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Tag: writing tips

What the Avengers can teach us about writing

by MDY

There’s more to writing than sound and fury. Through others’ stories, we can learn to captain our words more effectively, whether they be spears of stark prose or banners of poetic verse. We can see the difference between hulking blobs of text and phrases of hawk-eye precision. And we can make sure our writing’s a little less Thor-rible than before. Here’s what today’s superheroes can teach us about super-writing:

1. Have a plan, then don’t stick with it.

Why do the Avengers win? Because they’re chaotic. Sure, there’s a big tactical plan to first get them together, then send them out in highly-coordinated mechanical-reptile-squashing formation…but it falls apart almost immediately. That isn’t to say plans don’t help: Captain America’s tactics get all the team playing to their strengths in their big battle, and Jarvis’ recommendations give Iron Man the basis to plot out his various successful gambits including the Earth-saving manoeuvre at the very end. But they’re not set in stone, and they adapt quickly to whatever happens. Notice that Loki and his minions always have extremely “smart” plans – which get beaten by improvisation every time.

Lesson: Writing is like fighting. You can have all your strategy and tactics in place, but then some idiot throws a hand grenade into your war-room before you’ve even sent out orders – like a curve-ball essay question, or a press release due five minutes ago. Train yourself to write fast, and think faster. Don’t get too attached to your ideas, and be dispassionate enough to toss them off the Asgardian cliffs if better ones come along. That way, you can adapt your structure and content to meet, beat and even take advantage of unexpected change in demands or requirements.

2. Work together, write alone.

It’s not just Tony Stark who doesn’t play well with others. When Thor stops for hammer-time, everyone else gets out of the way. Captain America always gets distracted by emotional baggage of teamwork. And Hulk smash. Even Black Widow and Hawkeye are notorious lone-wolf operators who hate others – even superheroes – getting in their way. Having all these highly skilled loners collaborate is like realising Joss Wheedon also wrote the script for Alien: Resurrection: painful at first, but not too bad after a while. Yet what makes the Avengers so effective is that even when they work together, they leave their fellows alone to do what they do best: kicking ass and taking names.

Lesson: Writing is not a collaborative activity. Ever. It may be beneficial to canvass feedback from a group, or brainstorm ideas, or discuss key messages and requirements. But ultimately, the words on the page can only belong to one person – and that person needs to focus on getting them just right. Save the “team-player” speeches for the locker room and the “constructive feedback” or social chatter for after (not during) the creative process. When you’re writing, isolate and concentrate. Your words will reap the benefit immediately.

3. It’s not just what you do.

Gotta save the world. But gotta look good doing it. We love the Avengers not because they do amazing things, but because they do them with style. Captain America’s all about calm and precision, like when he just sticks his shield out and totally schools Thor in the forest. Thor, for his part, brings the damage with slick effects and a wisecrack or two. The Hulk smashes. Iron Man is a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist. Even Loki has that sexy cape and accent and magic tricks of his. These aren’t just world-savers, they’re cool world-savers. I bet there’s a whole new generation of 10-year-olds who can’t wait to grow up and be just as cool with their flying armour suits and invincible armour and weather control. Who knows – maybe they’ll be the ones making these superpowers a reality.

Lesson: It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Never overlook flow and tone of voice when you write. Say your words back to yourself, aloud if need be. Practise in different styles (fictive prose, reportage, iambic tetrameters) until you can use them all with some proficiency. Read as much as you possibly can, as long as you live. Work until your writing is clear, precise and eloquent – and then make it even more so. And like those 10-year-old future superheroes, don’t underestimate what you can do if you aim for galaxies far, far away.

(credits to Squall95)

In brief: Be flexible. Write alone. Never give up.


Five tips to write (and think) faster

by MDY

Maybe you’re in an exam with too many unwritten words and not enough microseconds. Or your current/prospective employer has just thrown you such a curve-ball of a question that if you don’t catch it just right, you’re liable to get whacked into geosynchronous orbit. Or maybe you need to finish that cover letter or assignment or essay two minutes ago, because that was when the electronic submission box closed. Sometimes, no time is more than you have. You (hopefully) won’t use these too often, but here are some tips to help you write really really REALLY fast (and think even faster):

  1. Pause. That’s right. Even when you can’t afford to, take the time to think and plan what you want to write (or say). Come up with a brief structure in your head, and maybe one or two examples. This should take you five, ten seconds at most. If not, look at yourself in the mirror and answering the insecurities which spring into your head as quickly as possible. That should give you ample practice material.
  2. Speed-writing. The more you write, the better you get. To practice your quick-draw, sit at your desk and take in your surrounds. What’s the first thing you think of? Oranges? Good. Write for a minute about oranges. If you don’t reach 200 words, slap yourself and try again. Repeat. Like speed-dating, but more productive and sadomasochistic at the same time.
  3. Don’t talk smack. Cut out weasel words, jargon, and anything longer than 3 syllables. Trying to buy yourself time with obfuscation and verbal fluff is akin to cementing a wall together using fecal matter: sooner or later, your shit’s going to fall apart. Write or speak plainly and with honesty. If you don’t know, say so.
  4. Stay consistent. What’s the one thing you simply have to say? Got it? Now say it, and keep saying it. Don’t lose sight of your single message – it’s probably all you have time to offer up anyway. If you’ve done 1 and 3, this should be easy: the less you write, the more consistent you’ll sound.
  5. Own it. Write with gravitas. Speak with confidence. Most people will care less about what you say and more about how you say it. And an articulate, clear fool can carry the day far better than a mute genius. If you sound like you know what you’re talking about, people will think you do. This blog is a good example.

In brief: Clean up your mind, and you’ll write faster. Planning, structure and plain diction will help you know more quickly what you have to say. And then you’ll be able to say it.

Poetry for Beginners

by MDY

Writing poetry is a skill
Which many like to think they know;
But many so-called “poems” will
Cause pain to eye, and ear, and toe –

Anyone can drop a rhyme
Or spew forth syllables acrostic,
But how to make it sound sublime? –
I’ll share with you my secrets gnostic,

Guide your poems till they be
As splendid as those writ by me.

Let’s start off with the basics first,
Of rhyme and metre, two old friends
Without which poets would be cursed
To write to more prosaic ends.

Rhyme‘s a game of finding pairs
Of words which start and end alike
(Although not everyone’s aware
Of eye-rhymes, ear-rhymes and the like).

Metre‘s all about the beat:
It’s like a verbal metronome
Of dactyls, spondees, stops and feet
That bring the poem marching home.

Now let’s learn to use them better,
With a simple exercise:
Composing a seductive letter
Meant for your love interest’s eyes.

First, the rhymes must fit precisely
When you read them out aloud;
Homophones can work quite nicely;
Breaking rhyme schemes? Not allowed.

Sentences which span a break should
Flow without a disjoint pause
When crossing lines; the best of these could
Pass as prose devoid of flaws.

As for metre? Try to drum
A solid pulse which fits your theme.
Ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM –
Syllabic stresses ought to seem

Quite natural, like spoken word.
They shouldn’t sound too forced or glib
Or beat a tattoo too absurd
For you to keep to with your nib;

In short, your poems should speak true,
Concise, precise, with feeling ample.
In light of that, without ado,
Let’s move right into our example:

Dear potential lover,

Hey, I just met you,

My rhymes are crazy,

I really like you,

So write me maybe?


Your loving stalker (name witheld)

In brief: Never.