Sometimes when we sit down to write, the muse is in full effect and the words pour forth effortlessly. Other times we sit there staring at a blank screen, waiting for creativity to manifest. We wait and we wait.
Then, we wait some more.
Writer’s block is the state of being uninspired, but it’s just a state of mind, and that can be changed at will, which is a good thing, because when it comes to creative writing, state of mind is pretty important.
Years ago, when I used to draw and paint, I often listened to a particular mix of music. It was ideal background audio for making art, very inspiring. As a result, every time I hear the music from my art playlist, I get an urge to pull out my watercolor pencils and sketchbook because I have built a psychological association between a certain kind of music and a creative activity.
Can you see where I’m going with this? Just imagine how this concept can be applied to creative writing.
Creative Writing with a Talisman
“Talisman: anything whose presence exercises a remarkable or powerful influence on human feelings or actions.” (Dictionary.com)
In a sense, a talisman can be used to program your muse to come out and get to work–on cue. Imagine having the ability to command your own creativity, to sit down and engage in your writerly work and automatically trigger inspiration.
Here’s how it works:
- Choose your creative writing talisman: It could be a hat or a piece of jewelry. It might be something that sits on your desk, like a picture or a statuette. It can even be a CD or playlist (classical and jazz are great for writing). Choose a talisman that you won’t use in any other capacity except for your creative writing sessions, and make sure it’s not something that will distract you from the task at hand. Also, pick something you can store easily, but which is also accessible. Things that fit in your desk drawer or pocket are ideal. Also, try to find something that already makes you feel inspired.
- Charge your talisman: Don’t start using your talisman until your muse is in high gear. You should have it ready for when creativity strikes and when it does, pull out your talisman and focus on it for a few minutes as ideas bounce around in your head. Leave it out as you work on your creative writing during those times when you’re feeling extremely inspired.
- Believe in your talisman: If you believe in magic, you might say that you’re infusing the talisman with your creative writing energy. A more scientific explanation would be that you’re training your mind to associate the object with creativity, so whenever you engage the talisman, that creative energy is triggered again. You’re programming yourself.
- Use your talisman: Once your talisman starts putting out an inspirational vibe, use it whenever you’re stuck with your creative writing. You’ll know it’s ready because you’ll get the urge to write every time you look at your talisman.
- Keep your talisman charged: Even if months down the road, you’re feeling giddy with creativity and you don’t feel like you need it, take out the talisman. This will help keep it charged and maintain the psychological association between the talisman and your creative writing.
Do you have a creative writing talisman or some other ritual that you perform before, during, or after your writing sessions? Tell us about it in the comments, and keep writing!
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.
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 grave mistakes that are often found in various forms of creative writing.
I see most mistakes as an opportunity to either learn something new or to make an improvement to a piece of writing. While mistakes can certainly be frustrating and rewriting to weed out mistakes can be laborious, each fixed mistake is a step toward a more polished piece of writing, and every time you resolve a problem in your writing, you become a better writer.
Common Creative Writing Mistakes
Here are some of the most common
mistakes opportunities I have seen in creative writing, including fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.
1. Dull Beginnings
Every once in a while I come across a piece of writing that starts of slow, then picks up momentum. Maybe you’ve seen this too: the first chapter of a book is boring or the first paragraph of a blog post is obtuse. Then it gets better–a lot better. Kudos to you for giving it a chance! I suspect that many writing projects start out with dull beginnings. As we write, we fall into the rhythm and pacing. We get to know our characters. The plot comes into focus. The great thing about writing is that we can always go back and rewrite. Don’t risk losing readers who scan the first few paragraphs and decide not to read the rest. Don’t count on reviews that say “Starts slow but gets better.” Take the opportunity to rewrite your opening and hook readers from the first sentence.
