People ask me all the time whether I think a formal education is necessary to a successful writing career. A degree certainly helps, but no, it’s not necessary. There are master writers who did not finish high school and plenty never went to college.
I want to be clear: I fully support higher education. If you pull me aside and ask whether I think you should go to college, I’m going to say yes, of course you should! At the same time, I encounter plenty of writers (and other professionals) who are insecure because they feel they need that degree to back up their abilities. That’s just not so. If you want to write, you should write, regardless of whether you have a degree.
Keep in mind that while a degree is helpful (and you certainly learn a lot of valuable things in college), it’s neither a license to write nor a guarantee that you’ll be successful. Whether you pursue higher education or not, it is important to study the craft of writing. You can read books, join a writing group, or take a creative writing class. Read more
When I’m working on a story, I try not to think about technique too much. I focus on forging ahead without overanalyzing every step in my creative writing process.
My top priority is to get the ideas out of my head and onto the page.
However, during revisions and between projects, I often evaluate how I approached a project so that I can better understand my own creative process.
Hindsight is 20/20. I might decide that I didn’t do enough character sketches and therefore have to do more extensive rewriting. On the other hand, I might determine that I spent too much time writing down every idea and detail when I could have focused on the narrative and gotten it done more quickly. Read more
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines lifestyle as “a particular way of living: the way a person lives or a group of people live.”
Dictionary.com defines it as “the habits, attitudes, tastes, moral standards, economic level, etc., that together constitute the mode of living of an individual or group.”
A lifestyle is something you build for yourself from all the elements that make up your daily life: your thoughts, dreams, actions, routine, work, family, friends, food, hobbies, habits, and interests.
So is creative writing a lifestyle? Read more
Do you ever feel like you’re in a writing slump?
You can’t find a project worth committing to, or you have so many ideas, you can’t choose just one. You fill your notebooks and journals, but you can’t find a sense of purpose in what you’re doing. Maybe you spend a lot of time thinking about writing but can’t find the time to actually write.
Sometimes, the best plan is to make a plan. Instead of writing in circles or fretting about your projects (or lack thereof), stop and think about what you want to achieve or explore with your writing. Make a list of ideas for creative writing projects that you can sink your teeth into and then choose one and see it through to the end. You’ll come out of it with a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Read more
Young and new writers often ask whether they need a creative writing degree in order to become an author or professional writer.
I’ve seen skilled and talented writers turn down opportunities or refuse to pursue their dreams because they feel their lack of a degree in creative writing means they don’t have the credibility necessary to a career in writing.
Meanwhile, plenty of writers with no education, minimal writing skills, and scant experience in reading are self-publishing, freelance writing, and offering copywriting services en masse. Read more
Every once in a while, we writers need a break from our regular writing routines. Whether we spend our work week crafting copy for clients or dedicate late-night hours pounding out chapter and verse, we occasionally need respite from the monotony.
We get burnt out in the middle of a long project and need to step away so we can gain perspective and recharge our creativity. Sometimes we need to rejuvenate between projects. When a major project is finished, we need to find our next big idea.
But we also want to keep writing. A short vacation from writing practice starts with good intentions but ends with wondering how months or years slipped by without getting any real writing done.
One great way to continue writing while taking a break from our work is by engaging in creative writing activities. These are activities that remind us that writing is fun, meaningful, and invigorating, and they keep our writing skills sharp. Read more
Creative writing belongs to the arts, and the arts are an odd bunch.
People pursue artistic endeavors for different reasons. For some, it’s a hobby. For others, a livelihood. For most, it’s a hobby they dream of turning into a livelihood.
It’s a worthwhile dream and a lofty one too. But what does it take to get there? How much fun are you allowed to have, and just how much work must you do to turn your passion into a full-time job?
This post was originally published back in 2009, but I’ve updated it to add some new resources. Enjoy!
You don’t have to search far to find creative writing tips. There are tons of books, websites, and magazines that will let you in on the secrets of creativity and good, strong writing.
But if you want the inside scoop on what it takes to be a successful author, wouldn’t it be best to get it straight from the source–from a published author, an agent, or the editor of a major publication or publishing house?
These experts can share proven techniques that will help us improve our writing, get our work in front of an audience, and build a readership.
I was recently reading a novel, and a few chapters in, I realized I had mixed up two of the main characters. In fact, I had been reading them as if they were a single character. I’m a pretty sharp reader, and this has never happened before, so I tried to determine why I’d made the mistake. Was I tired? Hungry? Not paying attention?
