We’ve all read books, articles, and poems that we completely forgot about once we were done. But some written works linger. They haunt us or stimulate our thoughts. They provoke our emotions. Read More
Each writer has a distinct style. We repeat certain words and expressions; there are patterns in how we arrange words in sentences and paragraphs, and our writing often carries a recognizable tone.
The term for an author’s distinct writing style is voice.
Wikipedia defines a writer’s voice as “a combination of their common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).”
In college literature courses, my class would be given a long list of quotes, and we had to identify the author of each one. The professors didn’t expect us to memorize the entire literary canon; we were to have studied these authors’ works enough to be able to identify their quotes by the voice.
Imagine someone reading a snippet a text and knowing that you wrote it! That’s style. Read More
Wikipedia defines narrative as “any report of connected events, actual or imaginary, presented in a sequence of written or spoken words, or still or moving images.”
Put simply, narrative is story — a sequence of events with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Narrative can be true or fictional. It can be relayed in writing, through photographs, in film, and even in song.
Narrative comprises a huge segment of creative writing, so let’s take a look at narrative in action and examine some key traits of narrative writing.
What is Narrative?
The word narrative is often thrown around by the media, politicians, and commercial enterprises, especially advertisers. These folks understand the power of narrative, which can be used to spread a message, cultivate emotional connections, and control a story.
Consider Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head at age fifteen because she wanted to go to school. Malala survived and went on to become a world renowned advocate for girls’ education, focusing on regions of the world where girls are deprived of education. Malala’s story, or narrative, was instrumental to her ability to step upon the world stage and broadcast her message to the masses, and in 2014 she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Celebrities excel at using narrative to build their brands and cultivate emotional connections with their fans. Watch any music competition show on television and you’ll see the contestants sharing their life stories, often emphasizing the difficulties or conflicts they’ve experienced. It’s been said before: conflict is story. When audiences see these contestants’ struggles, they want to root for them, and a fandom begins to blossom. Throughout a celebrity’s career, the narrative continues, as we watch their highs and lows: they go through relationships, struggle with drugs, get married, have kids, and get divorced. It’s a long, ongoing narrative, and it keeps the fan base tuned in and buying books, movies, music, and magazines.
Politicians also use narrative to forge an emotional connection, but they are often more invested in controlling the story than sharing it. As they reveal their life stories to us, they pick and choose which parts to include, forging a selective narrative that emphasizes their strengths while downplaying their weaknesses.
And we can watch any commercial on television to see narrative being used to sell products and services. We see exhausted but devoted moms and dads looking for better ways to keep their kids healthy and the house clean. There are hipsters searching for the latest and greatest gadget, which will surely make their life funner and easier. Commercials are overrun with people who want to be beautiful and attract a mate. These are narratives that a target demographic can relate to, which is why commercials sell millions of products ranging from food and cleaning supplies to computers and makeup.
Why We Love Narrative
Whether we’re buried in books or ogling at a screen, we love to immerse ourselves in narratives.
Why is that?
An article on Wired titled “The Art of Immersion: Why Do We Tell Stories?” delves into the science behind why we love stories so much:
Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is central to human existence. That it’s common to every known culture. That it involves a symbiotic exchange between teller and listener — an exchange we learn to negotiate in infancy.
Just as the brain detects patterns in the visual forms of nature — a face, a figure, a flower — and in sound, so too it detects patterns in information. Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning. We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others. They are the signal within the noise.
So how do we find meaning in stories? How do we use stories to make sense of our world? Let’s look to fiction and personal narratives for the answers:
Nonfiction (personal) Narratives: Storytelling is used in memoirs and documentaries to convey true stories. When we hear about a devastating natural disaster on the other side of the world, it’s difficult for many people to put it in context. But when we hear firsthand accounts of survivors who describe what it was like to witness and experience the disaster — when we hear their narratives — we can better relate to the events that transpired. We begin to understand what it was like to be there, and our empathy engages.
Fictional Narratives: Fiction, however, is probably the most beloved form of narrative writing and story consumption. Books, movies, television shows, and even video games give us made-up stories. Whether a historical novel that carries us into the past so we can gain insight on what it might have been like to live in a world without technology or a science-fiction film that takes us far into the future where technology has surpassed our wildest imaginations, fictional narratives, like true narratives, give us access to experiences that we’ll never have and allow us to gain better understanding of the world we live in, and in some cases, the world we might someday live in.