2. Unnecessary descriptions and details
I’m reading a book right now that is jam packed with a bunch of descriptions and details that I don’t really need. The story is great, so I’m trudging through it, but it’s not the best reading experience I’ve ever had. Readers don’t need to know every detail about a room’s decor or a character’s appearance. They don’t need a play-by-play account of every action that takes a character from point A to point B. Writing a lot of description and detail during early drafts can be a good thing; it helps us get to know our story world. But again, revision is an opportunity to scale it back. Leave room for readers to use their imaginations and ask yourself how essential each detail is to the main purpose of the piece.
Despite popular belief, verbiage is not a synonym for words or text. It specifically means an “overabundance or superfluity of words, as in writing or speech; wordiness” (source). Verbiage is not a good thing. It means you’re using too many words and the work could be more concise. Verbiage occurs for a number of reasons. Poets often resort to verbiage to meet meter requirements. Students use it to meet page-count requirements for their essays. Verbiage also happens when writers try to use a lot fancy words and language to make themselves sound smart. And almost all writers create verbiage in early drafts, especially if discovery writing is involved. Don’t spend an entire paragraph saying something that could be said in a single sentence. You’ll put your readers to sleep!
4. Redundancy and stating the obvious
Redundancy is when we say the same thing twice, although usually we say it in a different way the second time. For example, I am taking my car to the shop tomorrow, so I won’t be able to go anywhere because my car will be in the shop. The readers are told twice that the car will be the shop tomorrow. That’s redundant. Stating the obvious is, ironically, less obvious. I went to the store yesterday. In the store, there was a huge book display. The phrase “in the store” states the obvious. The text implies that the book display is in the store, so it doesn’t need to be stated outright.
5. Unnecessary or ineffective repetition
Sometimes repetition is a good thing. When we’re trying to teach through writing, repetition can help the reader better retain information. It can also emphasize a theme or symbol. The trick is to know the difference between effective and ineffective repetition, and this can happen with the content of a piece of writing or the language. The most frequent place you’ll see this is in first-person point of view where there are an abundance of sentences that start with “I” (it’s actually difficult not to use “I” frequently in first-person pieces). But other examples include using the same adjectives over and over (all the girls are pretty; all the guys are handsome; all the cars are fast) or repeating the same details and descriptions over and over (you only need to say she’s pretty once).
6. Failure to use spelling and grammar check and over-dependency on spelling and grammar check
I used to keep spell-check turned off because it annoyed the hell out of me. It was always trying to correct me, even when I was right or purposely breaking a rule. But I found too many typos in my final drafts, so I turned it back on. I especially appreciate the markup that spell-check provides, which makes it easy to catch and fix typos as they occur.
That doesn’t mean we can rely on spell-check to be our editor, especially not our professional editor. The fact is, most technology-based editors are highly flawed. Their dictionaries are incomplete (I often type words that my word processor doesn’t recognize but which are in most dictionaries). They cannot handle complex grammar. They are useless for correcting misuse of words and language. So yes, use the spell-check but don’t rely on it.
7. Filler words and phrases
Filler words and phrases usually occur when an action or idea is unnecessarily framed inside another action or idea. For example: I went the book store yesterday. I know I should have left my wallet at home but I brought it with me. The idea that the narrator should have left her wallet at home is framed inside of her knowledge. But the piece is in first person, so the reader already knows that everything she says comes from her thoughts or knowledge. “I know” can be removed to make the sentence stronger and more concise. Common filler words and phrases include I know, I thought, and I wondered. Can you think of any others?
8. Lackluster ending
This is the worst. You know how you feel when you’re reading a great story or article and you’re really into it, but then the end just sucks? I hate that. I still think these stories are worth reading because it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Having said that, lackluster endings are unsatisfying. When I come across them, I almost always get the feeling that the author was tired of the project, just wanted to finish it and move on, and resigned to a second-rate closing. Some people complain about endings where there are still unsolved mysteries or unanswered questions. That’s fine if there’s going to be sequel! Don’t disappoint readers by giving them a lazy ending.
Which Creative Writing Mistakes Have You Noticed?
