilliance that came to you when you were buying apples!
Close with a call to action
What will readers take away from your writing? Can you leave them feeling inspired or set them on an adventure?
I suggest doing some clustering when you start your next piece of writing. Check out random word generators, like:
Flex your creativity and try these tips the next time you write. They helped me write a novel over a weekend. And they helped me write this article too.