Whether we write prose or scripts, narrative writing is a useful tool for sharing our thoughts, experiences, and ideas with others. We can use narrative to pose questions, like What will happen when artificial intelligence becomes smarter than humans? What was it like to be aboard the Titanic? What is it like to climb Mount Everest?
There are several key elements that we find in successful narrative writing:
- Characters: They can be made-up characters or real people. Audiences develop relationships with characters; it is through this bond that we connect with stories.
- Conflict: All the best narratives are built around a core conflict or story question. We stay tuned in because we want see how the conflict gets resolved. We want to find out the answer to the questions that the story poses.
- Plot: Plot is action and dialogue, the rising and falling of tension, the arc of a story. Plot is what happens. We engage intellectually with a narrative’s plot.
- Setting: The backdrop of a narrative sets the stage and helps the audience enter a story world. Setting is crucial, even if it’s minimal.
- Point of view: Who’s telling the story? Who’s it about? Who does the camera follow? The narrative point-of-view is the point of connection between a story and its audience.
As you pursue narrative writing, ask whether you’re including these essential elements and whether they’re woven into the narrative seamlessly.
Are you a storyteller? How do you use narrative writing? Do you aim to educate and inform, share your thoughts and ideas, or entertain audiences? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing narrative!
When we talk about creative writing, we tend to focus on fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. But there are many other types of creative writing that we can explore.
No matter what you write, it’s good practice to occasionally dip your pen into other waters. It keeps your skills sharp and your writing fresh. Plus it’s nice to take a break from writing the same thing all the time.
Let’s look at fourteen types of creative writing. As you read through the list, identify the types of writing you’ve experimented with and the types you’d still like to try.
Types of Creative Writing
- Journals: Journals are often confused for diaries. Technically, a diary is a type of journal, but a journal is any written log. You could keep a gratitude journal, a memory journal, a dream journal, or a goals journal.
- Diaries: A diary is a specific kind of journal where you write down the events of each day, resulting in a chronicle of your life.
- Essays. Not all essays are creative, but plenty of essays flow from creative thinking. Some examples include personal essays, descriptive essays, and persuasive essays.
- Storytelling: One of largest and most popular types of creative writing is storytelling. Storytelling lends itself to both fiction and nonfiction. Popular forms include flash fiction, short stories, novellas, and full-length novels. But stories can also be firsthand or secondhand accounts of real people and events.
- Poetry: Another popular but under-appreciated type of writing is poetry, which is easily the most artistic, creative form of writing. You can write form poetry, free-form poetry, and prose poetry. Or try writing a story in rhyme (perfect for kids).
- Memoir: Memoirs are personal accounts (or stories) with narrow themes and specific topics. They are usually the length of novels or novellas;shorter works of this kind would be considered essays. Memoir topics focus on specific experiences rather than providing a broad life story (which would be a biography). For example, one might write a travel or food memoir, which is an account of one’s personal experiences through the lens of travel or food (or both).
- Vignettes: A vignette is defined as “a brief evocative description, account, or episode.” Vignettes can be poems, stories, descriptions, personal accounts…anything goes really. The key is that a vignette is extremely short — just a quick snippet.
- Letters: Because the ability to communicate effectively is increasingly valuable, letter writing is a useful skill. There is a long tradition of publishing letters, so take extra care with those emails you’re shooting off to friends, family, and business associates. In fact, one way to get published if you don’t have a lot of clips and credits is to write letters to the editor of a news publication.
- Scripts: Hit the screen or the stage by writing screenplays (for film), scripts (for plays), or teleplays (for TV). You can even write scripts for video games! As a bonus, scripts have the potential to reach a non-reading audience.
- Song lyrics: Close cousin of poetry, song lyrics are a fun and creative way to merge the craft of writing with the art of music. Writing lyrics is an excellent path for writers who can play an instrument or who want to collaborate with musicians.