Have you noticed any of these mistakes in your own writing or reading material? Are there any other common creative writing mistakes you’d like to add to this list? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
What is art?
People have been trying to answer that question for centuries, but we still don’t have a definitive answer. We know art is borne of creativity. It’s meant to impact whoever is experiencing it. And it comes from a place within the artist that we don’t truly understand.
Art remains a mystery, both in its definition and its origin. Why is art a cornerstone of every single culture on Earth? Why do some people flock to artistry while others prefer to sit in the audience? Who do people need art, whether it’s music, films, paintings, sculptures, dance, or literature?
Does Art Matter?
We all know what commercialism is. It’s the intent to make money, preferably, lots of it. Traditionally, art was safe from commercialism. Big business just wasn’t interested, and artists could freely create. The market was free and it decided who succeeded and who didn’t. Fine art rose to the top.
But once the money makers filled up all the shelves in the grocery markets and lined all the racks in the department stores, they turned to art, and they commercialized it.
Screenplays were streamlined into formulas. Big publishing houses tried to figure out which books would turn the fastest and easiest profits. Clear Channel bought up all the radio stations and started using bottom lines and internal agendas to decide which songs the public would listen to.
And artists took jobs at advertising agencies. Filmmakers created 30-second mini-movies called commercials. Songwriters penned jingles. Writers crafted slogans. And illustrators developed logos.
In a world driven by commerce, art became a commodity. Some artists cried out in protest, claiming that commercialized art was dumbing down the masses. The purpose of commercial art is not to get people to think or feel. It doesn’t care if it changes the world or makes a profound statement about humanity or nature. All it wants to do is get people to buy.
Fine Art vs. Commercial Art
Everything we humans create has some basic purpose. Commercial art exists to make money. Its motivation is revenue. Fine art exists because people need to articulate their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Its motivation is expression.
While the definitions of commercial and fine art are pretty clear, the lines between them are actually so blurry, it can be difficult to tell the difference. If you and I worked our way through the Times bestseller list in an attempt to classify each book as either commercial or artistic, I bet we’d disagree a few times.
So, can we define that gray area that connects yet separates fine and commercial art? Can we then apply it to our own creative writing?
Art, Commerce, and Creative Writing
Sometimes I talk to writers who have wild ideas about the stories they want to tell. Their imaginations are bustling with characters, scenes, and themes that are inspired, unique, and original. But they’ll say, “Nah, it’ll never sell.” And about once a week, I get an email from some college kid who tells me, “I think my story idea will be a bestseller.”
Is One Better Than The Other?
You have to answer that question for yourself. Personally, I love all types of art. I think sometimes the big money makers were genuinely inspired by something other than money. And occasionally, the art that was supposed to make a mint barely turns a dime. The world keeps on spinning.
When Michael Jackson was making Thriller, his goal was to create the biggest selling album of all time. I don’t think anybody’s questioning the artistic integrity of Thriller or Michael Jackson, and he completely surpassed his own ambitions with that record.
On the other hand, J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when she was at rock bottom. She had nothing left to lose, so she decided to do what she wanted to do and be happy with her art. Nobody could have guessed that Harry Potter would have found success beyond the sub-genre, children’s fantasy. But it became a worldwide phenomenon.
What Motivates You?
Artists like Michael Jackson and J.K. Rowling are highly visible. We all know their stories, their motivations, and how they found success. But there are millions more artists just like them who haven’t gained international fame. Some are vying for commercial success. They want to be stars. Others want to express their visions. They want to share some piece of themselves with the world. All over the planet, they are making their art.
I wonder how many artists have contemplated their motivations. I wonder if you have. Do you give much thought to whether your work will make you rich someday? Do you continue to create because you simply have to? Or are you somewhere in the middle, hoping to be able to find a way for your creative writing to pay the bills while sticking to your vision?
I don’t particularly care whether a piece of art was motivated by love or money. If Michael Jackson’s playing, you’ll find me on the dance floor. And I’ve read every single Harry Potter book. My music, book, and film collections are a healthy mix of big hits and underground or counterculture favorites. When I’m in the audience, it’s not about what motivated the artist. It’s about how the art affects me.
