Technically, a journal is a chronological log. Many professionals keep journals, including scientists and ship captains. Their journals are strictly for tracking their professional progress.
A writer’s journal can hold many things: thoughts, ideas, stories, poems, and notes. It can hold dreams and doodles, visions and meditations. Anything that pertains to your creative writing ideas and aspirations can find a home inside your journal.
Today let’s explore an intimate style of journal writing, one in which we write about our own lives: reflective journaling.
Creative Writing Gets Personal
Some personal journals are diaries. A diary is merely an account of one’s daily activities and experiences. In a diary, we record what we did each day.
A reflective journal is similar to a diary in that we document our experiences. However, reflective journaling goes deeper than diary writing; it strives to gain greater understanding of our experiences rather than simply document them.
Reflective journaling is a form of creative writing that allow us to practice self-reflection, self-exploration, and self-improvement, and through reflective journaling, we gain greater awareness through observation, contemplation, and writing. By chronicling and then examining various aspects of our lives, we become more self-aware.
We all have stories to tell. With reflective journaling, you write about your own life, but you’re not locked into daily chronicles that outline your activities or what you had for dinner. You might write about something that happened when you were a small child. You might even write about something that happened to someone else — something you witnessed or have thoughts about that you’d like to explore. Instead of recounting events, you might write exclusively about your inner experiences (thoughts and feelings). Reflective journaling often reveals tests we have endured and lessons we have learned.
The Art of Recalibration (by Kristin Donovan, who is a sisterly spirit but no relation) is a perfect example of reflective journaling in which stories about our lives are interwoven with our ideas about life itself.
Reflective journaling has other practical applications, too. Other forms of creative writing, such as poems and stories, can evolve from reflective journaling. And by striving to better understand ourselves, we may gain greater insight to others, which is highly valuable for fiction writers who need to create complex and realistic characters. The more deeply you understand people and the human condition, the more relatable your characters will be.
Do You Keep a Journal?
I guess I’m a journal slob because my journal has a little bit of everything in it: drawings, personal stories, rants, and reflections. It’s mostly full of free-writes and poetry. I realize that a lot of writers don’t bother with journals at all; they want to focus on the work they intend to publish. But I think journaling is healthy and contributes to a writer’s overall, ongoing growth.
I once read a comment on a blog by a writer who said she didn’t keep a journal because she couldn’t be bothered with writing down the events of each day; I found it curious that she had such a limited view of what a journal could hold. A journal doesn’t have to be any one thing. It can be a diary, but it can also be a place where we write down our ideas, plans, and observations. It can hold thoughts and feelings, but it can also be a place where we doodle and sketch stories and poems.
I’m curious about your journal. Do you keep one? What do you write in it? Is your journal private or public? Is it a spiral-bound notebook or a hardcover sketchbook? Does journaling inspire or inform your other creative writing projects? Have you ever tried reflective journaling? Tell us about your experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
photo credit: Auzigog
Every expert in the world thinks you should keep a journal. Physical trainers suggest keeping an exercise journal, and nutritionists recommend keeping track of your meals. Oprah insists on a gratitude journal, and business consultants promote journaling throughout one’s career.
How much journal writing can one person do?
Of course, journals are, first and foremost, the forté of writers. Journal writing provides a sacred space where thoughts, ideas, stories, and poems can be recorded. We turn to our journals for inspiration and when we’re inspired.
Some journals are topical while others are a hodgepodge. You might use several different journals, each for different projects or topics, or you might use one journal for everything. There’s no right or wrong way, and there are no limits to the journal ideas you can use to inform and inspire your creative writing projects.
Journal Ideas for Writers
These seven journal ideas foster creative thinking and promote regular (daily) writing. Some are good for keeping track of your ideas. Others are ideal for solving problems or keeping yourself inspired and motivated to write. Try one or try them all, or just create one journal for all your creative writing.
1. The Dream Journal
The subconscious is a wondrous thing. Artists and geniuses alike have attributed some of their best work to the messages they received while dreaming. A dream journal is useful for anyone interested in exploring the subconscious mind, where creativity often lives and breathes. This type of journal writing is also ideal for folks who are interested in dream interpretation or trying to achieve lucid dreaming. For writers, journals that hold dreams will provide a myriad images and plots that the waking creative mind simply can’t drudge up. Keep your journal near your bed, and make sure you jot down your dreams as soon as you wake up, otherwise with each minute that passes, you’ll lose chunks of your nighttime imaginings.