- Speeches: Whether persuasive, inspirational, or informative, speech writing is a discipline that can lead to prosperous and interesting career opportunities in almost any field ranging from science to politics to education.
- Journalism: Some forms of journalism are more creative than others. Traditionally, journalism was a straightforward, objective form of reporting on facts, people, and events. Today, journalists often infuse their writing with opinion and storytelling to make their pieces more compelling. For good or bad, this new practice opens journalism to more creative approaches.
- Blogging: A blog is nothing more than a publishing platform — a piece of technology that displays content on the web or an electronic device. A blog can be just about anything from a diary to a personal platform to an educational tool. In terms of creative writing, blogs are wide open because you can use them to publish any (or all) types of creative writing.
- Free writing: Open a notebook or a document and just start writing. Let strange words and images find their way to the page. Anything goes! It’s the pinnacle of creative writing.
Which of these types of creative writing have you tried? Are there any forms of writing on this list that you’d like to experiment with? Can you think of any types of creative writing to add to this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
Sometimes we’re overwhelmed with writing ideas. We work on multiple projects simultaneously and are constantly bombarded with new ideas that we’ll never have time to fully explore, let alone turn into active projects.
Other times we’re at a loss. Ideas are sparse and none of them hold our attention or inspire enough passion to see a project through to completion.
Ideas and inspiration remain a mystery. They are so mysterious, in fact, that thousands of years ago they were personified as goddesses in ancient Greek mythology. These goddesses were known as the muses. Of the ancient Greek deities, the muses have been the most persistent. Even today, creative people will refer to their muses and discuss inspiration as if it’s an external supernatural entity.
Most of us cannot summon new writing ideas on command, and we’ve all experienced the random arrival of a magnificent idea, which often comes at an inopportune time, like when we’re driving, showering, or otherwise engaged. We shoot down good ideas because we deem them as unoriginal. We sit and wait for ideas to magically appear instead of nurturing our creativity and actively pursuing inspiration. And we push our ideas to the back burner because our lives are so busy.
Finding and Developing Fresh Writing Ideas
If you’ve ever struggled to find inspiration, you know how frustrating it can be when you want to write but the words, the ideas, just won’t come. Creativity is fleeting, but we can nurture it. We can break bad habits, adopt good ones, and adjust negative attitudes.
Adopt a few of these practices so your imagination stays active and your pen keeps moving:
- Make time for creativity every day. Nothing will stifle creativity like ignoring it. When creativity strikes, give it your full attention. If that’s not possible, then set aside a little time each day (or a few times a week) to be creative.
- Stop trying to be so original. Writers often complain that their ideas are not good enough, not original enough. Everything has been done before. Stop trying to be different and focus on being yourself.
- Consume art and let it inspire you. Read as much as you can. Not only will good books inspire you, they will also improve your writing. Visit museums, listen to lots of music, and watch plenty of TV and movies.
- Keep an idea journal or notebook. There’s nothing worse than experiencing a flash of brilliance only to lose it because you didn’t write it down. Save those ideas!
- Become an observer. You’ll get some of your best ideas from taking in the world around you (and the people in it). Every day, you’re exposed to bits of dialogue, interesting stories, and funny situations. Turn these into poems, stories, articles, and essays.
- Foster curiosity. The world is curious place, so ask questions about it. Allow yourself to wonder at everything from the stars to human psychology. You’ll find ideas in the questions you come up with as well as in the answers.
- Practice writing even when you’re uninspired. Go through your idea notebook or practice writing descriptions. Make lists of words and phrases. Brainstorm character names. Just because you’re not brimming with ideas doesn’t mean you can’t get a little writing done. And as you write, ideas will start to flow.
- Steal ideas. Some of the greatest stories are merely echos of the stories that came before. In fact, some of the most successful stories are blatantly based on classics. Put a fresh twist on an idea that’s already withstood the test of time.
- Play and pretend. Children have vivid imaginations for a reason. They spend the majority of their time playing and pretending. That’s why they’re so full of ideas.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Try something new and different. Often a change of scenery or using different tools while you’re writing will engage your imagination and get your ideas flowing.
Do you have too many writing ideas or not enough? What do you do when you’re fresh out of ideas?
One of the most valuable writing practices I learned in college was free writing.