But when I’m sitting at my desk writing a poem or drafting a short story, I care very much about the artist’s motivation.
So, what’s yours?
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.
Personal Journals and Creative Writing
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 journal writing 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 journal writing, we gain greater awareness through observation, contemplation, and writing. By chronicling various aspects of our lives, we become more self-aware.
Reflective Journal Writing
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). Often, reflective journal writing 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 journal writing 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 freewrites 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 journal writing 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 journal writing inspire or inform your other creative writing projects? Tell us all about it by leaving a comment, and keep on writing!
Productivity. It’s all been said and done. In fact, you could spend more time learning how to be productive than actually being productive.
For us creative types, productivity can be a fleeting thing. We experience highs (a whole month packed with inspiration) and lows (three more months fraught with the ever-annoying writer’s block).
It can be frustrating. But creative writing doesn’t have to be a fair-weather hobby. Many successful authors have harnessed creativity, reigned it in, and turned it into a full-time profession. So we know it can be done.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Succeeding in the arts takes a tremendous amount of drive, ambition, and dedication. It’s not the kind of job you have to show up for every day or risk being fired. Nobody cares if you get your work done except you.
Creative Writing Tips for More Output
Here are seven creative writing tips to help you be more creative more often. Try them all and see which ones work for you.
1. Show up for work: Set a time every day, show up, and get your creative writing done. It could be an hour a day (two hours on weekends!) or fifteen minutes. It can be first thing in the morning or right after dinner. The point is to make a schedule and stick with it. This will not only lead to more output, it will also lead to better writing.
2. Give yourself a quota: Can you produce twenty pages a week? Ten? Five? Some of us work better when we count words rather than minutes. If that sounds like you, then forget about time allotments. Show up for work every day, but focus on your output rather than on your time card.
3. Reward yourself: If you manage to show up every day or fulfill your quota, then by all means, give yourself a pat on the back. Whether it’s a trip to the masseuse or a book you’ve been dying to read, reward your own positive behavior with special treats that keep you motivated week after week.
4. Punish yourself: I’m not a big fan of negative reinforcement. It might curb bad behavior, but it does so for all the wrong reasons. Keep punishments light. Didn’t meet your goals? I don’t think you should cancel your vacation, but maybe you can skip dessert. Or choose a punishment that promotes your goals. Read a textbook about creative writing or peruse a few articles on good grammar.
5. Hold yourself accountable: If you’re having a hard time meeting your creative writing goals, then set up an accountability system. Take a creative writing class or workshop, join a writing group, hire a writing coach, or partner with a fellow writer and establish weekly check-ins. For some reason, when someone else is holding us accountable, we perform better.
6. Use productivity tools: There are unlimited tools at your disposal to help you stay productive and all of them can be used with your creative writing projects. Put deadlines on your calendar. Hang a whiteboard and track your progress. Keep a journal of your writing sessions. Recording your goals and accomplishments can be extremely motivating.
7. Stay passionate: Do things that keep your creative writing passions burning. Listen to music that inspires you to write. Watch movies and read books that tell stories that motivate you to tell a story of your own. Dance, sing, and make sure you’ve always got your notebook or journal with you because you never know when your next great (or unusual) writing ideas will strike.
It’s All on You
Creative writing doesn’t just happen. You make it happen. Born without drive? Foster determination. Uninspired? Learn some new creativity techniques. Can’t think of anything interesting to write about? Write about your life, your friends and family, your problems, your best moments and your worst. Get a book of creative writing exercises and get busy. And remember, only you can prevent your dreams from coming true.
Do you have any special techniques you use to keep your creative writing projects alive? Add your tips by leaving a comment.
It happens to all of us: we’re a few pages in, the words are flowing, and we know what we’re going to write next — then all of a sudden we hit a brick wall. A moment ago, it seemed like we were coasting toward the end of the project, but now we’re lost somewhere in the middle with no idea what to do next.