2. Art Journal
Even us writers have to admit that a picture is worth a thousand words. Symbols are particularly powerful and speak directly to the subconscious, which is where your muse might be hiding. Like a dream journal, an art journal is a clever way to get in touch with the deeper recesses of your mind, where some of your most creative ideas are lurking. You don’t have to be a fine artist to use an art journal. Doodles and stick figures will open up your right brain too! An art journal is also perfect for sketching your characters, scenery, and maps of the worlds you’re creating for your fiction.
3. Freewriting Journal
Sometimes called stream-of-consciousness writing, freewriting is a way to clear your mind of clutter. If you keep at it long enough, some pretty interesting stuff will emerge through your freewrites. Yes, it’s yet another way to tap into your creativity. If you can stop your conscious thinking and let the words flow, you’ll be amazed at the creative stew that is brewing just beneath the surface. You can do straight freewriting or try guided freewriting in which you focus on a specific word, image, or topic. It’s a great way to hash out conversations with your characters, accumulate raw material that can later be harvested for poems, and brainstorm for just about any writing project that you’re planning or working on.
4. Idea Journal
How many ideas have you lost? If you make it a point to note your ideas through daily journal writing, there’s a good chance you won’t lose any at all. This is why so many writers keep a journal or notebook with them at all times. In fact many writers use miniature notebooks for this very reason — there’s nothing worse than coming up with a brilliant idea when you’re at a party, in the middle of a phone conversation, or trying to fall asleep. Keep your journal near your person at all times, and you’ll never lose an idea again. Or pick up several miniature notebooks and keep them in convenient places — your nightstand, purse, car, desk drawer at the office, even the bathroom!
5. Inspirational Writing Journals
What inspires you? A sunset? A day with friends and family? A great movie or an inspiring song? Quotes from the greats? You can record all the things that inspire you in an inspiration journal, taking notes from some of the world’s most successful creators. You can even paste photos and clippings, using images to capture moments that were especially inspiring. Then when your creativity meter is running low, you can flip through your inspiration journal to capture ideas that ignite your passion (and your next writing project).
6. Life Events or Diary
A diary is pretty straightforward — you simply record the goings-on in your life. Some people start writing journals in diary format for special times or events in their lives, such as when they’re getting married or having a baby, traveling, or moving to a new place. Diary writing is a great place to start if you’re interested in writing a memoir or autobiography. It’s also a perfect place to record the real experiences that you’ve had even if you plan on fictionalizing them later. Some of the best dialogue, descriptions, and scenes come from real life!
7. Reader’s Journal
If you want to be a writer, read. Read a lot, then read some more. You just can’t read enough. When you write about what you’ve read, you can capture what worked and what didn’t work from a writer’s perspective. You’ll pick up neat writing tricks, jot down techniques that you’ve observed other writers using effectively, and of course, as you read and get ideas for your own projects, you can include those as well. Best of all, you’ll have a place where you’ve listed everything you’ve read and by keeping notes, you’ll retain all of it much better.
Which of These Journal Ideas Sparks Your Imagination?
Not all writers keep a journal. Especially with advancements in technology, writers are more and more likely to turn to their computers or handheld devices for all their writing needs. Don’t let technology stop you! You can always create writing journals using your computer or smart phone. Start a document or blog and maintain it electronically. But there is something to be said about putting pen to paper, something that the computer just can’t mimic.
What types of journals have you kept? Do you think journal writing is beneficial? Did any of these journal ideas appeal to you? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.
We all make mistakes in our writing. The most common mistake is the typo — a missing word, an extra punctuation mark, a misspelling, or some other minor error that is an oversight rather than a reflection of the writer’s skills (or lack thereof).
A more serious kind of mistake is a deep flaw in the writing. It’s not a missing word; it’s a missing scene. It’s not an extra punctuation mark; it’s an overabundance of punctuation marks. And these mistakes aren’t limited to the mechanics of writing: plot holes, poor logic, and a prevalence of bad word choices are all markers of common writing mistakes that are often found in various forms and genres of creative writing. Read More
Do you ever sit down to write only to discover hours later that you’ve done nothing but stare off into space with a blank look on your face, occasionally breaking from your stupor to notice that you haven’t written a single word?
Conversely, have you ever noticed that after watching an intoxicating film or listening to a mesmerizing piece of music, you feel that creative impulse start to throb, luring you to your keyboard or notebook?