When you sit down with a pen and paper and let words flow freely, amazing things can happen.
At first, free writing is a bit of a struggle, but if you stick with it, you’ll produce some gems. The trick is to get out of the way, and let your subconscious take over. Most writing exercises ask you to think. This one requires you do anything but that.
Free writing is not like other writing practices; it allows you to generate written material for a variety of projects. It can also help you clear your head or tap into your deeper thoughts.
Train of Thought
The first few times I tried free writing, I botched it. I would describe everything I’d done that day or jot down my thoughts on a particular subject in a random, messy way. Finally, in one of my creative writing classes, I got to hear some examples of free writing and something clicked. Free writing is not about train of thought; it’s about stream of consciousness, and there’s a big difference.
Here is an example of one of my early attempts at free writing:
I set the microwave timer for thirty minutes so that I wouldn’t write for too long, although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt if I did. Usually I do free-writes in a journal. I have a tendency to reflect on the current events of my personal life during a free-write.
Yes, I was actually writing about how I was writing.
Train-of-thought writing is coherent. For the most part, the text makes sense, as you can see in the example above. The technique involves writing on a particular subject in a clear manner. This can be useful in many ways, but it won’t tap into your deeper creativity the way free writing will.
I use train-of-thought writing for clearing my mind or to prepare for writing a nonfiction piece as a brainstorming method to churn out all the information I have stored in my head. But when I’m looking for poetic images or vivid characters, free writing does a much better job.
Writing Exercises and Stream of Consciousness
After hearing another student’s free writing read aloud, I had a much better grasp on it. Here’s a sample of what I wrote once I better understood what free writing was all about:
in moonshine eyelet lace a rhapsody of liquors dancing off light reflected in the cut glass spoons stirring iced candy meltdown of hopes washed out memories of faded photographs and standing in line at a supermarket eyeing the magazines their eyes watching you like cats high up in trees crying for freedom but afraid to come down
The key to stream-of-consciousness writing is to relax your thinking mind and let the images of your subconscious take over. For some people, it takes a little practice, but once you get it down, it becomes a fun and creative practice. So what can you do with it?
Applications for Free Writing
Once you’ve built up a nice collection of free-writes, you have created a repository of images and lines, sentences, and paragraphs. You can now go through and harvest that material for your various writing projects. As you can imagine, the fruits of free writing lend themselves particularly well to poetry.
When I’m writing poetry, I often go through my free-writes with a highlighter, marking words and phrases that pop or strike me as especially meaningful or aesthetically pleasing. Then I pull these from the free-write and use them to compose a poem.
Free-writes can also be used to bring creative, colorful language into prose. Strong images and rich language generate work that is more literary in nature, and if done well, it’s a lot more fun to read. It will help you generate words that show rather than tell and make your story or essay come alive more easily in a reader’s mind.
Have you ever tried free writing? Do you tend toward train-of-thought or stream-of-consciousness writing? Are there any other writing exercises you recommend for creating more vivid prose or poetry?
If you have any experiences with free writing to share, please leave a comment.
Writing description is a necessary skill for most writers. Whether we’re writing an essay or a story, we usually reach a point where we need to describe something by explaining what it looks like or how it works.
But many writers find description challenging to write, and many readers find it boring to read. Before the advent of photographs and film, description was essential. A person in the American Midwest who had never seen a tropical island would need a detailed description in order to visualize it. Nowadays, thanks to technology and modern media, most of us know what a tropical island looks like — no description required.
However, I think it’s safe to say that technology and media has also spoiled us. We’ve become increasingly visual, which means it’s getting harder to use words to describe a scene, especially if it only exists in our imaginations. Although some writers are naturally gifted at writing description, it’s a struggle for many of us.
Descriptive Writing: What Does it Mean?
The term descriptive writing can mean a few different things:
- Descriptive Essay: A descriptive essay is pure description and designed to build skills in descriptive writing. It can describe a person, place, event, object, or anything else. It focuses on using words to establish visuals.
- Description as part of a larger work: This is the most common kind of descriptive writing. It is usually a sentence or paragraph (sometimes multiple paragraphs) that provide a description, usually to help the reader visualize what’s happening. It’s most commonly used to describe a setting or a character. An example would be a section of text within a novel that establishes the setting by describing a room or a passage that introduces a character with a physical description.