Most writers know what it’s like to sit there, staring at the screen. The minutes tick by. Hours pass. Nothing happens.
We all know this can happen when we set out to start a project, but what about when we’re in the middle of a project? The weirdest thing about it is that we can have a pretty good idea about what’s supposed to happen. We might even be working off an outline. But for some reason, the words don’t come. What’s a writer to do?
Working Around a Creative Writing Block
Sometimes, it occurs at the word-and-sentence level; you know what you want to say but you can’t find the right words to explain it. Other times, it occurs on a much broader level; you lose your train of thought and the entire concept falls apart.
Here are some techniques you can use when you’re writing and run into a brick wall:
Push Through It: When I encounter a creative writing block, the first thing I usually do is try to push my way through it. Sometimes if you keep going over the last few sentences or if you review the assignment, the words will start to flow again. Sometimes reading the piece back from the beginning helps.
Skip Ahead: If it’s a longer project and you’re stuck on one particular spot, skip ahead. If you’re writing a book, jump to the next scene or chapter. If you’re working on an article or essay, jump to the next paragraph. When I skip ahead, I usually make a temporary note in the document and mark it with red text and all-caps. This makes it easy to find the spot and serves as a reminder to come back to it. I get the sense that when I skip ahead, the gears in the back of my mind keep working on the problem. Sometimes, I come back to the trouble spot a short time later to find that I know exactly how to handle it.
Do Some Research: Most of us have had to stop in the middle of a project to conduct research because we just don’t have the facts we need to get the writing done. But when we hit a creative writing block, pausing for research is a great way to stay on task and get some work done when we can’t do the actual writing.
Take a Side Trip: As with research, taking a side trip is a way to get work done without writing. This works best with bigger projects like long articles, essays, and books. If I get blocked while writing fiction, this is my first-choice solution. I work on character backstories, world-building, and other details ranging from themes and symbolism to naming characters and places.
Planning and Brainstorming: Sometimes we just run out of ideas in the middle of writing. The best way to build up more ideas is with a brainstorming session. You can also use mind-mapping. I usually get out colored markers and a big sheet of paper and just start jotting stuff down. I list various problems with the piece and then work out solutions. Sometimes, I’ll also write an outline of what I have written so far and brainstorm to figure out what needs to happen next.
Re-evaluate: The worst-case scenario is that you’re stuck because something is wrong with what you’ve already written. Sometimes, we need to stop and re-evaluate a project. Have we gone off on a tangent? Was that last scene out of character? If you’re stuck because you’ve taken a wrong turn, stop to re-examine what you’ve written so far and do a little revising.
Check Your Health: If you’re not physically or mentally up to writing, your body might tell you by erecting a road block that prevents you from writing. Are you hungry? Tired? Do you need to stretch or get a glass of water? This can also happen if we write for too long (I used to have a bad habit of forgetting to eat all day because I got too absorbed in my work). Your writing will be much stronger and smoother if you take good care of your health.
Be Disciplined and Don’t Make Excuses: If I’m working on an especially tedious project, I often use ten-minute breaks on Pinterest when I need respite. But I don’t ever turn to social media, games, and other distractions when I’m blocked. That leads to procrastination, which is something else altogether. If you haven’t written anything in weeks but you’ve managed to spend forty hours surfing the web or playing video games, then you don’t have writer’s block. Get back on task!
How Do You Break Through Creative Writing Blocks?
I want to know what you guys do when you’re in the middle of a creative writing project and suddenly find yourself at a loss for words. Do you take a break? Work on something else? Share your solutions by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
Over the years, I’ve found some truly outstanding creative writing blogs.
Today, I’d like to share a few of my favorites. Some of these blogs offer helpful writing tips, techniques, and ideas. Others broadcast the latest news and information in the world of reading, writing, and publishing. All of them are incredibly useful.
I hope you’ll check them out.
