Writing Shortcuts: Dos and Don’ts

In writing, as in life, there are helpful shortcuts and harmful ones.

Life is busy. We all want to save time, get done faster, be as efficient as possible. But sometimes taking shortcuts can backfire. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to carry more than I know is reasonable, just to save a trip (and how’s that for an appropriate metaphor?), only to drop and/or break something along the way.

For my vintage business I often have to drive to unfamiliar places around Salt Lake County. To save time I’ve been known to try finding the address without GPS, because the city was built on a grid system and surely I’m smart enough to find my own way—until I become hopelessly lost and have to pull over to consult Google Maps anyway, after I’ve wasted 15 or 20 minutes to save my own stubborn pride.

In writing, sometimes it’s tempting to cut corners to get the dang thing done. Be there are certain essential steps that cannot be neglected.

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Bad Shortcut #1: Not Polishing Grammar and Punctuation

This is nonnegotiable. Do not submit a manuscript to an agent or editor unless you have done your absolute best to perfect the grammar. Don’t assume they will give you a pass because your writing is so awesome. It’s an instant turnoff and highly unprofessional. If grammar is not one of your strengths, enlist the help of a critique partner, spouse, or friend with mad grammar skills to do a thorough copy edit.

Bad Shortcut #2: Not Using a Beta Reader/Critique Partner

Even after your manuscript has been stripped of grammatical errors, you will need a few people to read your story to analyze plot, character development—all the mechanics of good writing. You, the author, are too close to the story to be objective. A good critique partner is invaluable, especially one who is both honest and kind. She’ll take note of places where the action drags, or the main character’s motivation is not believable, or the villain suddenly becomes left-handed when he was right-handed for most of the book. This is the big stuff AND small stuff we don’t always catch, and there is just no substitute for having a trusted, fresh pair of eyes (or two or ten) read your story.

Bad Shortcut #3: Not Researching Submission Policies

A form query letter mass emailed to agents and editors is not in your best interest, and will simply waste everybody’s time. Send your queries in small batches, and customize them to agents or editors who 1) represent your genre; 2) are accepting queries; and 3) work for reputable organizations.

Now, I do believe there are certain shortcuts that WILL make writing easier and more productive.

Good Shortcut #1: Place Markers

Sometimes my writing stalls because I need to research a topic or I don’t know to proceed with a particular scene. If you’re drafting and don’t want to slow your momentum, simply type “Insert something brilliant or historically accurate here” and keep going. Just don’t forget to go back and fix it later!

Good Shortcut #2: Using Small Moments

So many days I’ve chosen not to write because I didn’t think I had enough time to do it properly. But lately I’ve been trying to take advantage of free moments here and there, just to fill in scenes that are rattling around in my head. This past week I wrote out short scenes while waiting for food at a restaurant and during half time at a Utah Jazz basketball game. It helps to always have your story playing in the back of your mind. When inspiration strikes, you can pull out your notebook and capture those moments of genius.

Good Shortcut #3: ???

Honestly, I’m having a tough time thinking of a #3! There really aren’t many shortcuts to solid, impactful writing. Work hard. Keep at it. Be willing to learn. Polish, polish, polish. And don’t lose sight of your goals. When you put in the time your results, though never predictable, will no doubt be more rewarding.


Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.


One thought on “Writing Shortcuts: Dos and Don’ts

  1. Have been *ahem!* guilty of the free flow approach to navigation — and had to resort to GPS after endless time spent roaming! Great summary of how the writing world works — and I myself am a huge fan of both the placeholders and the small moments bits — keeping the flow going and yet also knowing where there is work to be done.


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