A Collection of Tips

B94H8755When Corey Wright and I proposed our idea for the “60 Tips in 60 Minutes” class at DFWCon, we were extremely excited about what it could be: a chance to draw on the collective knowledge of the attendees. With so many writers in the same place at the same time, it just seemed wrong to not devote time to learning from one another. Everyone has something to offer, we figured, from the seasoned professional to the bright-eyed beginner.

We were right.

After Corey and I presented our sixty promised tips (covering topics such as discipline, organization, motivation, creativity, resources, and tools like Scrivener), we opened the floor for the attendees to offer suggestions of their own. We could not have asked for a more amazing group of people; there wasn’t a dead moment.

We’d prepared ourselves to capture an onslaught of tips, and it was a good thing. I typed furious notes into my iPad as people shared their ideas; we also passed out index cards so they could write their tips down, just in case we didn’t have time to hear from everyone in person.

Since the list is long, I’ll go ahead and wrap up the bloggish portion of this post. This list is comprised purely of tips from the participants, but we covered even more in the actual class. We shared three handouts—a list of the 60+ tips Corey and I presented, a handout on how to be a good beta reader/critique partner, and a pretty detailed handout devoted to the amazing features of Scrivener. If anyone is interested in those, shoot me an email or a tweet and I’ll send them your way. [Email: kayla (at) kaylaolson (dot) com  •  Twitter: @olsonkayla

A reminder: as we emphasized (over and over again) in our class, don’t feel like you have to try every tip. Also keep in mind that your writing process isn’t the end goal—your finished novel is!

Thank you, again, to everyone who came to our class! We loved having you, and wish you the best.



  • I used to keep track of story documents in separate Word files until I discovered Microsoft OneNote. Now I can keep track of research, characters, chronology, etc. efficiently, all in one place.
  • I love to write with a fountain pen in a composition notebook. I carry it in my bag everywhere. I can work on a draft or make notes, even when I only have a few minutes.
  • Reward yourself when you accomplish a big goal—finishing the first chapter, first draft, first pitch, etc. Otherwise, writing can become drudgery.
  • Get a standup desk—it keeps you awake! (Order online, or build your own if you’re crafty.)
  • Write while out in nature, not pent up in a building.
  • Create a Pandora station suited for each different project or the tone of the scene.
  • Don’t revise as you write—get it all down first!
  • Set up a writing space in which you’ll feel inspired to write.
  • Take a writing class—you’ll learn tools that you can use the rest of your writing career.
  • Go to the local library to write, especially if you need to get away from distractions like other family or friends, the temptation to do something else, or the ever-present fridge. You can even bring your own fancy coffee!
  • Check out NaNoWriMo every November (you’ll have a lot of accountability, and the goal is to write 50,000 words before the end of the month).
  • Set aside a time every day that is a writing only zone. Don’t allow yourself to cancel your writing plans during this time. And, it’s worth it, even if it’s only 15 minutes.
  • Travel for research and write a blog about it.
  • Write a 3000-word short story (in order to get concise with characters, plot, story climax, etc.) and then expand into a novel.
  • PC users: consider using yWriter5 for crafting a novel.
  • Leave your document open all day while at work—you can write 500–1000 words a day, even if it’s just notes or changes you want to make to your scenes. [Note from Kayla: But please make sure you do your *actual* work, too!]
  • Write first thing in the morning.
  • Log ideas onto index cards and file under future project titles. I have a file called “Too Good Not to Use.” When you start a new project, you can go through the cards for ideas.
  • Don’t be afraid to move around while writing—the movement can supercharge your imagination.
  • Make a mind map! They’re super fun, and they’re an awesome way to have a blast while plotting. I keep mine through my whole drafting process, and they’re super easy to change. (Don’t know what a mind map is? Tweet at @paperbacklove, who suggested this tip, for clarification.)
  • Tell your idea to someone else to get re-energized.
  • Tell your idea to your dog to get re-energized.
  • Write a letter to yourself or a friend to remind yourself why you wanted to write in the first place. (Works for writing in general or for a project you’re discouraged about.)
  • Ritual is the friend of writing. Blending writing into your life via tradition is super good for creativity. I like to find unusual, or even forbidden, places. Abandoned buildings, rivers, the unlocked executive suite in the library, the tops of buildings, etc. [Another note from Kayla: Uhhh, don’t blame me if you get arrested! Ha.]
  • Pray for guidance.
  • Listen to Stephen Sondheim.
  • Keep a dream notebook next to bed with a light pen.
  • In MS Word, I use the notes feature to highlight things I need to follow-up on. (Example: you let the dog out in Chapter 3—don’t forget to bring him back inside! Write a note to remind yourself.)
  • When revising, re-read the scene until you can’t eliminate any more words.
  • “Nifty 350”—commit to writing 350 words first thing in the morning (or during your first writing session of the day); you get just far enough into the scene that it makes it easier to pick up later. Great for people who have extremely limited sprints of time in which to work.
  • Make good use of your cell phone: the timer app is great, and you can take pictures of things that inspire you.
  • Ride the bus to see new characters you wouldn’t normally encounter.



Kayla Olson writes YA novels and lives in Austin, Texas. She is active on Twitter (@olsonkayla) and, on occasion, her blog (http://owlandsparrow.wordpress.com).

3 thoughts on “A Collection of Tips

  1. This list is a great compilation. Worth bookmarking for the days we struggle – just try a new tip!

    Some of my favorites are the Pandora playlist, WriteorDie.com, and of course rewarding yourself when you hit your word count.

    I’ll add in some fave twitter feeds for those that like group word sprints. It’s a fun way to have cheerleaders for your word goal as well as helping your fellow writers. Check out: #wordgoal, #wordmongering #TeamSprinty and #ROW80.

    ROW80 stands for A Round of Words in 80 days. Former DFW presenter, Kait Nolan, started the group and it’s available for bloggers and on Facebook and Twitter as a network of writers who keep each other accountable to their goals. Your goal list is made by you, so it could be word count, reading a craft book, revisions, blog posts, research, whatever you need to get done. But it gives you a timeline and a group of people working towards that same deadline and helping each other out. AMAZING community! For more info about it, feel free to contact me or Kait at @jesswitkins and @kaitnolan.

  2. Great tips. My favorites are the Nifty 350 and keeping the document open all day at work. I know I can do better about maximizing all the time I do have, even if is just in short bursts.

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