Outstanding Creative Writing Blogs
- The Write Practice: Each post presents an essential writing concept (with an emphasis on storytelling) and includes an exercise at the end, which prompts you to put the concept into practice.
- Writer Beware: Keeping writers informed and safe, Writer Beware publishes “warnings about the schemes, scams, and pitfalls that threaten writers.” It’s one of the best writer advocacy sites on the web!
- Novel Publicity: This is a one-stop-shop where you can pick up quality tips and insights on writing, publishing, and marketing, plus access a full suite of professional services for writers. If you’re thinking about self-publishing your work and need some help, this is a good place to go.
- Wired for Story: I’m bummed because it looks like this one hasn’t been updated in a few months, but it doesn’t matter — there are gems of wisdom in the archives. And if you haven’t picked it up already, get the book Wired for Story. It’s a must-read for fiction writers!
- The Writing Reader: This blog is packed with writing prompts based on words and images interspersed with link round-ups and the occasional article on craft. Each post includes prompts for a variety of forms, including fiction, journaling, art, and nonfiction.
- The Passive Voice: This treasure trove of news and information gets updated several times a day, often with excerpts from some of the best articles on creative writing from around the web. I find something worth reading here every single day and have discovered new blogs and websites too!
- Write to Done: It’s no wonder this is one of the most popular writing blogs. It’s clean, crisp, and maintains high editorial standards. If you’re looking for top-notch advice on the craft of writing with a few posts on publishing and marketing sprinkled in for good measure, this one’s perfect for you.
- The Creative Penn: Joanna Penn is a successful, self-published novelist whose books have sold over 40,000 copies. She has a wealth of experience to share. Her site features tons of valuable resources on writing, publishing, and marketing, including fully transcribed podcasts and interviews with writing professionals.
- Booking Through Thursday: Technically, this is a blog for readers rather than writers. But as we all know, plenty of reading is necessary to good writing. There’s a new post every Thursday that poses a question about books and reading. Be sure to check out the comments, where readers share their responses to the weekly questions.
- A. Victoria Mixon, Editor: My favorite thing about this blog is Victoria Mixon’s voice. She speaks honestly and with experience and wisdom. At the same time, her posts are a delight to read. She covers a wide range of writing-related topics and is highly active in the online writing community.
One of the things I love about blogs is that I can subscribe to them and get regular updates. I know a lot of people subscribe via email, but I like to use Google Reader. It keeps all my blog subscriptions organized in one location, so I can easily manage and keep track of them. By the way, if you have a Google account, you’ve already got access to Google Reader.
I’m always on the lookout for creative writing blogs. If you have any favorites you’d like to share, leave a comment. (I’m especially looking for blogs on the craft of poetry writing.)
Enjoy, and keep writing!
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 have not 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, and motivation. When we’re tired, emotional, hungry, or distracted, we’re not suffering from writer’s block. We’re just stressed out like everybody else.
A Creative Writing Cure
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 inspiration for your creative writing.
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 creative writing fertile:
- Watch a movie, preferably a good one. It doesn’t matter what 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 on 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 this 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!
If you want to be a better writer, you have to be able to handle criticism, even if it’s not constructive. There will be times when less-than-tactful or totally useless feedback falls into your lap, and you can either become defensive or you can read between the insults and find glittering gems of advice.
Everybody has an ego, and writers often find themselves in an usual position to receive reams of criticism. When your mom says she loves your short story, you feel special. When a literary agent tells you it’s garbage, you stifle a sob. When some bloke tells you you’re a hack, what you’d like to do is whip out your hacksaw. But should you use it on your critic or on your own writing?
The sad truth is that nine times out of ten, the negative feedback you receive will be far more accurate and beneficial than the positive.
The Scenario: Getting Feedback on Creative Writing
You post a poem on a creative writing forum and hope for the best. Then, you sit there refreshing the window every thirty seconds as you wait for someone to come by and give you some valuable input — something you can use; something that makes you feel hopeful. Over the course of a week, you receive the following four comments:
- Wow. Great rhymes. This poem is amazing!!!
