Stuff I find helpful

The problem with ‘writing advice’ is that it’s like trying to advise someone on how to be funny in social situations. If you know funny people, when you compare them they’re funny in different ways. The methods that they use to arrive at their humour are different, and their jokes are different. When it comes to writing, if you try to think up even the most basic rule – “Write things!” then at times, even that falls down. So I can’t really give great writing advice, nor do I have any idea what it would be. What I can tell you are some things that have helped me to progress in the craft.

1) Read outside of your usual genre.

If you write fantasy, then you are very likely to have arrived at that place because you love reading it, and many fantasy readers will read exclusively within the genre. I did that for 20 odd years.

A major breakthrough for me was reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. I was burned out on fantasy, and I just wanted something light, easy to get into and that I wasn’t committing to a whole trilogy. What I learned from Child’s writing was a massive lesson in condensed plot, pacing, and a different kind of narrative that you just don’t often see in fantasy. Having enjoyed some thrillers, when it came to Ravencry I then tried reading historical romance and again, not only did I learn a lot, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This probably may seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me, so . . . yeah. Read other stuff. Take a break from fantasy every other book that you read. I found it eye opening.

See the source image

2) Go for a run

Idea generation happens when you least expect it. This may all sound a bit zen, but the more that I can turn off the part of my brain that is saying “THINK OF AN IDEA NOW, DAMN IT!” the more the good stuff just kind of happens. Your brain is a noisy place, full of worries, distractions and over-thinking. If you can obliterate those by forcing yourself into a relaxed mental state through exercise, then I think that there’s a lot of mileage in that. I didn’t start running because I wanted to think things through, I did it because I needed to get in shape for an hour long swordfight for charity. . . but these days, when I get stuck on a plot point and I’m not being productive, I put on my running shoes and go outside. I usually forget all about writing until I’m 20 minutes in, and then it just starts happening without provocation.

Also, if you suffer from depression and/or anxiety then it’s the best way that I’ve found to counteract those and clear your head. I get about 4-5 hours reprieve from life worries after I’ve run, and that’s just great for your mental health all round.


3) YouTube

This is maybe a weird one, but sometimes I feel like I’ve got a bit lost in my narrative, or don’t know where or what is meant to be happening. Recently, working on proposals for a new series, I’ve occasionally got myself in knots thinking “is this what the readership wants? Is this what my editors will like? Should it be more epic, more romantic, darker?” So if all that happens, I go to YouTube and watch the scenes from the kind of movies that first inspired the idea. This then gives me the ‘kick’ to remember what it was that I wanted to write about in the first place. It doesn’t have to be YouTube of course, it could equally be the last chapter of a book you loved, that picture of the kick ass Mycenaean artefact, the Monstrous Manual or whatever. But going back to your source is a great way of unlocking the threads that you can get tangled in.

This is what I usually (read: daily) watch:


4) Wash & Spruce

Ok maybe this is just me, but I’ll extend it further: take a shower, tidy your living space, put on a shirt or other type of clothes that makes you feel more like BOOM, here I am, ready to go. Put on aftershave or perfume, do your hair, get dressed up like you’re about to go out to meet someone you want to impress. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t, you’re doing it for you, not anyone else. For some reason, doing this can help me to focus, if focus has been lost.

I think that for me this is because often on a “writing day” I’ll move from bed to kitchen to sofa, lie down with my laptop out and then just start going at it – and because of that, I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily actually got out of bed.


I’d have liked to have had a fifth thing to add, but I’m not going to force it. Are these things that you do? Or do you have other writing-helps that you use to make sure that you get things done? Let me know in the comments!

Ravencry covers


Published by EdMcDonald

Ed McDonald is the author of The Raven's Mark series of novels. He currently lives in the UK. Find me at

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