Is Creative Writing in Your Blood?

Has anyone ever said, "You should write a book"? Do you know this without being told? Are you feeling compelled to put some positive or interesting message out into the world? Do you make up stories in your head while you're in public places? If creative writing is in your blood, this article will help you explore how to nurture this drive by engaging in the following practices:

Collecting your thoughts    to top

Like anything you're serious about, it's important to take that first step—make a commitment to exploring your potential as a writer. If your ideas are just beginning to take form, consider investing in a notebook that you will use as a journal. (Every detail matters: pick a notebook that appeals to you.) Get in the habit of carrying it with you and writing down impressions as they arrive. Be as structured or flexible with this new habit as you like.

If you've been carrying around an evolving story for some time already, try outlining it. Write bios of your characters as a big step toward breathing life into them and knowing what makes them tick.

The main objective is finding some way to launch your individual process of writing.

Studying the Craft of Writing    to top

Depending on whether you're a "chicken-first or egg-first" person, you may prefer to study something about the craft before leaping into it. Here are three useful ways to do this:

  • Read books about writing
  • ttend writers' conferences
  • Sign up for a writers' group

Premise, Plot, and Viewpoint
A premise can be thought of as a formula for how specific actions lead to specific consequences over the arc of a story. Plot defines the core of your story. Viewpoint identifies who is telling a story.

Read Books about Writing Here are some resources for you to investigate:

  • Dare to Be a Great Writer—329 Keys to Powerful Fiction by Leonard Bishop. Conveniently organized by an index of topics, such as "Advice to Writers," "Character," "Genre," "Plot," "Dialogue," "Scene Structure," and so on.
  • How to Write & Sell Your First Novel by Oscar Collier with Frances Spatz Leighton. If you already have an eye toward getting published, this is a great combination of understanding craft and the publishing industry.
  • How to Write a Damn Good Novel (two volumes) by James Frey. Good reference for writing according to traditional formulas. Contains a wealth of examples.
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Anecdotal, user-friendly, full of innovative exercises.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. A highly acclaimed, anecdotal, "one-step-at-a-time" approach to writing.
  • The Writer As an Artist: A New Approach to Writing Alone and with Others by Pat Schneider. Based on the Amherst Writers & Artists workshop method. Contains fifty useful writing exercises. A very supportive approach.
  • The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. Based on Joseph Campbell's classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces, designed to achieve maximum dramatic effects in writing. Rich with familiar literary and cinematic examples.

Attend Writers' Conferences
This is a good way to validate yourself as a writer and compare notes with colleagues who are at different stages of their experience. You'll have the opportunity to learn from informative presentations by experts in the publishing industry, such as editors and agents.

Here are two Web sites that contain useful lists:

Good variety of choices can be found within the States and also in other countries.

Sign Up for a Writers' Group
Joining a group is yet another way to acknowledge yourself as a writer. Types of groups range from very structured to flexible, and the input can be as critical or purely supportive as you can stand. Shop carefully depending on your needs. If you basically want to test a potential audience for your work, you may try a group that is supportive, offering criticism only as you request it. If you feel thick-skinned and ready to entertain reactions to your work that may be less than favorable (or at least appear so), plenty of "destructive" groups exist for that purpose. The most important thing to remember is this: Do what makes sense at any given time based on your informed instincts as a writer.

How do you find a local writers' group? Check classifieds, and bulletin boards in cafes and at colleges. The Complete Guide to Writers Groups, Conferences, and Workshops by Eileen Malone may also be helpful.

Write about What You Know
In order to suspend your audience's disbelief that they are reading fiction, it's wise to draw on personal authority. This practice makes your work credible. Sometimes, research is a good substitute for experience.

Reading Like a Writer    to top

Because we often learn by example, what better way to hone your craft than by reading fiction more deeply? As you read short stories and novels, pay closer attention to your reactions to what works and what doesn't work; begin to figure out why this is the case. Does the dialogue sound believable? Do descriptions of certain places ring true? Do you have a clear picture of each character in your mind? Are the characters distinct? Do you love the language but think something is lacking in the storytelling, or perhaps vice versa? Identify your favorite authors and try to understand fully what qualities of their work appeal to you most. Read their biographies if they exist and learn more about how their lives influence their work. Go to readings and signings in your area and ask questions of contemporary writers. You will likely find that this enhanced experience of reading will enrich your own efforts.

Beginning Your Story—and Finishing It, Too    to top

Where do you start? It really doesn't matter. If you're feeling linear, starting at the beginning makes sense. However, if you notice that you're compelled to jump to different parts of the story as part of your own evolving process, then jump! While each writer is unique, virtually all would agree that writing equals rewriting. This knowledge may relieve any pressure you feel about getting it all perfect the first time around. However, by the time you get to that last draft, you should feel that every single word is intentional. It won't hurt to develop some editing skills along the way. Writers love words, so it's sometimes tough to delete text you love even when you know it doesn't serve your story. Once you get over this tendency, you'll likely find that your work will leap to a new level of improvement. No matter what, keep going—you'll know when you're finished.

Character Development, Tension, and Conflict
Dynamic characters, tension, and conflict make fiction exciting. Give your characters dimension and let them surprise your readers within the context of your story. Set up as many battles of will between characters, always with the goal of moving your story forward.

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