- This poem uses alliteration well. The rhymes could be more sophisticated.
- You’re a terrible poet. Don’t quit your day job.
- The alliteration distracts the reader from the fact that this poem is suffering from adjective addiction. Less description, more action. You tell and poets must show. Plus, the subject matter is trite and trendy.
The first three commentators didn’t give you a whole lot. Number one stroked your ego. Number two was in a hurry, and number three was a flame-thrower. Number four took the time to read your piece but was somewhat nasty, haughty, and left you feeling defensive and offended. You work hard at alliteration, and you love adjectives. And what does everyone mean by show don’t tell?
Five Types of Critics
Let’s look five different types of critics to find out who can help you the most and who won’t offer anything useful. We’ll look at friends and family, fly-by reviewers, flamers, tactless critics, and experts.
The Five F’s: Friends & Family Find Few Faults
There are some people, and most of them are your friends and family, who will never find fault with your work. Maybe it’s because they love you. Maybe it’s because they don’t have the backbone to tell you your story sucks. Or, maybe they know you’ve got a gnarly ego and might lash out at them if they honestly criticize your work. If you need a spiritual lift, go ahead and ask mom, but if you want to become a better writer, you’ll have to go outside of your inner circle.
You can get a writing critique in an online forum, in a writing workshop, or you can hire a professional to do a critique of your work. If you’re lucky, you might receive helpful feedback from an editor to whom you’ve submitted a piece of writing. But don’t count on loved ones for objective criticism because they are ill-equipped to be truly objective.
Some folks are just too busy. Sure, I’ll review your poem. Here, let me have a look. Great, good job, work on your rhymes. Have a nice day. You need a critic who’s going to tell you exactly what’s wrong with your writing. Otherwise, how are you going to fix it? Find someone who will take the time to work with you and elaborate on what you need to work on.
Ignore the Idiots
You know the type – never has anything nice to say about anyone or anything. The punk-ass who could use a few courses in anger management. These flamers abound in online forums and message boards because they can spew their venom behind anonymity and disguise it as a creative writing critique. They’re not going to offer much other than you suck and so does your poem. Even if this is true, the feedback is useless because there’s nothing in it that you can use to make improvements, and therefore you cannot grow as an artist. Don’t get caught up in the drama! Ignore and move on.
Tolerating the Tactless
The tactless critic has valuable feedback but overlooks the positive aspects of your work. This individual will give you a thorough writing critique complete with grammar and punctuation advice. The drawback is that these people lack sensitivity and cannot see the good in others. They probably suffer from a severe case of insecurity coupled with a sense of entitlement or intellectual elitism. The good news is that they’re great at pinpointing problems in others, which is why you need to harness your ego, reign in your emotions, and accept what they say with tight lips and a thank you.
Embrace the Experts
Experts will take the time to really read your work. Their feedback will be a healthy mixture explaining both the good and bad qualities of your writing, and they’ll never criticize you – just your work, and that’s important. Adore them, bake them cookies, and buy them lots of gifts. Keep them close and write down everything they say. Then, incorporate their feedback into your writing. That’s when you’ll truly start to understand the value of constructive criticism.
Be Receptive to Critiques – Not Defensive
Ultimately, your job during the critique process is to listen and be receptive. If mom says it’s great, smile and say thank you. Don’t go trying to get her to find the flaws. Don’t even bother with the fly-bys, since they have better things to do anyway. Whatever you do, never get sucked into any type of flame war that involves personal insults. Better to ignore meanies and walk away with your head held high and the knowledge that they are total neanderthals.
Look instead to the people who actually have something negative but helpful to say. In other words, look for people who are constructive. These might be rude people who can’t find anything redeeming about your creative writing or they might be considerate individuals who know the glass is both half full and half empty. It is, however, the negative feedback that will help you hone your craft and give you the tools you need to target troubled areas of your writing, which are the areas that you should focus on improving.
