Suggestions for learning Chinese characters?
I'm having a difficult learning Chinese - mostly because of the fact that the words aren't phonetic and therefore can't be written according to how they sound. Are there any tips or tricks for learning to read/write Chinese characters? Any patterns that can be used?
Different people use different methods, but generally speaking, you just have to memorize the character-pronunciation-meaning altogether until you associate it naturally.
As DragonPolyglot mentioned, the pronunciation and at least part of the meaning of almost any character can be guessed at using their radicals (the parts characters are made from). For example, any character containing the "手字旁" or hand radical (positioned on the left side e.g in 把, 打, 扔, 扫) will have something to do with hands, holding, etc. So in the character "把"(to take something and do something with it, also the measure word for brooms and knives etc.) we can guess at the meaning from the radical on the left and the pronunciation “ba” from the one on the right. I would suggest finding a good book or website introducing radicals, as the more you know, the easier it will be to understand and write characters. Two very excellent series are "Chinese Radicals" and "Fun With Chinese Characters", both by cartoonist Tan Huay Peng. He explains very well the origins, meaning, examples and changes of common radicals and characters, and the cartoons of the characters make them much easier to remember.
Something that works occasionally is associating the shape of a character with its meaning. My dad learned the character "忙"(busy) because it looks like a man sweating over a desk! (Of course, using the radicals would have worked as well, with the left side being 心字旁 or the heart radical which often indicates emotional/mental states and the right indicating pronunciation: 亡wang--忙mang. 亡 is also present in many characters pronounced wang, e.g 忘, 望, 妄)
As far as learning how to write characters well and stroke order, you can create custom practice sheets of the characters you're learning (including stroke order) at this website: http://www.archchinese.com/how_to_write_chinese.html You can also make blank sheets like the type used for homework in Chinese schools.
For writing you follow a top-to-bottom, left-to-right, pattern. There are specific rules for writing characters and you should learn the rules at the least, even if you mainly type the characters. As for reading, some characters will give you hints for both pronunciation and meaning by combining a few characters into one. Try writing characters in a notebook with the pinyin and meaning right next to them.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ip4VjlD7Ew (for typing remember that the V is the "U" with umlaut sound, like in "女" (nv/nǚ)