Like water, writing is about flow.
Water, however, follows a basic set of rules. Certain switches are never unswitched. Certain properties can never not exist.
In writing, this is called syntax. Syntax is our basic thing to build on. It’s unchanged, and, generally, not moldable. Unlike water, who knows its properties without any awareness, we need to learn about the properties of words and sentences.
We need to learn about structure.
Let’s do just that. But, let’s also talk about how to make waterfalls.
It’s awkward and long.
You’ve got a great concept in the sentence. However, the sentence spans a few lines. Read it to yourself, speaking the words in your mind.
Does it sound strange or weird?
Don’t immediately delete it. Instead, when you have a great concept for a sentence, learn to chop it up. Many people are afraid of using simple sentences as if it’s displaying something anti-intellectual. Great ideas and amazing writing don’t need to be complicated in order to say a lot. If you don’t believe me, go read anything Ernest Heminway has written. In fact, here is one for you:
“Baby shoes. For sale. Never worn.”
It’s a matter of crescendo and decrescendo.
Amazing writing works with construction and deconstruction. It also works in layers, but, most importantly, it works on levels simple and complex.
Here is an idea. I’m telling you about the idea. But, now, I’m revealing that the entire idea was basically the building block that goes on top of the original sentence I made that spanned four tiny words. So, as I was saying, work with levels. Expand and contract.
Think about the accordion.
Like water, sometimes the floodgates are completely open.
Other times, they aren’t. Choosing the amount to write and what words to use suggests something. We call this tone. You can control how you want to write something by choosing the right words or the right amount of words.
You can also use this technique to fluctuate on topics. You might want to take a certain thing and write about it on its own. Other times, you may want to take a particular thing and write about it at length.
As someone who is still learning to write, I’ll find myself writing one thing only to split the story into two or three other stories. Choosing how to fluctuate the depth gives you options for more stories (and drafts).
Learning the basics allows you to bend the rules.
Even the Avatar needed to learn all the basic elements first.
Learn the comma placements, and even the other things; when you learn these things and how to use them, you can begin to make it your own.
We need the rules. This isn’t because we need to strictly follow them, but it’s because we need to figure out a way to communicate with each other in a way we will all understand. After those basic rules are understood, bend them a little to see how far they’ll go.
You need to put words down.
At the end of the day, it is fingers to keyboard. Or, if you’d prefer, fingers to phone.
If you spend all day thinking about the perfect title or the perfect start, you’ll get stuck in processing.
This is bad. It is worse than bad, primarily because we learn by practice. Don’t overthink, put the words down. Don’t even think about titles yet. Get started on the story and see where it takes you.
If you like where you’re going, stay lean and continue. Worry about the finer details afterward. If you hate where it is going, scrap it and move on. When writing, sometimes a failure in one concept leads you to the birth of an awesome one. Writing works by linking, all it requires are the right elements.
Just go. Don’t get stuck in the lull.
You’ll be surprised how often you’ll discover the title to your story in the middle of writing it.
Nobody has a clue about transitions.
Seriously, like with cinematography, it is something that you recognize when you see it.
We learn by recognition — and emulation. If you want to get better at transitions, there isn’t a formal guide to get started. Flow is an art, but, like any art form, practice ultimately helps.
Abrupt stops, leading sentences, contextual hints. Look into your favorite writers and see how they hop one idea into the next thought. Compare with another writer. Then, make it your own. Compelling stories and great storytellers are masters in their ability to juggle from one place to the next.
Take a walk, go for a run.
I’m serious. If you want to help yourself when you’re stuck, don’t just take a break. Go for a quick jog or a walk. As a distance runner for about 15 years now, my mind connects ideas and words and structure in a way I couldn’t if I was sedentary.
It’s magic, and it shouldn’t be. Your brain is in hyperdrive when you are working your heart.
Cadence saves your life — and your writing.
Sometimes you’re on track for a great piece. Other times you’ve been off track for some time.
In either case, you want the rhythm to feel natural. If you find yourself starting at a good pace, don’t speed things up. Allow the words and the thoughts to formalize and catch up with what you’re printing on your monitor. We can get ahead of ourselves really quickly. It can ruin what is otherwise a great read. Pausing from time to time is good practice.
With all things, this is practice plus trial and error.
Water in its still, bland, and basic form yields mostly indifference. Writing, when cut down to its basic properties, is much the same.
You’ll find the flow of water to do incredible things. Whether that is in the form of a waterfall or laminar flow, the magic doesn’t end.
Sometimes, like water, you can look like you’re still but you’re flowing so perfectly that it is unrecognizable.
Every once in a while, the elements can bend us.