Have you ever given or received helpful writing critiques? Do you have any special techniques or strategies that you use when you receive harsh feedback (or when you have to give it)? Who do you turn to when you need to get your creative writing critiqued? Share your thoughts, insights, and experiences in the comments.
Writing is revising.
I’ve heard many authors make this statement in various ways: writing is rewriting, writing is polishing, writing is proofreading and editing.
The gist is that the bulk of work happens after the first draft. That is, once you’ve gotten your ideas down, the real craft of writing is making your work clear and presentable.
One could argue that this means when the creative writing is done, the more mechanical process of polishing begins.
Discovery writing is a popular technique among writers. You turn off your inner editor and let the words flow, typos and all. You focus is on getting your ideas out of your head and onto the page.
This allows you to stream your thoughts more freely. Instead of worrying about word choice, paragraph structure, and grammar, you just concentrate on what you want to say. Not all writers use this technique, but many writers find that any other technique actually spoils the fun of writing. For example, if you know how your story is going to end, why bother writing it at all? Even with nonfiction writing, you may not fully understand your own feelings on any given topic until you’ve written your way through it.
Once you get all those creative writing ideas out of your head, revision becomes critical. You may find that you spend more time revising than you did drafting. Even writers who approach their first drafts with their inner editors turned on find that revision is essential.
Revisions: Rewriting, Proofreading, and Editing
Revision is all about change. More specifically, it’s about making changes that improve our work. Rewriting, proofreading, and editing are all revision methods. Each has a specific function.
Rewriting is the process of making deep, contextual changes to a piece of written work. When you’re rewriting a novel, you might turn a leading character into a sidekick. You might move the setting from one city to another. You may go through and change the tone of the narrative; in fact, you might even switch the point of view from first person to third person. Rewriting is done by the author, although in some cases, editors will do some rewriting.
Editing may deal loosely with context but its true focus is on readability. Are the best word choices made? Do the sentences make sense? Are the paragraphs well organized? Does the work read smoothly and effortlessly? The primary purpose of editing is the make the work ready for a readership.
With many publishing models, there is a step after editing and before proofreading in which the text is reviewed and adjusted for formatting. This is called copy editing.
Proofreading is limited to checking for correctness. Proofreading focuses on grammar, spelling, and punctuation (including typos and syntax).
Overlaps in the Revision Process
There are a lot of gray areas between these various steps in the revision process. An editor might do some light rewriting and a copy editor might fix some grammatical mistakes. If you have an agent, he or she may get in on the fun and recommend some revisions before sending your book out to publishing houses. As you’re rewriting, you will likely fix typos and make adjustments to the syntax. In other words, agents edit, editors proofread, and you, as the author, will do all of these things.
It takes a village, right?
If you’ve written a book or are thinking about writing a book, it’s smart to think about how you’re going to handle your own revision process. You might think you can write a novel over the coarse of eight or nine months, but then how long is it going to take you to do your revisions? Will you hire an editor or a proofreader to help you clean up the text before you shop it around?
Where Do You Stand?
Self-published writers are under fire for poor editing. It’s not unusual to read reviews of self-published works that say the story’s good but there were typos on every page. Meanwhile, traditional publishers are reportedly pulling back on editing and proofreading. They are struggling with the poor economy and massive changes within their industry; their staffs are overworked and as a result, books aren’t edited as thoroughly as they used to be (as a reader, I can report that I see far more typos in newly published works than with books published ten or twenty years ago).
When all is said and done and a book becomes available for sale, it’s the writer’s name that appears on the cover. It is the writer who will bear the criticism, whether it addresses the quality of the content or the professionalism of the copy. As a writer, part of your job is to think about how revisions mold your creative writing into a professionally polished, published piece of work that is ready for readers.
What’s your revision process? How do you feel about typos and other mistakes in published books that you’ve read? How much time do you spend proofreading and editing your own work? Do you separate creative writing from the more mechanical processes of editing and proofreading? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.