Don’t Tell Me It’s Writer’s Block
Writer’s block is nothing more than a myth. In some cases, it’s an excuse. Creative writing is not supposed to be easy. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be so rewarding. Creative writing requires skill, focus, motivation, and inspiration. When we’re tired, emotional, hungry, or distracted, we’re not suffering from writer’s block; we’re just stressed out like everybody else.
But sometimes what’s lacking is writing inspiration.
If you want to keep your creativity flowing, start by taking care of yourself. Make sure you eat right, get plenty of rest and exercise, and keep your emotions in check by finding ways to be happy.
You have to take special care of your creativity too. Feed your imagination and keep a journal so you can store ideas for later use. Try some creative writing exercises to get yourself going in new directions. And absorb art.
When you take some time to experience a little art or entertainment, you’ll find that your creative juices really start to flow. Not only will you enjoy yourself, you’ll also massage your creative muscles and come away with fresh writing inspiration for your own projects.
Art Begets Art
Haven’t you heard? Creativity is contagious. The more you expose yourself to it, the more creative you’ll become. Here are five tips to keep the breeding grounds for writing inspiration fertile:
- Watch a movie, preferably a good one. It doesn’t matter which genre or whether it’s an award-winning film. The key is to pick a movie that speaks to you, the kind that leaves you feeling reawakened.
- Read a book or even just a chapter. This is sure to get you back in touch with your muse, but make sure that whatever you read when you’re looking for inspiration is something that fully engages you.
- Peruse art and photography. You can go to a museum or check out the many art sites on the web. Sometimes when I need a break from writing, I type something into Google, click the images button, and spend a few minutes enjoying the beauty of art and imagery. It’s good refreshment for the mind.
- Listen to music. One of the best things about listening to music is that you can do it while you’re also doing other things, like exercising, driving, cleaning, or working on your creative writing projects. Then again, you can just lie back, relax, and let yourself get swept away by the sounds. Or, you can…
- Dance. Not only will dancing get your blood pumping, it will increase your energy level. You’ll be listening to music all the while, so this one’s a double hitter with the added benefit of exercise!
Next time you find yourself floating around inside your own headspace when you should be forging your masterpiece, take a break to take care of your body and mind, and then go take in a movie or an album or some incredible artwork, and let someone else’s art beget your own. That’s how you get creative writing to come naturally and effortlessly!
Do you have any tips for finding creative writing inspiration? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Creative writing, like all art, is subjective, and therefore difficult to define.
Certainly fiction and poetry qualify as creative writing, but what about journal writing, articles and essays, memoirs and biographies? What about textbooks and copywriting? Technical writing? Blog posts?
Where do we draw the line between creative writing and other types of writing?
In some cases, what qualifies as creative is obvious. You read something and you know it belongs in the creative category. Other times, a piece of writing, while skillful, might not strike you as creative in nature. And then there’s everything in between – stuff that’s sort of creative or not quite creative enough.
Creative Writing and Art
People have been struggling to define art for centuries. Some feel that a Monet is definitely art and a child’s drawing is not. Others would say that both are art, and a few would even argue that a child’s work is a truer form of art because it’s not developed or learned. It’s completely intuitive and therefore more creative and artistic.
Creative writing presents us with the same dilemma. Does a piece of writing qualify as creative by merely existing? Would we refer to a legal document or instruction manual as a piece of creative writing? Does a straightforward essay or something like an encyclopedia article qualify as creative? What about letters or emails? Is creative writing determined by the level of skill versus talent?
For the most part, defining creative writing is a subjective pursuit. You can determine what creative writing is for yourself, but others may see things differently. Yet there are some types of writing that most of us would never refer to as creative writing, and a few types that we’d probably all agree on.
Obviously Creative Writing
As mentioned, when you think about creative writing, fiction and poetry spring to mind, possibly because the creative nature of both fiction and poetry is so obvious.
Fiction is made-up stuff borne from the imagination and therefore inherently creative. Poetry too, takes many liberties with language and imagery, and many poems are rooted almost entirely in creativity. Song lyrics also fit well with fiction and poetry, as does screenwriting, since all of these types of writing certainly require a significant level of imaginative and creative thinking.
But many other types of writing are creative as well. When you read a memoir with beautiful turns of phrase or an essay that fires up your imagination, you know that you’re experiencing the writer’s creativity. Conversely, when you read a bit of dry, factual material, you’re positive that it’s not creative writing at all.