I went back and reviewed the text and noticed that these two characters were indistinct. They were so alike that without carefully noting which one was acting in any given scene, it was impossible to differentiate them from each other. They were essentially the same character. Even their names sounded alike.
This got me to thinking about the importance of building a cast of characters who are unique and distinct from each other.
We sometimes talk about stock characters in literature. You know them: the mad scientist, the poor little rich kid, the hard-boiled detective. These characters have a place in storytelling. When readers meet a sassy, gum-popping waitress in a story, they know immediately who she is. They’ve seen that character in other books and movies. Maybe they’ve even encountered waitresses like her in real life. These characters are familiar, but they’re also generic.
When we use a stock character as a protagonist or any other main character, we have to give the character unique qualities so the character doesn’t come off as generic or boring. It’s fine to have a sassy, gum-popping waitress make a single appearance in a story, but if she’s a lead character, she’s going to need deeper, more complex development so the readers no longer feel as if they already know her. She has to become new and interesting.
Stieg Larsson did this brilliantly in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the sequels that made up the Millennium trilogy. At first the protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, seems like a surly punk, the kind of character we’ve seen a million times before. As the story progresses and Lisbeth moves to center stage, we learn there’s more to her than meets the eye. She’s antisocial (it is suggested she has Asperger’s Syndrome) and she’s a computer genius. She’s bold, brave, and tough. She’s not just some surly punk. She is a moral person with unique challenges–one of the most intriguing characters in contemporary fiction.
Cloned characters are often taken from source material, sometimes as an homage and other times as a blatant rip off. Such characters are particularly problematic when they feature prominently in a story and have no traits that differentiate them from the character upon which they are based. Do you want to read a story about a boy wizard named Hal Porter who wears glasses and has a scar on his forehead? Probably not, unless it’s a parody of Harry Potter, whom we all know and love.
You can certainly write a story about a young wizard who is based on Harry Potter, but you have to differentiate your character from Harry. Make the character a girl, give her a hearing aid instead of glasses, and come up with a memorable name that doesn’t immediately bring Harry Potter to mind.
As the book I was recently reading demonstrates, we also have to watch out for cloning characters within our own stories. For most writers, this is a bigger problem than cloning characters out of other authors’ stories.
Think about it: you are the creator of all the characters in your story. You might have based them on people or characters you know and love (or loathe). You might have conjured them from your imagination. But they are all coming from you: your thoughts, your experiences, and your voice.
While I’ve never mixed up two characters in a book I was reading before, I have noticed that characters who act, think, and speak similarly are common. And while a cast of characters who are similar to each other in every way imaginable doesn’t necessarily make a story bad, a cast of characters who are noticeably distinct from each other is way better.
Nature vs. Nurture
Cloning is the practice of making a copy of something, an exact replica. You can clone a human being (or a character), but once the clone comes into existence, it will immediately start changing and becoming different from the original. Its personal experiences will be unique. By nature, the original and the clone are exactly the same, but nurture (or life experience) will cause the clone to deviate from the original.
Here are some tips to make sure your characters are unique and not clones of each other or any character or person they are based on:
- Give your characters distinct and memorable names. Avoid giving characters name that sound alike. Don’t use names that start with the same letter and are the same length, and don’t use names that rhyme.
- Unless you’re writing a family saga, make sure your characters don’t all look alike. Try developing a diverse cast of characters.
- Characters’ speech patterns will depend on where they’re from, but individuals also have their own quirky expressions and sayings. Use dialogue to differentiate the characters from each other. Maybe one character swears a lot while another calls everyone by nicknames.
- Create character sketches complete with back stories. If you know your characters intimately, you’ll be less likely to portray them as a bunch of clones.
- To help you visualize your characters, look for photos of actors and other public figures that you can use to help your imagination fill in the blanks.
Are You Cloning?
The main problem with the book I mentioned at the beginning of this post was that there were two characters who were essentially functioning as a single entity, at least for the first four or five chapters, which is as far as I got in the book. The best fix for that problem would have been to combine the two characters into a single character, something I have had to do on one of my fiction projects that had a few too many names and faces.
I can’t help but wonder if the author ever bothered to run the manuscript by beta readers, and since the book was traditionally published, I wondered how the cloned characters made it past the editor.
How much attention do you pay to your characters when you’re writing a story? What strategies do you use to get to know your characters and make sure they are all unique? If you have any tips to share, leave a comment, and keep writing!
If creative writing is your passion, then you’d probably enjoy a career in which you could spend all day (or at least most of the day) pursuing that passion.
