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You know, I don’t just take stunning, blurry photos of business decay. I also write words in American English just like the ones you’re reading. I’ve been doing so for most of my life. Along the way, I’ve picked up a few tricks that I’d like to share with you. This is the first in what may be a never repeated feature: Tips for Writers (TFW).

Today’s article focuses on the often neglected practice of preparing to write. As important as it is to sit down and write, and then to edit and re-write, tear it up in frustration and start over, it is just as crucial to get ready. This article discusses simple strategies for preparation that writers new and experience can immediately use.

1. Location is everything
Find the perfect location. If you’re at home, leave. If you’re out, come home and then leave. If you’re at a Starbucks, go to another Starbucks. There’s probably one only a block or two away. Once you’ve done that, try another table. Covet the table by the window. You don’t want a place that’s too full, or too empty. It has to be just right or you’re writing will suffer, so spend as much time as you can finding that perfect space.

2. The medium is everything
As important as location is, the medium you choose for writing is even more importanter. If you like writing on lined paper, try quadrille. If you use a PC, switch to Mac. You’ll like Mac. The keyboard shortcuts are different and it will take you awhile to adapt.

Your computer is old. How could it not be: you’re a writer. Snow Leapord has been released. Windows 7 is coming. For god’s sake, man, you have yet to experience Linux. Your computer doesn’t have all the features you need for writing. WiFi, a decent graphics card, voice activation, thumbprint security: all essential to putting together the perfect story: your story. Start to comparison shop on the web. But to really have an idea of the kind of writing you’ll be able to crank out on your next machine, you have to try it out. Go to the local computer store.

Get the right keyboard: you can’t masterpiecify with a mushy keyboard. You need a clicky tactile response. Ask questions about RAM and ROM and furrow your brow. Abruptly leave because you feel inspired. Walk home quickly. Pass a homeless person and become annoyed. Enter into an inner dialog about why it’s OK to treat the homeless as if they didn’t exist, how your indifference is good for them. Feel bad about even thinking those thoughts. Arrive home dejected and stare morosely at the computer screen, the typewriter, the quadrille writing tablet and the Apple brochure.

Turn on the news for inspiration. After three well-spent research hours pass, pack up your laptop and head back to Starbucks. Eye the table in the window corner and order yourself a well-earned cup of coffee. But someone grabs that spot while you were in line. Go to the other Starbucks a few blocks away.

3. Formatting is everything
Once you have location and medium down for the day, you’re ready to move on to formatting. Whoever said that you should just write, get into the flow and worry about formatting later has not received proper schooling in formatting and simply doesn’t know any better. Pity them and smile.

OK, choose the right font. No one element, after location and medium, is more important than the right font. Maybe margins, spacing and headers, but no, those are all distant seconds, thirds, fourths and fifths. No matter. Concentrate on the typeface, or fontage, as it’s also known. Try out a few of the different fonts – first type a paragraph or two of nonsense text. Check the text carefully to see if you’ve written any actual words. Laugh if you did. Your default font is probably Times New Roman. This won’t do. Nor will Arial.

Go through the font list alphabetically one at a time, and imagine how your manuscript will look in that typeface, how an editor will respond to it. After about a half hour of this, wonder if there’s some kind of freeware tool out there that will print all the fonts on your computer so that you can save some time. Google font tools. Go to a minimum of eleven websites and download some tools. None of them really do exactly what you want. Write an e-mail complaining to the tool’s website. Involve your significant other.

Let’s assume you’ve found THE FONT, downloaded and installed it. Now put some thought into the other aspects of your printed page: margins, headers, footers, page numbering and so on. These are all very personal choices; there really aren’t any standards and editors appreciate creativity here. When in doubt, use lots of colors and visual elements and flourishes.

Final checklist
Now that you have your location chosen, your medium (computer), your font and formatting settled, take a break, you’ve earned it. Call your Significant Other or look up old high school friends. Write a few e-mails. Google some odd word combinations and see where that takes you. Put off as long as possible the typing of words on page – once you’ve done that, there’s no turning back and you don’t want that. You don’t want to get distracted. Sit back in your chair, put your feet up on your desk, take keyboard in hand. Now, you’re ready to write. Begin writing.

Next: things to do whilst writing.

August 2020

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