Obviously Not Creative Writing
While these types of writing may require some level of creativity, they are not usually considered members of the creative writing family. That might sound exclusive or elitist, but one of the things that defines creative writing is how enjoyable it is to read.
It’s easy to glance at a poem and know that it’s a piece of creative writing, and it’s easy to flip through a legal document and know that it’s not. The problem with defining creative writing is all the stuff in the middle – writing that may or may not be considered creative, and that makes its membership in the club completely subjective. So, what is creative writing?
Creative Writing is Subjective
If a historical textbook is not creative writing, then wouldn’t that exclude other nonfiction works like memoirs and biographies from the creative writing category?
The line that separates creative writing from other types of writing is not drawn between fiction and nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is a broad genre and includes memoirs and biographies, personal essays, travel and food writing, and literary journalism.
While nonfiction indicates that the writing is rooted in fact, it can be quite creative (unlike technical or medical writing) because it is written with emphasis on language and the craft of writing.
Creative Writing and You
Ultimately we each get to decide what is art and what is creative writing. Most of us will know creative writing when we experience it, either as a writer or as a reader, even though we rarely take the time to examine why we consider one type of writing creative over another.
A few questions to consider:
- Do you differentiate between creative writing and other types of writing? Do you even think about it?
- Have you ever thought about the difference between literary writing and other types of creative writing?
- Do you feel that copywriting (ads, commercials, etc.) can be classified as creative writing or art even though its purpose is strictly commercial?
In the big scheme of things, it may not be that important to go around labeling what is and isn’t creative writing, but it’s certainly worthy of a few brief moments of consideration.
In any case, keep writing (and stay creative)!
Do you have any ideas to add or questions to ask about creative writing? Leave a comment!
Practice makes perfect, right?
That’s exactly why keeping a journal is essential for writers. The countless benefits of journaling include getting regular writing practice, establishing a space where you can explore your creative ideas, and fostering a daily writing habit.
Do all writers keep journals? Of course not. But most of us have kept journals at some point, and for most of us, journal writing has been instrumental in our development as writers.
Probably the most famous application of journal writing comes from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In it, she encourages people who are trying to connect with creativity to write every single morning. “Three pages of whatever comes to your mind — that’s all there is to it.”
Writing morning pages is like boot camp for your muse. By writing every day at the same time, you train her to show up when you say it’s time to work. Cameron’s methodology also involves turning off the inner censor, that little voice that berates every sentence.
The key is to simply let the words flow.
Think about it — if you write three pages a day, in seven days, you’ll have twenty-one pages. In a month, you’ll have about ninety pages, and in one year, you’ll have well over a thousand pages. That’s a lot of creative material to pull ideas from. And those are just a few of the benefits of journaling.
Get on the Writer’s Express
If you’re new to writing or want to explore writing as a career or hobby, then journal writing is your ticket onto the expressway to becoming a writer. You can use your journal to draft stories, sketch characters, jot down poems, or record the events of your daily life. Maybe after one year and over a thousand pages, you’ll be able to do some editing and publish your memoir.
Journaling is also great for commercial writers (technical writers, copywriters, etc.), who spend all day writing and editing copy for clients. This type of writing is a lot different from writing stories or poems; keeping a journal can help to get your head out of business and into more creative forms of writing. The creativity you cultivate will then seep into your professional writing, and it will become more vivid and engaging.
Sticking to a Schedule
Even if you don’t stick to a rigorous schedule, it’s important to write somewhat regularly to get the most out of the benefits of journaling. This helps keep ideas and language flowing and helps you build the journal writing habit. You may only be able to journal on weekends or on certain days of the week. Sticking to a schedule (preferably daily) is the best way, but it’s not always realistic.
The most important thing is that you commit to keeping a journal and then keep your journal with you or nearby at all times. You can also carry smaller notebooks or scraps of paper and either glue or tape them into your journal later.
You’ll Need a Journal
I’ve been writing a journal on and off for more years than I care to admit that I have under my belt. Throughout all those years, I’ve tried every type of journal under the sun, and finally, I found my favorite for journal writing.
Technically, the Watson-Guptill Sketchbook is just that, a sketchbook. The pages are blank instead of lined, so you can doodle and write sideways, and I love adding color with Crayola Markers, too!
Some writers can journal using anything — composition books, legal pads, napkins. I can do that too, but I don’t feel the same connection to it as when I have my own sacred space especially for journal writing.