But creative writing is an artistic pursuit, and we all know that a career in the arts isn’t easy to come by.
It takes hard work, drive, dedication, a whole lot of spirit, and often, a willingness to take big financial risks — as in not having much money while you’re waiting for your big break.
When we think of people who make a living through writing, novelists and journalists come to mind immediately. But what other jobs are out there for folks who want to make creative writing the work that puts food on the table?
The Creative Writing Career List
Here’s a list of 20 creative writing jobs that you can consider for your career path. I’m not making any promises. You have to go out and find them yourself, but these are jobs that exist. You just have to look for them and then land them.
- Greeting Card Author
- Comic Book Writer
- Creativity Coach
- Writing Coach
- Advertising (Creative)
- Songwriter (Lyricist)
- Freelance Short Fiction Writer
- Creative Writing Instructor
- Legacy Writer (write people’s bios and family histories)
- Travel Writer (if you travel)
- Article Writer (write, submit, repeat)
- Video Game Writer (includes storytelling/fiction!)
- Personal Poet (write personalized poems for weddings, funerals, childbirths, etc.)
- Blogger (don’t tell me you don’t have a blog yet!)
- Creative Writing Consultant
Now, I’m not saying you’re going to make a whole lot to live on with some of these creative writing jobs but if you do what you love, the money (i.e. the success) just might follow. You’ll never know unless you try, right?
Do you have any creative writing careers to add to this list? Share your ideas by leaving a comment.
What steps do you take to get a creative writing project completed? Is your method sheer madness?
One day, many years ago, I was working in an office. The executives were having a meeting to discuss new procedures. It was a hot day and the conference room was small and crowded, so the door was open. As I passed by on my way to the filing room, I overheard my boss saying, “Melissa can handle that. She’s very methodical.”
Methodical. I tried it on and decided yes, it fit. “I am methodical,” I declared, and went about my business.
And it was true, too. I was organized to a fault, always looking for systems and processes that would streamline the workflow and make business more efficient and therefore more effective. The clothes in my closet were organized by season, length, and color. I didn’t have to flip through my hangers to find an article of clothing. Everything was neatly filed in its place.
Selling the Method
Writing gurus and mentors often want us to believe that there is only one true writing process. It usually goes something like this:
- Outline and research
- Rough draft
- Revise (repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat)
- Edit, proof, and polish
This is a good system–it absolutely works. But does it work for everyone?
Assessing the Creative Writing Process
I’ve been thinking a lot about thecreative writingprocess. Lately, I’ve found myself working on all types of projects–web pages, blog posts, a science fiction trilogy, and a children’s chapter book.
How do I tackle all these different projects without some kind of plan or system?
I’ve thought about the steps I take with my own writing and realized that the writing process I use varies from project to project and depends on the level of difficulty, the length and scope of the project, and even my state of mind. If I’m feeling super creative, a blog post or an article will come flying out of my head. If I’m tired, hungry, or unmotivated, or if the project is complicated, then it’s a struggle and I have to work a little harder. Brainstorming and outlining can help. A lot.
It occurred to me that I don’t have one creative writing process. I have several. And I always use the one that’s best suited for a particular project.
March to the Beat
One of my favorite sayings has to do with marching to the beat of your own drum. I like that saying because that’s how I walk–to my own rhythm. If I didn’t, then I probably never would have started my own business or believed that I could make it as a writer. In fact, I probably wouldn’t be a writer at all.
Some writers can sit down and pound out an article, a short story, or even a novel without ever planning or outlining. Others have to follow a strict writing process or they get lost and confused, tangled up in their own words.
For example, when I am involved in a copywriting or nonfiction project, I find that brainstorming and outlining are essential. I need to organize my thoughts and make sure I cover the subject matter thoroughly. But with creative writing projects, such as fiction and poetry (and even the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo back in 2008), I just start typing and let the ideas flow. Conversely, the NaNoWriMo project I did this year had a full, detailed outline.
Listen to Your Own Rhythm
We all start with interesting creative writing ideas and hope to finish with a completely riveting piece of writing.
That day I overheard my boss saying that I was methodical was a long time ago. Since then, I’ve loosened up my methods. Oh, I can still whip up a streamlined procedure and implement it. I have to do that for my own business all the time, whether it involves maintaining my client contact list or managing my quotes and invoices–using a system for that stuff is extremely helpful.
