The Best Way to Write… Is Just to Write | Five Writing Tips and Tricks

by Fire Girl Jess on January 9, 2018

In the past six months, I’ve received a volley of emails from prospective photographers and writers, asking a variety of “how do I?” questions. I’m always happy to help, and love to see people taking the leap into the professional creative world. To that end I’ve penned a few articles and blog posts about in the past. This one, “So You Want to Be a Professional Fishing Photographer or Writer?” went from a casual late-night blog post to a requested magazine article in the blink of an eye.

Thanks to the advent of the internet and the burgeoning social media realm, we’re in a world of content generation. All those articles, listicles and funny tidbits you’re reading? Someone, somewhere, wrote them. Quite possibly in their sweatpants on the couch. Or barricaded in a corner of the local coffee shop consuming one too many lattes.

Contrary to popular belief, writing isn’t always sexy. It’s not usually this moment of divine inspiration; the heated all-night writing sessions that Hollywood would have us believe are the norm. Oh, it happens, sure. I penned one of my favorite pieces in the back of a Mi-8 helicopter trundling over the Russian tundra years ago.

But the reality of most writing is remarkably unsexy. Example? I have a contract to write a series of location-feature articles for a state bureau. It’s basic content writing, and when I first started the project I’d sit down, stare at the page and think, “I really don’t want to do this.” Now, nearly at the end of the contract, I’m left wondering just when I wrote this massive quantity of articles. It just happened.

Sure, sometimes your fingers will start to tap, your mind race, and you’ve got to pen something NOW. But the rest of the time, here are a few tips and tricks that have come hard-earned over the years.

1) Just get something on paper. Write drivel. Transcribe Russian. I don’t care. Write.
I’m notorious for just starting to write random things on a paper. Ever since I was in grade school, it’s been a way to distract myself, to let my brain process and think. I literally have shelves of notebooks filled with writing that will never see the light of day. If we’re ever in a meeting and you see me writing, I’m not ignoring you. I’m processing the project. It could be a to-do list, it could be the beginning of a historical essay. The lure of filling blank paper with words is just too tempting, and my brain’s working as those characters appear.

So, when you find yourself staring at the blank page, just get something on paper. Line out your workout for later in the evening. Write three sentences about your last trip — what you saw, felt, smelled. Pen a poem. Last week I was stuck on an advertising campaign for a client; I picked up my pen and paper and transcribed the Russian alphabet and basic words. Next thing I knew, my brain had churned over the campaign and I was ready to get it on paper. Just fill the page… I don’t care if it’s garbage or not.

2) Create an outline.
This is one of my favorite content writing tricks. Especially if it’s a topic that requires research, I’ll do my homework and then organize my notes into a basic outline. From there, it’s far easier to create a coherent article. This builds off the point above… you’re just getting something on paper, and an outline makes a big project seem a little more “biteable.”

3) Move yourself.
Sometimes you need to physically move. Leve the computer, abandon the notebook, and go for a walk. If you’re in an office, go get coffee. Squeeze in a workout if you can. In my days at Orvis headquarters, I’d go throw dries as brook trout in a nearby stream. This winter, the rowing machine is my go-to for mulling over new projects. Physically moving your body puts you in a different brain space, allowing your mind to subconsciously mull over creative projects while your body is occupied with something else. Keep a note-taking device nearby… I’ve definitely been that girl in the gym madly making notes on my phone as an idea crystalizes.

4) Choose your soundtrack. Consume caffeine.
Good music helps. Coffee also helps. Not a coffee drinker? Pick your poison… tea, water, kombucha, whatever. Fuel up and get those words on paper. Stream your music so you’re not constantly having to flick through songs and interrupt your creative flow. My happy space this week? Too much black coffee, a big jug of water and the Atomic Blonde soundtrack on Spotify. Next week the music selection could be Mancini. It’s anybody’s guess.

5) Write More.
As cool as it sounds to say writing is truly divine inspiration, it’s not that sexy. Writing is a habit, and like all habits, it needs to be nurtured. Write often. Write a variety of content. Stuck on the commuter train? Pen a poem. Long flight? Give yourself a prompt and write a 2,500-word short story. Tired and just not feeling it today? Too bad. Write, dammit.Some of the hardest writing I’ve done is on international assignments. When we’re in some remote corner of the world, it’s past midnight, I only have a headlamp, my body is screaming for rest and we have a 4AM wake-up to break camp, the last thing I want to do it take detailed notes in my notebook. But when we’re exhausted our brains do funny things, and I know that by the time I get on the plane ride home and feel like I have time to write notes down, I’ll have forgotten the visceral details that make stories truly compelling.

You can look back over my notebooks from years past and you’ll see notes like “f-ing tired” “fishing sucked” “peppermint-scented air” “too many snakes” “nurse provided antibiotics; not sure what they are” and “this is f-ing awesome.” (These were all literally trip notes from the past several years.)Write what you feel, even if it’s in little phrases. Take notes on maps (I have weird maps on my office wall from all over the world, smeared with dirt and blood and who-knows-what, but they’ve earned a place on the wall). Those comments will jolt you back into the moment later, and you can expound and get the article written on the long plane ride home. And, years later, you’ll be glad you did.

One more tip? Always, always jot down the names of place and people when you’re on location. Have the locals look at your list to ensure you’re getting the spelling right. Note nicknames, funny local terms, whatever. You’ll forget by the time you wish you remembered.

Now go forth and write, be it from the couch, the local coffeehouse or the far corners of the globe.

Tags: Business, Techniques

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Lucinda Jamison January 10, 2018 at 15:15

Jess,
I love this piece. I have read it through on two different occasions and it is such terrific wisdom and resonates so deeply, yet so common-sense that I had a forehead-smacking moment. As ever, you are a wonderful inspo for any adventurer. Looking forward to reading whatever comes next! Best, L

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Fire Girl Jess January 10, 2018 at 18:56

Thank you so much for the kind words, Lucinda! As you well know, this writing game is an ever-evolving beast. Hope you and yours are well, and enjoying the start of 2018! Look forward to catching up in person one of these days.

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FeatherChucker January 12, 2018 at 09:05

Great advice.

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Fire Girl Jess January 13, 2018 at 13:07

Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for stopping by.

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