Recently, I’ve got it into my head that I’ll start journaling on the computer. But it’s just not the same as having that pen and paper in my hand. It’s almost like I’m closer to my creativity or my subconscious when I’m using a pen. I’m not sure if that’s true or even possible, but it sure feels that way, making the tactile experience of working with pen and paper yet another benefit of journaling.
Have you ever kept a journal? Do you keep one now? Let’s talk about how journal writing has impacted our writing or even our lives. What type of notebook or paper do you use for your journal, or do you use a computer? Is your blog your journal? What benefits of journaling have you experienced?
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.
That kind of writing is special.
When you create an emotional connection between your writing and your readers, there’s a lasting impression. That’s what happens when you write with passion.
Those two works, along with dozens of others, became threads in the tapestry of my world. That’s the power of writing that slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart, as Maya Angelou described. This kind of writing affects people, influences them, and shapes their lives because it’s imbued with passion.
Maybe your readers will enjoy your work but get back to their lives as soon as they’ve closed the cover on your story. Or maybe you’ll make a difference. Maybe you’ll change lives and make some small (or great) change in the world. There’s no right or wrong way, but when you write with passion, you certainly increases the chance that your work will stick with people.
Quotes on writing: source
Each writer has a distinct style. We repeat certain words, phrases, 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, we 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 the quotes by each author’s voice.
Imagine someone reading a snippet of text and knowing that you wrote it! That’s style. Read More
Writing activities usually involve sitting in a chair and hammering away at a keyboard. Some of us still use good, old-fashioned pens and paper. We brainstorm, outline, draft, and polish.
It can get repetitive and mundane.
Why not spice up our writing lives with some unusual writing activities that promote creativity while motivating and inspiring fresh ideas?
Isn’t it Ordinary?
It’s all rather ordinary and limiting — always sitting in the same position and using the same tools — day in and day out? Creativity gets stale with too much routine. Sure, you can take breaks. There are lots of writing tips that recommend getting out for some exercise and socializing, and there are plenty of creativity tips that help you think in new ways.
What about writing activities that get you moving and positioning your body in new ways? Or touching different textures and being in an environment that’s nothing like your usual surroundings?
Get off that chair, step away from your desk, and try standing or crouching. Put yourself in a different environment — leave the office and go outside. Lie on your stomach in the grass and scratch words, carve them, paint them, and let the stimuli of your surroundings and the tools in your hand gently guide your mind, your muse, and your creativity in a new direction.
Unusual Writing Activities
These writing activities are definitely unusual; you’ll use your body, your surroundings, and the tools you’re writing with to motivate and inspire new writing ideas.
- 1. Supersize it
- Get some extra-large, over-sized paper and sprawl out somewhere — like in the grass or on the floor. Instead of typing or writing in the limited space of your computer monitor or notebook, use pens and pencils, and write until you fill up the entire sheet. Use big, enormous letters or itty bitty ones. Either way, it’s going to feel a lot different from what you’re used to.
- 2. Colored Markers
- A pack of colored markers doesn’t cost much, and once you’ve got them, you can use them to write on that over-sized paper, and that makes the previous activity a lot more fun. Putting down your words in color might spark fresh writing ideas, so use your markers to write in your notebook or journal, on sticky notes, and even on scratch paper when you’re jotting down concepts.
- 3. Speaking of Sticky Notes…
- Try writing different parts of a story or poem on sticky notes. Limit yourself to a few words (for poetry) or just a line or two (for prose). On each sticky note, write a line of dialogue or some basic action (she walked toward the door). You’ll be writing in a tiny space, and that will make you choose your words more carefully. When you’re done, you can have fun patching all the sticky notes together to complete your piece.
- 4. Chalk it Up
- Actually, chalk it down. Most department and toy stores sell big buckets of large, thick sidewalk chalk, which is perfect for marking up sidewalks and driveways. This is a fun exercise to do with the kids, by the way. Chalk a poem or a piece of flash fiction. If you want to save it, take a photo before washing it all away.
- 5. Stand and Deliver
- There are lots of ways you can write while standing. You can stand at a counter, for example, and write in your notebook, but that’s not very unusual. In addition to standing, try writing on a flat, vertical surface. Tape paper to a wall, door, or window and then let your words flow. You can also use an easel or a whiteboard for this one.
