Apply E.M. Forster's Five Elements to make your writing more balanced.

In Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster identifies five key elements of a novel: story, plot, people, pattern, and rhythm. The balance of these elements helps determine the overall “feel” of both non-fiction and fiction writing. Develop the habit of tracking how you are applying each of the five elements to ensure that your work is balanced and communicates the right message. At regular intervals in your writing process (e.g., every 5,000 words, twice a week, etc.), revisit these five elements and write down how you are applying them in your work.

Download the Five Elements worksheet (PDF)


How writers write

(A resource by Joseph Grammer, 6994 words to date.)

Habits! We all want them (even if we think we’re free spirits). Each author has her or his own process for putting pen to paper, so I thought it would be helpful to check out a few habits of some well-known writers.

Vladimir Nabokov

The legend himself, creator of such mind-tickling books as Lolita and Ada. The Russian émigré wrote standing up and jotted his sentences down on 3x5 index cards, which let him mix up the narrative as needed. Interesting that his poet in Pale Fire did the same thing… Anyway, check out his interview in The Paris Review.

Plus, there’s the health benefits of standing.

Jennifer Egan

The Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist tends to write her fiction in an Ikea chair and edit behind a desk. First drafts are on legal pads, with the notable exception of a chapter in A Visit From the Goon Squad that is told entirely in PowerPoint slides. She says, “A first draft takes about 10% of the total writing time, but in terms of importance it’s probably 50%.” Each of her 3-4 drafts reflects “20 rewrites of each individual part.” She shoots for 5-7 pages a day of original material. Read the rest.

Truman Capote

The eccentric master behind In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s took a horizontal approach to writing—he wrote lying down on a couch or bed. Cigarettes, coffee, and sherry were kept close at hand for creative stimulation of the chemical kind. Mr. Capote wrote two drafts in pencil longhand and a third draft on the typewriter, supine-style. Want to know what happens if you lie down all day and write?

David Foster Wallace

The loquacious and searing DFW called himself a “Five Draft Man”. Two handwritten drafts, two typed, and the final product. Hard to imagine the total word count he racked up while composing Infinite Jest

Haruki Murakami

Japan’s bestselling author is a model of self-discipline. Here’s an excerpt from his Paris Review interview:
When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation.
What a badass. I’m tempted to say something to the effect of ‘Holy Hard-Boiled Wonderland!’, but that would be awful. (See: paralipsis) (Also see his interview).

Interested in more authors’ writerly habits?

Check out Write To Done’s article.

Now write, writers! Idiosyncratically, conventionally, quickly, slowly—whatever. Just stick letters to pages.

Need some inspiration?

Here are all recent public snippets written in Twords.
Time was of the essence. I knew how much we all relied on time. We needed it. We needed more of it. We had twenty four hours and we spent eight of them asleep. We didn't have enough time. We needed more.
I thought that when I was a kid and I came out of the house too late, to see the ice-cream van depart.
I thought that when I was in school and I didn't have enough time to study. I failed the exams that day.
I thought that when I was a teenager and I didn't have enough time to be normal.
I thought that when I was a mother and my first child died.
I thought that when I was an old lady, and all my other old lady friends and old guy friends died.
I don't think it anymore.
We want more time. But we don't need it. We can do perfectly well with the time we have. We fit in memories and moments into our time, as much as we can.
But we don't need more time.
We have just enough.

"No, no, no, not now," I thought desperately as my mind began to shut down.
It happened occasionally. They called it depressive attacks. I called it 'robot mode' when I was in a good mood. It sucked. I'd be in the middle of doing something I liked, or listening to the Maths teachers explaining everything on the board, and then my brain would shut down.
I tried to listen to what my teachers were saying, but I couldn't comprehend a word. It felt like the entire world was speaking gibberish. I tried to concentrate and noticed each specific word they said - This. Is. How. The. Pythagoras. Theorem. Works. I didn't understand what it meant as a whole.
And it sucked. I didn't know what I wanted. I wasn't bored, I wasn't interested, I wasn't hungry or thirsty or anything. I was empty, my mind couldn't think. I hated it when this happened.
Soldiers fought a battle with the enemy. Students fought a battle against the teachers, or the school, or homework. But I just couldn't fight against normal stuff, could I? No, I fought a battle against myself.
I heard the teacher say my name, probably yelling at me for not concentrating. I heard the kids laugh. I knew I'd regret not responding or acting normal later, but I simply stared at the wall.
If only they understood, but they didn't.
And it sucked.

It wasn't a situation I thought I'd ever be in. Myself and my best friend, tied up in our own classroom, the last two survivors from among our classmates as the terrorists shot all of the others in front of our eyes. I had never cared much about the others - they were all too teenagery for me to connect with them properly, and I wasn't much like a teenager. Even so, as they were shot, I remembered all they did for me.
'She did my homework once, when my fingers were hurting from writing, even though I protested against it,' I thought as they shot one of my friends.
'He stood up for me once - in second grade, I bought him pizza, and in return he got me into his football team,' I thought as they shot another friend.
And it was a flood of memories as I saw them shoot my best friend of third grade, the girl who invited me to her house for a movie night once, the guy who used to drop me random compliments often, the friends I never treasured enough.
They were going to hurt my best friend next. The gun was trained on her. It was too much, and I refused to let them murder the last person I cared about. I twisted around in the ropes that tied me, and darted in front of her, taking the bullet for her. And yet I knew I had failed. They would simply get her next.
I had failed.

We stood in a circle around our high school government teacher as he told us what exactly it was we'd be doing. If anybody was listening, they didn't let on. I know I wasn't, at any rate. I was looking toward the door, through which I could make out an empty road. A French guide--a slight, attractive young woman with dark hair in a ponytail and full lips--spoke to our teacher and then to us. I still wasn't listening. I was looking out at the rise just past the road; I was looking at Europe for the first time.

We gathered our things and filed out toward the door. My heavy duffle floated from my left hand to my right and back again as each got tired of holding it, and my blue mesh backpack clattered behind me as its loose contents rolled around and struck each other inside. The double doors swung open, and we stepped outside. Immediately I was hit with a bluegray stench like the inside of an opossum's mouth and metal. It smelled, I suppose, a little like burnt blood and car fumes, and that's exactly what it was for the most part: the air of a country full of cigarettes and emissions and all sorts of distasteful things; I loved it.

The sun's light dashing against the ground and back up through the tinted windows and into our tired eyes is the first thing I remember from our trip to Europe. The earth below us was that of France, Charles Du Gaul airport outside of Paris. The next thing I noticed were the funny planes. Not like in the U.S., these had odd cartoons all on the bodies and fins and wings. They looked like planes you'd see at an air show in Japan. The airport seemed newer than the one in San Francisco. More modern, in that minimialist, childlike way things are nowadays. Like Apple's homepage or Tony Stark's house in Malibu, only dirtier from the traffic of ordinary people going about their business. There were French people, French security guards . . . but what struck me the most was the French air: acrid.