- Writing that is descriptive (or vivid) — an author’s style: Some authors can weave description throughout the prose, interspersing it through the dialogue and action. It’s a style of writing that imparts description without using large blocks of text that are explicitly focused on description.
Depending on what you write, you’ve probably experimented with one of more of these types of descriptive writing.
Tips for Writing Description
I’ve encountered writers whose descriptions are so smooth and seamless that I easily visualize what’s happening without even noticing that I’m reading description. Some authors craft descriptions that are so lovely, I do notice — but in a good way. Some of them are so compelling that I pause to read them again.
On the other hand, poorly crafted descriptions can really impede a reader’s experience. Description doesn’t work if it’s unclear, verbose, or bland. Most readers prefer action and dialogue to lengthy descriptions, so while a paragraph here and there can certainly help readers better visualize what’s happening, pages and pages of description can increase the risk that they’ll set your work aside and never pick it up again. There are exceptions to every rule, so the real trick is to know when lengthy descriptions are warranted and when they are just boring.
Here are some general tips for descriptive writing:
- Use distinct descriptions that stand out and are memorable. For example, don’t write that a character is five foot two with brown hair and blue eyes. Give the reader something to remember. Say the character is short with mousy hair and azure eyes.
- Make description active: Consider the following description of a room: There was a bookshelf in the corner. A desk sat under the window. The walls were beige, and the floor was tiled. That’s boring. Try something like this: A massive oak desk sat below a large picture window and beside a shelf overflowing with books. Hardcovers, paperbacks, and binders were piled on the dingy tiled floor in messy stacks.
- Weave description through the narrative: This isn’t always possible. Sometimes a character enters a room and looks around, so the narrative needs to pause to describe what the character sees. Other times, description can be threaded through the narrative. For example, instead of pausing to describe a character, engage that character in dialogue with another character. Use the characters’ thoughts and the dialogue tags to reveal description: He stared at her flowing, auburn curls, which reminded him of his mother’s hair. “Where were you?” he asked, shifting his green eyes across the restaurant to where a customer was hassling one of the servers.
Does descriptive writing come easily to you, or do you struggle with it? Do you put much thought into how you write description? What types of descriptive writing have you tackled — descriptive essays, blocks of description within larger texts, or descriptions woven throughout a narrative? Share your tips for descriptive writing by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
Here at Writing Forward, we talk about three types of creative writing: poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.
With poetry and fiction, there are techniques we can use to invigorate our writing, but there aren’t many rules beyond the standards of grammar and good writing in general. We can let our imaginations run wild; everything from nonsense to outrageous fantasy is fair game for bringing our ideas to life when we’re writing fiction and poetry.
However, when writing creative nonfiction, there are some guidelines that we have to follow. These guidelines aren’t set in stone, and there aren’t any nonfiction police patrolling bookstores, waiting to arrest you if you stray from the guidelines. These guidelines might be considered best practices, except if you violate them, you might find yourself in hot water with your readers.
What is Creative Nonfiction?
What sets creative nonfiction apart from fiction or poetry?
For starters, creative nonfiction is factual. A memoir is not just any story; it’s a true story. A biography is the real account of someone’s life. There is no room in creative nonfiction for fabrication or manipulation of the facts.
So what makes creative nonfiction writing different from something like textbook writing or technical writing? What makes it creative?
Nonfiction writing that isn’t considered creative usually has business or academic purposes. Such writing isn’t designed to entertain or even be enjoyable. It’s sole purpose is to convey information, usually in a dry, straightforward manner.
Creative nonfiction, on the other hand, pays credence to the craft of writing, often through literary techniques, which make the prose aesthetically pleasing and bring layers of meaning to the context. It is similar to fiction in that it usually uses a story structure and is written in prose.
There are many different genres within creative nonfiction: memoir, biography, autobiography, and personal essays, just to name a few.
Writing Creative Nonfiction
Here are six simple guidelines to follow when writing creative nonfiction:
- Get your facts straight. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing your own story or someone else’s. If readers, publishers, and the media find out you’ve taken liberty with the truth of what happened, you and your work will be ridiculed and scrutinized. You’ll lose credibility. If you can’t help yourself from lying, then think about writing fiction instead.
