If you want to write faster, or with more emotion on the page, or more compellingly, or without losing track of who’s who, or losing your mind, you may need a writer hack.
A quick online search will reveal hacks for making your faucets sparkle. Did you know hand sanitizer makes chrome shine? You can find hacks for keeping deer away from your hostas (results vary if you plant marigolds between the deer and the cherished plants). Hacks exist for making a gooey grilled cheese sandwich (toast the bread first, dump plenty of shredded sharp cheddar and a bit of mozzarella on bottom slice of toast, top with other slice, microwave for 20 seconds, more or less).
Writers deserve writer hacks, don’t they?
Writer hacks for speed reading
A writer is a reader. Often we want to read slowly so we can savor. Or we need to read slowly so we catch typos in our work. But we often have the need for speed. Research goes faster if we can wade through the unrelated, irrelevant, or interesting but not for this project. Or we want to read through comparable books to get a clear feel for how our proposal differs.
You can take a course on speed reading. Or you can implement a simple hack to help you get through the material you need and glean the best nuggets. Can a person glean nuggets? Moving on…
We each read at a comfortable pace that is the equivalent of jogging. When we first learn to read, our eyes land on one word (conquered!) then the next. As we grow more proficient, our eyes take in a few words at a time, and our mind is already guessing what the next word or phrase will be. But it is possible to train ourselves to take in whole sentences at a time without losing context or comprehension.
When that’s our new comfortable pace, the human eye and brain are capable of taking in a paragraph at a time while maintaining most, if not all, of the information. (A friend of mine reads at the pace of a page about one page per second! WITH comprehension! He uses that speed for material he wants to move through quickly, not for deep study or relaxation. Imagine how many books that man can read in a lifetime.)
If you’re behind in your reading, try allowing your mind to ingest larger chunks at a time. It may feel forced at first, but it may afford you another tool in your writer toolbox.
Writer hacks for speed writing
Or you may be one of those writers who mourns how long it takes you to write a first draft. You’d like to trim the years to months or months to weeks.
Try this hack. Don’t stop for anything. Need to look up how a word is spelled? Don’t stop. Plant an X in that word’s place and move on. Stumble on a need to search online to find out if the road runs downhill or up at that point geographically? Don’t stop. Type INFO or something similar and keep writing. If you want to get a quote exactly right but don’t have the words in front of you, type something and highlight it in yellow so you know it needs attention. When you run out of words but the chapter should be longer, key in [add 300 more brilliant words here], highlight the phrase in another color and keep moving.
The X and INFO and highlighted phrases will show you what needs attention when you go back through the next time, or when your writer brain is more in the mood for solving problems than for storytelling. But those hitches didn’t keep you from writing. If you want to speed the process of filling in those blanks, when your fast-paced draft is complete, you can do a search specifically for your hack words or phrases. Address them, then go back to the beginning for editing. The trick is to keep from getting bogged down with what you don’t know, or don’t know yet.
I wrote half of a novel before I decided on the name of one of the main characters. But I couldn’t wait to start writing until I’d figured out that detail. So I inserted NAME every place he appeared, then searched for the word so I could add it when I finally landed on a fitting name.
Writer hacks for deepening the emotional connection
Emotions are often expressed through the senses. Touch, fragrances, a remembered meal, the taste of sea air and what it represents to the character. The senses also deepen the reader’s emotional connection to the story, fiction or nonfiction. Some writers make one pass through their manuscript looking for one thing only. Are a wide range of the senses represented on the page? If that element doesn’t come naturally, create a signal for yourself–like the number 5–that will remind you during editing to watch for places where smells, sounds, tastes, and textures are present or can be added to the default sense of sight to enrich the experience for the reader.
Writer hacks for keeping track of who’s who
Many use Scrivener or a similar software program or even a spreadsheet for keeping track of who’s who, their occupation, their wound from the past, their goal/motivation, their physical characteristics, quirks, favorite foods.
Some of us, not saying who, struggle with learning a new software program and think spreadsheets remind them of tax forms. Those writers may benefit from an old school trick of 3 x 5 or 4 x 7 cards for each primary character, or for keep-handy dates and snippets of research information. A phone camera shot of those cards or several cards in one view keeps the information accessible whether you’re writing at the beach or coffee shop or in the passenger seat of the car on a road trip.
A writer hack for productivity
If you haven’t investigated the Pomodoro technique for increasing productivity, you might want to at least experiment with it to see if it works for you. Some personalities find it useful in keeping distractions to a minimum and ramping significant productivity, as opposed to mere speed.
One writer hack to rule them all
Turn. Off. Notifications. The notifications feature for emails, texts, and social media has made us falsely believe that everything is urgent, that life is an endless series of interruptions, and that waiting to react is the equivalent of rudeness. Consider trying what a friend implemented. In addition to turning off notifications, when working on an important project, set your email to an automated response that says, “I check my emails at noon and four p.m. and will reply to you as soon as possible.”
Not every hack is doable or applicable for all. You may have a writer hack to add to the list. We’d love to hear yours.