Articles / Writing Tips

Writing Tips from the (MA)sters

Once again, I’ve failed to stick to my blog schedule, but for good reason this time. Apart from my recent computer woes, I’ve been swamped with work (and the stresses of being in an international marriage at tax time).

In addition to editing my short story for my MA’s upcoming publication, I’ve also been working on a poetry series for Channillo. I’ll be releasing new poems every other week, so please make sure you check it out and spread the word!

I’ve also been writing creative pieces and rationales for school assignments, which leads me to today’s post. I’m going to share some invaluable writing tips I’ve learned in my MA courses. Enjoy!

1. Research in 4D.

Even if your project is fictional, use your own experiences and observations to enrich your piece. Being able to see the real person in those pages is important.

2. Make a space where you can rant about everything that’s bothering you about your project.

For some strange reason, I never thought to do this until my Independent Study professor suggested it in class last week. Having one place to get all your worries and fears out really does help. A lot of writers get caught up in a web of self-doubt, myself included. Getting it off your chest and on paper (or a document) is an amazing way to visualise your problems clearly so you can tackle them head-on.

3. Make a step outline.

Your formal outline for your project (if you choose to do one) could be 3-4 pages long. That’s a lot of space for plot holes and other inconsistencies to sneak through, so start small with a step outline and build gradually. This is usually done for scriptwriting, but I’ve found it’s helped me stay true to my focus. Break your project down into key, bite-size “steps”. As you’re editing, you can refer to the step outline to make sure that what you’ve written is serving the story.

4. Never wear headphones when you’re out in public.

As someone who suffers from social anxiety, my headphones are a godsend when I walk through town, ducking my head so I won’t make eye contact with anyone. Not only does this separate me from the present moment, but it also blocks out any useful real-world dialogue I might pick up along the way. Studying how people really speak is pertinent for strong dialogue, so forgo the headphones when you’re next out and eavesdrop shamelessly.

5. Describe things in ways you’ve never heard them described before.

This is author May-Lan Tan‘s secret to poetic, fresh writing. As she puts it, “avoid using parcels of language you’ve heard before.” This is an easy way to avoid using clichés, and it will set your work apart.

6. Act out your scenes.

It might sound ridiculous, but it’s a good way to test believability in both plot and dialogue. Putting yourself in your characters’ shoes and acting out their quirks and mannerisms will bring you much closer to them, making them easier to write.

7. Be a vessel for your work; contain the story within your body.

When May-Lan Tan came to speak at our lecture, she read her work as if she knew every word by heart — because she does. You know your work better than anyone else, and you need to be able to prove it, especially if you’re giving readings or discussing it.

8. If you aren’t in a writer’s society or similar community, join online beta-reader groups.

If my MA has taught me one thing, it’s the value of having your work critiqued by fellow writers. They always catch something I miss, and I can always rely on them to be honest about what’s working and what’s not. Goodreads has a good beta reader group with 6,000+ members, and I’ve found a few people on there whose feedback has made my story much stronger.

9. ‘Write it on accident. Keep it on purpose.’

This is my former poetry professor’s equivalent to Hemingway’s famous adage, ‘Write drunk; edit sober.’ Sometimes, when we’re 2,000 words deep in stream-of-consciousness, we projectile vomit some pretty shameful bits of description or dialogue onto the page. There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s expected in a first draft. But we also come up with some pretty brilliant lines off the tops of our heads, too. The trick is knowing what to keep and what to throw away. May-Lan Tan offers some guidance: ‘If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.’

10. Microwriting can hone your skills unlike anything else.

Before I started this semester, I wasn’t really a Twitter person. Now I can’t seem to stay away from it. The 140-character limit constantly entices me to push my writing abilities, and it teaches me good word count discipline as well. Hashtags like #1LineWed, FridayPhrases (#FP for short), and #amwriting help me tell a complete story in just a handful of words. That ability transfers over into my novel, helping me recognise what’s overwritten so I can trim it down.

And there you have it — some writing tips from I’ve picked up during the last leg of my journey in academia. Consider yourself lucky; I got myself into thousands of dollars of debt to learn this stuff, and now I’m sharing it with you for free. Am I nice or what?

(Photo credit)


4 thoughts on “Writing Tips from the (MA)sters

  1. Great tips! I have a journal in which I detail all my concerns with my current projects. Something about writing it by hand, in a separate space from my project, helps me purge the feelings and keep going. Good luck with your MA!


    • Thank you! Ah, yes, that is a good idea! I have a dissertation notebook where I dump all my plot questions and concerns, but I have a document for ‘ranting’ — I write in pen so I’d end up scribbling things out and going on for pages and pages! Happy writing 🙂


  2. amazing. i feel like: wow…

    i wasn’t just reading your words, but heeding much attention to whatever you had to say. i consider every reader very lucky whoever comes across & stops by this post. you have spent a loath of your dollars on it, but see… we readers learned for free. so i guess, it makes you compassionate enough so far that you share some of the many great lessons of life with others. it’s a good sign of “being” a true writer, who shares experiences… not in a hope to get something but to look beyond horizons. very much appreciate you share the post here around. i guess, you might be the fan of “May-Lan Tan”… i’ve ev’n been on her tumblr profile. it sounds pretty good. “things to make or to break” title of her book sounds fascinating alongwith the description she poured down that how twin brothers get fall in love with one girl. apart that, i sincerely loved & enjoyed reading this post. it’s seemed to be much helpful. keep posting!


    • Aww thanks! I really appreciate that. Yeah I don’t really see the point of keeping your knowledge all to yourself, part of the beauty of writing and building a network is sharing what you know with others and helping them enhance their own work. May-Lan Tan has changed my life, in all honesty. If you haven’t got her book you should buy it right now! Well worth the money spent and then some. 🙂


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