Wednesday 17 October 2018

Top six writing things you didn't know you needed by Tracy Darnton

I spent a lot of time at my desk working on my debut thriller The Truth About Lies, sometimes writing, sometimes gazing out of the window, but these are my top six writing things you didn’t know you needed:

An hourglass 
We all have days when writing doesn’t come naturally. I have a thirty minute beautiful hourglass (or more accurately half-hour glass) which I turn and I’m not allowed to stop typing until the last grain of sand has fallen. I also have a fifteen minute one if I’m really struggling. And now a dinky three minute one for a really bad day. It works for me.

A style guide 

It’s far too easy for me to get distracted if I Google anything so I like to have an actual book version of a dictionary, thesaurus, quotations and my trusty (if somewhat out-of-date) The Times Guide to English Style and Usage. Say I want to know if it’s the outback or the Outback, or Trevor McDonald or MacDonald. It’s all in my style guide in glorious alphabetical order and I don’t get distracted by pictures of Australia or the life story of Trevor McDonald which brings me to …

Square brackets

Rather than interrupt your flow when you’re on a roll to look something up, or commit yourself to research which you’ll end up cutting, use the little trick of square brackets. You can then use the Find function at a later stage to take you straight to all your queries: [McDonald]. No time wasted.

Book journal

The best way to learn about writing is to read. I’m incapable of remembering much more than the general gist of a book so for all children’s and YA books that I read I write a short review for my eyes only. This says what really worked for me and, more importantly, what didn’t. I’m reading as a writer, thinking about what makes dialogue engaging as opposed to clunky, or what makes a killer first line. If I see an illustrator I love, I make a note. This builds up not only an understanding of the craft of writing but also useful career info. What’s current? Does the author rave about their agent or editor in the acknowledgements? Did the publisher do a great job on the book design?

Glue stick

We all stop cutting and sticking at far too young an age. One of my writing buddies is a primary school teacher and produces setting and character development worksheets as an excuse for us to cut up glossy magazines and play collage. It gets me away from the laptop and always kick-starts some ideas.  And the pictures brighten up my noticeboard.


My sister gave me two stamps to use for book signings which are always a big hit. They’re especially helpful for me as I can’t draw anything at all and can never think of a pithy, witty, memory-related one-liner. And I love stamping books. It takes me back to my days as a librarian or playing post offices. And if the whole writing thing doesn’t work out, I’m definitely going for a job in officialdom.

What would make it into your Top Six?
Follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton 


Susan Price said...

Really like the square brackets. I might adopt that.

I'm a great fan of the timer trick. I use a basic kitchen timer I can set to various times. Always works for me.

Tracy Darnton said...

I like the old-fashioned feel of the glass and sand versions. Devil of a mess when I've broken one though.

Camilla Chester said...

Fabulous tips. I want a stamp now!