- 6. Lie in the Grass
- The trick is to lie directly on the grass. Do not use a blanket or a towel — make contact with the green — physically connect with a texture you’re not used to. If the grass is too damp or dirty for you, then try this on sand or pavement (I bet the pavement’s WAY dirtier than the grass). The important thing is to be outdoors, lying down, and writing.
- 7. Paint Your Words
- You don’t need fancy paints or paintbrushes — a cheap set of watercolors from the school supply aisle will do. You might want to use that over-sized paper for this one. Paint your story or poem instead of writing it, and if the mood strikes (and you’re feeling artistic), get some images in there too — or just let the colors run and see what happens to your words.
- 8. Get Old School
- Use a fountain pen and an inkwell (yes, they still make this stuff) and find out what it was like to be a writer hundreds of years ago. Remember, some of the greatest writers in history did it this way — dipping their nibs into the ink: Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Emily Dickinson. If they could do it, you can too!
- 9. Scratching on Crayon
- This an old trick that school-aged kids love: Use pastel crayons to color over an entire sheet of paper. You can use a solid color, make rainbows, big bubbles, or stripes. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. When you’re done, go over the whole thing with the black crayon until it’s solid black. Now you can use your fingernail (or a sharp object, like a paperclip or the edge of a penny) to write by scratching off the black layer, and voila! Your writing reveals a rainbow of color beneath.
- 10. Ambidexterity
- Are you right-handed? Write with your left hand. Left-handed? Use your right. It feels awkward at first, but if you concentrate, you should be able to scrawl something legible using your opposite hand (yes, I know this because I have actually done some of these crazy things. What? You think I make this stuff up?).
- 11. Stay at Your Computer
- Okay, so you want to switch things up, but you just can’t pry yourself away from your beloved computer. You can still get creative. Try writing in white text on a black background. Or try lime green on a dark purple background. Mix up your colors, make them bold or put them in italics, and get busy writing.
- 12. And if You Want to Get Really Fancy…
- Still don’t want to leave your computer? Go find some unusual fonts and write with those. Try script fonts or big, bold fonts in different sizes.
- 13. Eat Your Words
- Remember Alpha-Bits cereal? What about Alphabet Soup? You can use food to write! I confess, I haven’t tried this one, and it could get messy. It might also be difficult — if you keep eating your letters, you won’t have anything to write with.
- 14. Wear Your Words
- If you can eat your words, you might as well wear them. All you need is a Sharpie (better yet, try some colored Sharpies) and a cheap, white tee shirt. Stretch the fabric around something firm, and start writing. Hey, if you ever become a world-famous novelist, that tee shirt is going to be worth big bucks!
- 15. Make a Mural
- You can buy rolls of paper at art supply stores and even at home improvement stores. Roll it out and attach it to the wall. Masking tape works well for this, and a good place for this activity is on a garage door. Now you’re really mixing things up; you’re standing, writing on over-sized paper, and as an added bonus, you can get out your colored markers or paints and really liven things up.
- 16. Revisit Your Childhood
- Earlier I mentioned writing with paints and paintbrushes. Try doing it with finger paints (I bet you’re going to need that over-sized paper for this one). You’ll probably get dirty, so dress accordingly. This is another great one to do with kids. Leave yourself some time to take a shower afterward.
- 17. Carvings
- You’d be surprised at all the things you can carve — pieces of firewood, a candle, your kitchen table. I’m kidding. Don’t wreck your kitchen table. But carving words slows down the writing process, which means you’ll put more thought into what you’re saying and you’ll take greater care with your grammar. Use a knife, an awl, or some other sharp instrument to whittle your tale.
- 18. Shoe Boxes
- I recently helped a dear friend clean out her closet. She had some old stuff in there, like a cardboard shoe box in which we’d written a story some twelve years ago. We had used nothing more than a cardboard box and a ball point pen (we should have used a Sharpie), and here it was, over a decade later, hidden behind a pair of old sneakers. This one’s my favorite, and that’s why I saved it for last.
I’m sure there’s some scientific reasoning that explains why these writing activities turn up the heat on creativity. I’m no scientist, but I do know when my own creativity is in high gear. I have actually tried several of these unusual and quirky writing activities, and I clearly recall that they got me thinking in different ways. I almost always came up with things to write about that otherwise never would have occurred to me.
So try a few of these out for yourself. Give yourself about 20-30 minutes so you have enough time to settle into the writing activity, and then see what happens.
Do you have any unusual writing activities to add to this list? If you think of any other strange ways to write, leave your ideas in the comments.
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!