Creative Writing Skills

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Creativity (or “creativeness”) is a mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts.”  Wikipedia

Creativity is a skill, strengthened with consistency.  Physical trainers will recommend variety, a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training to condition your body. The same technique can be applied to creative writing.

The following strength exercises focus on building certain skills:

Write a paragraph or page with short concise sentences, limiting the length of each to three words.  This forces you to choose the best words to say exactly what you mean to say.

He turned away. She sobbed uncontrollably. They were through. Their love destroyed. Her sin unforgivable. Hasty lies told. Their daughter confused. Her daughter now.  He turned away.  Left them both.

Write a paragraph or page with words beginning with a single letter.  This exercise, called an alliterative, is just one example of constrained writing which stretches your vocabulary and imagination.   The Oulipo group is a gathering of writers who use constrained writing techniques, including:

  • Lipogram -  a letter (commonly e or o) is outlawed.
  • Palindromes – such as the word “radar,” read the same forwards and backwards.
  • Acrostics – first letter of each word/sentence/paragraph forms a word or sentence.
  • Reverse-lipograms -  each word must contain a particular letter

Ernest Hemingway was a master of words, using simple yet poignant words in his stories.   Broaden your vocabulary and find just the right word for a particular tone or mood.

Begin at the end of the story and write to the beginning.  They say hindsight is 20/20 so if you know where the story will end, it may be easier to see how it got there.

Aerobic exercises include reading and writing everyday.

All writers must read.  Read for pleasure, but also read to hone your craft.  Study the way in which other writers develop characters, set a scene or use descriptive language.  Read several genres and compare the styles within genres.   When you find a genre you enjoy reading, identify what it is you like – the pace, themes, settings, voice or specific writers. Douglas Adams and Ray Bradbury are both Sci Fi writers, but they have very different styles.

There is a reason why most writers recommend writing every day.  You need to build and condition your writing muscles.  Failure to do so will cause atrophy.  Stephen King, Danielle Steele, Dan Brown or JK Rowling, didn’t give up when they were told no.  Instead, they continued to write and improved.   Acknowledge the fact that your writing is imperfect.  Make space imperfection and you will make space for improvement.

Edit your work over and over.

Unleashing your creative writing skills may feel awkward and difficult at first. When you work out the first time, your muscles don’t instantly get stronger and muscular.  Creativity is a muscle that you have to exercise.

Be a Writer

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As more and more writers seek readers online, you must work even harder to distinguish yourself with a unique voice and style. Writing requires technical skill, an extensive vocabulary and knowledge of language, all of which can be taught. However, writing also requires talent, which is more difficult to grasp than grammar rules. Talent may be inherent, but I believe it can be cultivated with practice and bravery. Why bravery? Because the most special writing is real and true and reveals the writer to his audience. Those who fail to connect with their audience often hide behind the words, fussing over syntax but ignoring the soul of the work. A soul can’t be imitated.

1. Be human
Whether you’re blogging, writing articles, short stories or novels, allow yourself to be human. If you strive for perfection, you will always fall short. Don’t let it hold you back from writing anyway. Our flaws, our fears, our failings set us apart from others. If we were all perfect beings, there would be no need for writers or stories, because in perfection we would be the same. We would tell the same tales; a journey without detours, a day without disappointment or a life without learning.

If you open up about your experiences, particularly failures, others will recognize your sincerity and humanity. When you’re persistent enough to keep trying after failing at it you’re either crazy or passionate. Your passion will resonate with your readers, even if your writing isn’t perfect.

2. Be You
Once you know that your writing will be less than perfect, allow yourself to come through. The first step is know who you are. Consider keeping a journal to record your observations and reactions day to day. Write for yourself without any censor and see what flows out. You might be surprised with the number of words that rush forward, like a damn bursting. Notice the tone or theme in your writings. What does this tell you? Are you content or dissatisfied? Are you happy or angry? Are there any observations or insights that have surprised you? Once you have a better idea of who you are, let your readers get to know you. There’s no right or wrong way of being – brash, silly, controversial or sympathetic. Just don’t be who you think you should be, because it won’t ring true in your writing. Create an opportunity to make a human connection, with a bit of humor, a personal anecdote or observation or adopt a conversational tone and write as though you are speaking to a real live person.

3. Be different
There’s no point in rehashing the same old plot, giving your readers what they can (and have) seen elsewhere. Take a different angle, play Devil’s advocate or offer a unique perspective. Get creative and offer something new. “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” ~Anaïs Nin

4. Be daring
Embrace your passion and share it with your readers. You may offend some, and you may be proven wrong, but unless you take that chance you’ll never make an impression. You want people to remember you. Step to the edge and be daring. Write with wit, eloquence and the assurance that your words matter.

Creative Writing Exercises

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“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” ~ C.S Lewis

Creative writing doesn’t mean reinventing the truth but telling the truth in a new way. Aim for truth and you’ll find brilliance. When your authenticity shines through people will know because they too can feel it.