- Issue a disclaimer. Most nonfiction is written from memory, and we all know that human memory is deeply flawed. It’s almost impossible to recall a conversation word for word. You might forget minor details, like the color of a dress or the make and model of a car. If you aren’t sure about the details but are determined to include them, be upfront and plan on issuing a disclaimer that clarifies the creative liberties you’ve taken.
- Consider the repercussions. If you’re writing about other people (even if they are secondary figures), you might want to check with them before you publish your nonfiction. Some people are extremely private and don’t want any details of their lives published. Others might request that you leave certain things out, which they feel are personal. Otherwise, make sure you’ve weighed the repercussions of revealing other people’s lives to the world. Relationships have been both strengthened and destroyed as a result of authors publishing the details of other people’s lives.
- Be objective. You don’t need to be overly objective if you’re telling your own, personal story. However, nobody wants to read a highly biased biography. Book reviews for biographies are packed with heavy criticism for authors who didn’t fact-check or provide references and for those who leave out important information or pick and choose which details to include to make the subject look good or bad.
- Pay attention to language. You’re not writing a textbook, so make full use of language, literary devices, and storytelling techniques.
- Know your audience. Creative nonfiction sells, but you must have an interested audience. A memoir about an ordinary person’s first year of college isn’t especially interesting. Who’s going to read it? However, a memoir about someone with a learning disability navigating the first year of college is quite compelling, and there’s an identifiable audience for it. When writing creative nonfiction, a clearly defined audience is essential.
Do You Write Creative Nonfiction?
I know most of the readers here write fiction and poetry, but I suspect there are quite a few who either write creative nonfiction or want to try their hands at it. If you are writing creative nonfiction, do you have any guidelines to add to this list? Are there any situations in which it would be acceptable to ignore these guidelines? Got any tips to add? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.
I’ve been collecting writing notebooks and journals since I was a teenager. Most writers I know tend to accumulate a lot of stationery and office supplies: notebooks, pens, paper clips, and other odds and ends that we can use to manage and organize our writing projects.
Over time, these writerly goodies pile up.
I now have a sizable collection of creative writing notebooks and journals. Some are completely filled up. Others are still blank. A few are only partially used.
Good Old-Fashioned Paper
These days, writers use computers for most of their writing. But most of us readily admit there’s still something about good old-fashioned pen and paper that gets creativity flowing. It’s difficult to brainstorm on a computer; jotting down notes and random thoughts is cumbersome; and it’s almost impossible to doodle in the margins.
When you work with paper, more of your senses are engaged. When more of your senses are engaged, creativity flows more freely. You have to use your mind and your hands together. It’s a tactile experience.
I get lost in my writing when I’m composing scenes on my computer, but the real magic happens when I’m working out problems and developing ideas in my writing notebook.
Most writers will develop a preference for a particular type of writing notebook. Some of mine are pretty and whimsical. Others are simple and functional. I always go through lots of spiral notebooks for my business writing, but when it comes to creative writing, I prefer either composition notebooks or hardbound journals.
Composition notebooks are cheap, so I feel like I can be free and messy, which is essential when I’m brainstorming and plotting elaborate stories. A lot of my ideas get scratched, and it’s not a big deal when they’ve been scrawled in one of these cheap writing notebooks. Since they’re not precious, it’s easier to dive in and start writing without feeling intimidated by the blank page.
For poetry, I prefer to work in a hardbound sketchbook with unlined pages. I like to doodle and draw when the mood strikes. Occasionally, I write sideways, upside down, or even in circles (a technique for breaking through writer’s block). It takes me a while to fill up a poetry journal, so it has to be tough and able to withstand lots of use. Since most of my poems never get transferred to the computer, the paper must be archival quality; there’s less yellowing and tearing with higher quality paper. I’ve found the Watson-Guptill Sketchbook to be the ideal choice for my poetry journals with Moleskines coming in a close second.
What’s in Your Creative Writing Notebook?