But my closet no longer looks like it’s maintained by Martha Stewart. It’s still pretty organized, but not by color and season. It helps to know when a system works and when it’s all hype. The first few times I tried to write a novel, I did so using the exact same writing process that I used for writing essays in college, and it simply did not work. It wasn’t until I totally changed the process that I was able to succeed and complete that massive creative writing project.
Writing processes are good. The reason our predecessors developed these processes and shared them, along with a host of other writing tips, was to help us be more productive and produce better writing. Techniques and strategies can be helpful, but it’s our responsibility to know what works for us as individuals and as creative writers and to know what will cause us to infinitely spin our wheels.
I Showed You Mine
…now you show me yours.
What’s your creative writing process? Do you have one? Do you ever get stuck in the writing process? How do you get unstuck?
When life gets hectic, it’s impossible to get your creative writing done. Inspiration might be knocking but the house is so full, you’re not sure you can open the door and let it in.
But what if all you need is sixty seconds?
We all have responsibilities to fulfill and obligations to meet. We’ve got bills to pay, jobs to do, children to care for, and pets to play with. The lawn has to be mowed, garbage taken out, laundry done, dishes cleaned; the list goes on and on and on.
How Do We Find Time for Creative Writing?
Creative writing happens when the muse is happily seducing a writer’s imagination–when new worlds magically appear on the page and when fictional characters seem more real than some of the people we know in our day-to-day lives.
Creative writing is one of those pursuits, that for many people, is a dream. Like music, dance, acting, and art, it seems unattainable. Like athletics, entrepreneurship, and presidential leadership, it seems meant only for the chosen few. Every day a writer is born. And every day, a writer gives up, overwhelmed by all the things in life that require time, energy, and attention.
Every day, another blog is abandoned, another novel shelved, poem left half unfinished. “I just don’t have time anymore,” a writer says, then deletes a file that was going to be the next great American novel, or crumples up a poem that would have inspired the next great world leader and throws it in the trash.
Don’t Give Up
What if J.K. Rowling had given up on her fantastical story? What if George Lucas had given up on his groundbreaking film? What if the Beatles hadn’t taken a chance on that new sound everyone was calling rock and roll? What kind of world would we be living in?
I almost gave up on my creative writing. For several years, I rarely wrote, other than the writing I had to do for work, which was technical or business writing. It was only by sheer luck that the company I worked for closed, forcing me to find some other path, and only by an odd combination of chance, drive, and a willingness to take risks did I return to my writing so that I could sit here years later amazed that now I make a living doing it.
And I’m willing to take the dream a little further, do a little more. Whether it’s this year, next year, or in five years, the dream is mine, and I’m not giving up on it.
Neither should you.
Make Time for Creative Writing
If you don’t have time to write, then make time.
You don’t have to sit down and write ten pages a day. In five minutes, you can jot down a few paragraphs. In fifteen, you can run off a page. Some days, you’ll get lucky and be able to steal an hour or two. Other days, you’ll have to crunch just to get a couple of minutes.
A Little Tiny Writing Exercise
A few years ago, I came across this website called One Word. It’s one of those sites you bookmark, then forget about but rediscover every few months when you’re cleaning out or surfing your bookmarks. Every time I visit, I use it (because it’s interactive), and by the time I leave, which is maybe a minute and a half later, I feed strangely refreshed and revitalized.
One Word gives you just that–one word. Then it gives you something else. It gives you time. You get sixty seconds to write whatever you want, inspired by that single word, that gift.
It doesn’t sound like much, but every time I’ve visited that site and cranked out a minute’s worth of words, I always feel good when I leave. Like my right brain just got a little massage and the rest of my body is thanking me for it. And whether it’s been hours or days since I last took time to work on my own creative writing, One Word always reminds me that my passions need to have a priority in my life.
It’s a lot like the way I feel when I hear an inspiring, uplifting speech that motivates and moves me, except at this site, the words aren’t someone else’s, they’re mine. Well, except for that one.
Feed Your Soul
Here’s the thing about creativity: It is food for the soul. It’s the one thing that has a guaranteed return on investment. The more creativity you spend, the better you feel, the more creative you become, and more nourished is your spirit.
People like us need to feed the fire to keep the passion burning. Giving up on your creative writing isn’t an option because if we give up, we dry up. When you feed your right brain, your whole body benefits, and when you feed the fire that is your passion, your whole life and everyone in it reaps the rewards.
So make some time, take some time, to write. Go to OneWord.com and write for just a minute (surely you can spare sixty seconds–how about right now?) or close all those windows and open up your word processing software or turn off the computer and pick up your journal and just write.
And then keep writing.