You will find ideas in the world around you. Carry a notebook and pen to jot them down where ever you are. I keep a pad and pen by my bed because dreams sometimes spark a creative idea. You may get ideas from observations, an overheard conversation, a news story, a movie, a book or an inspirational quote.

If you are inspired by a movie or book, consider telling the story from a unique perspective. Update classics by bringing them into the present day or change the outcome by zigging at a pivotal moment instead of zagging. Always make the piece uniquely yours but don’t be afraid to be inspired by the work of others.

Try mediation for 5 or 10 minutes a day – to quiet the noise within you and listen to your muse humming softly in the corner. Give voice to the song she longs to sing. Accept ideas graciously without judgment. Often times I’ll be inspired by an idea and dismiss it as unoriginal, forgetting that originality comes from the way I write, not what I write. Inspiration is a gift from the universe. If we refuse the gift, we are sending a message to the universe, and to our unconscious mind that we’re not interested in receiving creative ideas. We eventually stop receiving ideas altogether.

Instead, welcome new ideas and express gratitude when you receive inspiration. You’ll find that once you send out a clear intention you’ll be rewarded with more ideas than you can possibly write about.

When you’re ready to write, establish a comfortable routine. Many writers recommend writing every day, which may work for some but not others. The best routine is one you can adhere to, whether it’s writing for thirty minutes a day or an hour every other day is less important. Have a work space you enjoy spending time in and one that supports creative thinking. My work space is full of family photos, magazine clippings, bright colors and inspirational messages.

Practice writing as often as possible. Again I won’t say practice every day, but to improve your writing you need to practice consistently and frequently. Following are some creative writing exercises to try:

Random word combinations- Begin with two or three random words and include them in your writing.

Fireman + Rainbow
Decision + Airplane
Pillow + Lesson
Skeptic + Swimming Pool

Starting phrases – Use one of the following phrases to begin your writing.
I remember
I have always
I would never
I have never
I know
I don’t know
I wonder
I don’t wonder
I want to
I don’t want to ever
I love
I hate
I try to
I try not to
I believe

Word Prompt – Write a story based on a single word.
Mother
Skate
Orange
Yacht
Seashell

Lost and Found – Write a story about two items, one you’ve lost and one you’ve found. Consider how the watch in Stranger than Fiction was a critical plot device. If not for the watch losing just minute the protagonist, Harold Crick would not have been in the right (or wrong) place. How could a lost item or found item become a pivotal prop or character in a story?

Jewelry + Keys
Credit Card + Single Sock
Book + Love note

Follow your heart to find inspiration and let the waves of true story telling carry you along.

 

Some Days Writing is Hard

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It’s been hard to write lately. I begin and hesitate, unsure of where I’m going or how to get there.  I keep writing because good intentions are not enough.  Only action generates results.  To keep myself engaged I focus on each day and not “some day”.  I dream of writing for a living, but it will never become a reality if I spend my creative energies on day dreams.

Here are some tips to write even when it’s hard.

1. Make time to write everyday

Even if the words come slowly, take the time to write everyday.  Consistent action will reinforce the habit of writing.  Just like daily exercise, you will condition your muscles to perform with ease and grace.  Eventually you will find yourself flowing along a stream of creativity towards your goal.  Progress is intoxicating.  You’ll be writing more intensely, more urgently, and more intelligently.

2.  Take regular breaks

It’ll be difficult to pull yourself away when you’re in the groove.  You’ll need to force yourself to take little breaks, even if it’s just five minutes to stretch, drink a glass of water or walk around the block.   Gene Schwartz, a legendary copywriter, would set an egg timer for 33 minutes and when the buzzer went off, he would take a five minute break.  He claimed the habit made him more productive and contributed to his success.  I find 30 minute sessions are ideal.  It’s enough time to explore an idea, write an article or set a scene.  I step away for 5 minutes, but my mind keeps working so when I return to writing I have fresh ideas or a clear direction in mind.

3. Set realistic goals

If you overestimate your ability to produce you’ll be discouraged by the results.  I can write 500 words an hour.  If I write 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, it would take 16 weeks to write an 80000 word book.  If it takes just as long to read and edit each page, that’s 32 weeks before I have the first draft of a book.  One or two rewrites and a year has passed. I also write articles and short stories so I have to consider these goals as well.  I can’t write a book and write 5 articles or a short story a week at this rate. If I don’t write every week or fail to write 2 hours a day, I can’t achieve these goals.  My point is to be realistic. To know how much you can write in a period of time and how much time you will spend writing.  You may not be able to write a book a year if you’re writing part time. Most A list authors produce only one or two books a year and they write full time, employ assistants and have had years of experience.

4.  Take care of your body

You won’t be able to produce your best work if you don’t take care of your body.  Get plenty of rest, exercise and good nutrition.  Also make sure your work area has good lighting and a comfortable chair.  Discomfort will be distracting.

I hope these writing tips help when writing is hard.  It seems as though everyone wants to be a writer, but few people actually do it. Reward yourself for your accomplishments.   If you write every day, set goals and take care of your body, you’ll be a writer for many, many years to come.