The other day I was going through all my notebooks and journals. I found some good ideas I’d forgotten about along with plenty of ridiculous ideas that I’m glad I abandoned. I also went through the notebooks and journals that I haven’t used yet and found myself wondering about the poems, stories, and ideas that will someday fill their pages.
Do you ever go through your old creative writing notebooks and journals? Once you’re done with them, do you store them somewhere, or do you keep what you want to use and throw away the rest? Do you have a favorite brand or style for your writing notebook, and do you keep a decent supply on hand, or do you run to the store whenever you need a new one? What, exactly, do you write in your notebooks? Do you develop stories, draft poems, or keep a journal about your life? Leave a comment and tell us about it.
When I look back over all my years of formal education, from preschool through college, only a few classes stand out as truly educational in a life-changing way.
In sixth grade, we did a section on space, which fascinated me. I retained a lot of what I learned. Later, I took astronomy and learned even more about the universe. A class on women writers exposed me to a whole world of literature I didn’t know existed. And two writing workshops (poetry and creative writing) put me on the path to becoming a professional writer.
The main difference between a regular class and a workshop is that a workshop is interactive. You work together with your fellow students, critiquing each other’s work, asking questions, and exchanging insights. Whatever you can learn from a single instructor is multiplied by all the knowledge and wisdom you gain by sharing ideas with a roomful of your peers.
What You Can Learn from a Creative Writing Workshop
I only took one creative writing workshop, and I’m sure they are not all equal. You can usually sit in on the first couple of sessions to see if a class or workshop is right for you before you commit. If you find a good workshop, you’ll reap the benefits:
1. Discover yourself and your path. One day, while sitting in creative writing workshop, I was overcome by the strangest sensation. The best way I can describe it is that I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. It was the moment I knew without a doubt that I would be a writer.
2. Find out what your writing strengths are. The best part about receiving critiques from your peers is that they tell you what you’re doing right, which is reassuring. When you know that your writing skills have a solid foundation, it’s easier to accept that you still have work to do.
3. Accept the weaknesses in your writing. No matter how good your writing is now, there are things you can do to improve it. When ten of your classmates agree that certain elements in your prose need touching up or that you need to hit the grammar books, all you can do is accept it and dig your heels in.
4. Learn to handle critiques of your work. The first few critiques might be a bit rough, but once you see how all the suggestions make your writing so much better, you’ll start looking forward to them. You’ll learn how to separate yourself from your work, and you’ll be able to not only handle but actually embrace (and look forward to) critiques. This will also prepare you for the real-world critics and their reviews.
5. Help others improve their work. When other writers put your suggestions into action or express appreciation for your ideas and recommendations and then tell you that your feedback helped them make their writing better, it feels good, especially when the entire arrangement is reciprocal.
6. Meet people who share your passion. There’s nothing like sitting in a room surrounded by people who are just as excited about writing as you are. It’s not only inspiring, it’s comforting. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, some of whom may become lifelong friends, writing partners, or your future writing group.
7. Improve your writing. This, of course, is the main reason most people take a creative writing workshop. The ultimate goal is to become a better writer, and a workshop will definitely do the trick. You’ll also put a lot more effort into everything you write because you know it will be scrutinized, and this builds excellent writing habits.
8. Adopt new writing techniques. Between the instructor and your peers, you’ll discover all kinds of interesting new writing tools and techniques, often simply through the course of discussion as well as through observing everyone’s work.
9. Get access to a mentor. The person running the workshop should be knowledgeable and experienced in the world of writing. Maybe the instructor is a published author, or maybe it’s someone who’s worked as an agent, editor, or publisher. This access to a mentor is priceless. Take advantage of it!
10. Gain experience and get a lot of creative writing practice. This is one of the most valuable benefits of a creative writing workshop. When writers work on their own, they tend to procrastinate, get distracted, and generally don’t finish most of the projects they start. But in a workshop, you’re forced to get it done. This gives you lots of great experience and practice, and it also builds good writing habits.
Thinking About Taking a Creative Writing Workshop?
I definitely recommend taking a creative writing workshop if you can find a good one that suits your schedule, budget, and writing needs. If you’ve already taken a creative writing workshop or class, share your experiences by leaving a comment. Did you learn or gain anything? Would you do it again?