 

How to Write a Story

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If you’re ready to embark on your great writing adventure, but you’re stuck in limbo wondering how to write a story, I’ve got good news!  You already know how to write a story.  In fact, you have a life time of experience.  All the memories you’ve collected are stories you tell yourself or others who are willing to listen.

What do these stories have in common?

“We were devastated when our dog, Bear ran away.  The girls and I hung posters over the neighborhood with her description and an offer for a reward.  I went to the animal shelter each day, searching the cages full of eager pups and each day my hope bled away as I walked those aisles, looking for a scruffy brown mutt with timid eyes.  A week later I was resigned to her absence but I went to the shelter anyway. I couldn’t live with the possibility she might be there, searching the faces of strangers for familiarity and compassion, while I went about business as usual.  I saw a mother with her liter suckling in a cage near the door.  It broke my heart to see the sorrow of knowledge in her eyes and I hurried past with a sob bubbling in my throat.  An aggressive Pit Bull snarled and barked, a matted Cocker Spaniel whined, a group of puppies wrestled and knocked over their water bowl.  Half way down the aisle, a scruffy brown mutt sat quietly in the middle of her cage.  I had to do a double take because she didn’t leap to me in relief and gratitude.  I kneeled and whispered her name. She came to me hesitantly, as though she might be dreaming – but it was real, we’d found each other again.  I was certainly the hero at home that night, but Bear got all the pats on the back.”

“Tay and I were just coming out of the doctor’s office. Poor kid had strep throat and was miserable. As we walked through the lobby a woman stopped us and asked “Do you have a white car?  It was hit in the parking lot.” Sure enough, the front end of my car was smashed between the offending vehicle, a mini van, and another parked car, a sedan of some sort.  The driver of the mini van sat in her car while bystanders buzzed around her window like bees.  I was annoyed by her histrionics but I didn’t have a kanipshin. It wouldn’t help the situation and she did look like a heart attack could strike at any moment.  While we exchanged insurance information and took photos of our vehicles, a nurse from the doctor’s office came out to check on Ms Mini Van.  Tay kept asking me if I was ok.  I told her if today was the day to have an accident, I was glad it happened when we weren’t in the car.  Strangely, it’s the second multi car pile up I’ve been in and I was out of my car each time. But that’s another story. Tay called Alan and he came to our rescue.  It was a relief to see him, but at the same time I was worried he’d confront Ms Mini Van and send her over the edge.  He walked around the car accessing the damage, and commenting on the sanity of a certain somebody, while I trailed behind like a leaking tire “shh,shh,shh”.  As you can imagine, that didn’t go over too well.  Finally Ms Mini Van was escorted into the Dr’s office for further observation so Alan could rant in peace. He declared  my car drivable, to home at least, and we left the scene reasonably unscathed.”

They each have a PLOT, which includes:

The Beginning – An event creates tension in character’s life. There is a change in the status quo.

Main Conflict – What goal must be accomplished or question answered? The character must have a conflict or there is no point in telling the story.

The Middle – The urgency should build so the reader feels tension as your protagonist struggles.  Make sure there are plenty of obstacles so the prize, once obtained, is well earned.

The Confrontation – Your protagonist confronts their fear, rival or specific event.  Whatever was anticipated from the beginning happens.

The Climax – The dust settles, all questions are answered and the protagonist has transformed.

The End – Avoid an abrupt ending.  You need a great beginning to hook your reader, but a poor ending will be what they remember.  Give them enough closure so the book feels complete.  Endings that are open to interpretation and unanswered questions may annoy audiences rather than fascinate.

They have a Setting which includes:

Place – Geographical location where action occurs

Time -  The general time frame in which action occurs; such as present day, in the future or historical period.

You can fill in the setting with details such as: weather conditions, social conditions and mood or atmosphere.

Lastly, these stories have a point of view or the voice telling the story.  They are personal narratives of events so they are told in first person with conversational tone. Whenever you hear the words “You’re not going to believe what happened…” or “Let me tell you about…” what follows will be a story.

You may have a character narrate the story, or it may be told from a third person perspective.

I don’t think it’s possible for a writer to eliminate their voice entirely, nor do I think you should try. Yes you want the story to be authentic, but you also want it to be uniquely yours.  Your voice brings that uniqueness to the story.  Now that you know how to write a story it’s time to begin your journey.  Bon Voyage!

Welcome to my world

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Here’s just a little bit about me.  I’ve always loved to read and one day I woke up and decided I wanted to be a writer.  How hard could it be really?  James Patterson knocks out a book every month, so surely I could compose my masterpiece in a year or less.  Here I am, twenty some years later, and I’m still composing.  Admittedly I’ve taken a few detours along the way.  My husband and I have raised two wonderful daughters, I’ve worked, I’ve played and I’ve napped (A LOT!)  But I’ve also kept my dream of being a writer alive with various projects, including a mystery novel, a young adult novel, various blogs and articles.  Fictionway is the sum of all these parts and I hope each visitor finds something entertaining or educational or, dare I say, entertaining and educational.  If you’re an avid reader, an aspiring writer or you’re just killing time until the work day ends, WELCOME.

I would love to hear from you.