Tag: creative writing

Why We Write

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Lately I’ve been reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I’ve been drawing it out, since I always seem to read the saddest parts in public, and I hate crying in front of people. But just this week I picked it up again, and, before I got to another incredibly sad part, I read a passage that resonated more with me than anything ever has.

It seems like everyone but me has read this book, so I won’t preface this quote with much extra information. On page 116, the main character runs into his love interest, and he describes what he’s feeling as

not knowing what the next words out of my mouth would be, but wanting them to be mine, wanting, more than I’d ever wanted anything, to express the center of me and be understood.

Not only is this one of the most apt descriptions of human nature I’ve ever read, it also describes what I view as the true purpose of writing. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think most writers would agree that the heart of writing, and the reason most of us do it, is because there’s some core part of us that we hope to share with others.

It adds a weight to our words that I don’t think we’re always aware of, and that’s significant. Our words are powerful, and they allow us to share the most interior parts of ourselves with others. There’s nothing wrong with letting that drive us, letting the understanding of why we write fuel our passion for it.

Getting to Know Your Main Character

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This is my favorite part of writing. Your main character will make or break your story, and unfortunately they will not just appear from your head fully-formed, Athena-style. That is why this getting-to-know-you stage is arguably the most important part of writing.

If you’re not sure what I mean by “getting to know” your main character, I don’t just mean listing everything they’ve ever done, or filling out a bio sheet. These things may be helpful, but I think the truest way to get to know your character is through writing about them. When you write and rewrite a description or a scene, you’re not just figuring out the words you want to use. You’re figuring out who that person is. You’re discovering them, which is why there is that moment when your words finally feel right.

Just like with real-life friends, you can’t rush the process. It requires time, interaction, and conversation. Sometimes you don’t like what you find out, but you accept it, because you love this person. The more you put your character into situations and figure out how they will react, the easier it will get to make things right the first time. Now, I’m not saying that getting to know a character will ever be easy. I just spent thirty minutes rewriting a paragraph about a character who has changed the way he styles his hair. For a while it felt wrong, and then I realized it was. Al hadn’t just changed his hair, he had cut it.

One of the best things is that you don’t have to do this outside of your story. I think getting to know a character within their story is the most important thing. You can write and rewrite as much as you’d like, and even if a scene doesn’t end up in the final draft, know that you’ve learned something about your character. The more you begin to question what you’ve written, the better (and truer) your story will be.

The Creating Process

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Creating a story is like creating anything else.

It takes time, some reflection, and a little bit of improvisation. Of course, like anything, your story might not exactly come out right the first time. The good thing is that it’s easier to rewrite a sentence than it is to fix a painting or remodel a building. Words are malleable.

This semester I’ve spent a lot of time creating, and not just stories. What I’ve learned is that stories are so much more than what they may seem. Before you create your story, you must also create characters and worlds and plots. Trying to write a story without them is an exercise in futility. And then the really hard part is taking each of those things and making them into a whole.

I probably make this more difficult by jumping from scene to scene in my stories. Currently I have about ten pages that don’t really go together at all, and only about one finished scene. It doesn’t really bother me until I get close to the deadline and realize that while I have all these awesome scenes, they have to somehow become a whole piece in just a few hours. Oops.

It may not be the best way to write, but I don’t think I could make it work any other way. There’s something comforting about being able to just stop working on something that’s frustrating and move to a different part of the story. It’s like a quilt in that way, where the scenes are squares that you can cut and paste until the whole thing just looks right.

Sometimes you realize that two pieces you’ve been working on separately come together seamlessly (unintentional sewing pun, I promise). Sometimes you realize that the one piece you’ve been working on is actually two, or maybe even three.

It’s like the ultimate puzzle, because you don’t know what it’s going to look like when you finally put it together. That’s why I think the process of creating is so rewarding.

Confidence: A Writer’s BFF

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Sometimes it’s hard to have confidence in words, even when they come from your own brain. We write them down, question them, write them again. Then we stare at them, wondering if they say what we want them too. It’s only second nature, but it’s also damaging when we don’t trust our words.

I’ve been writing a lot this semester, like I do most semesters, but I’ve found myself more confident in my writing. I trust that my words say what I mean when I write them down. If I feel like they don’t, I revise them. But it hasn’t always been this easy.

It’s hard, when writing is so personal, to prepare it for presentation to others. But what good is a masterpiece when there is no one to read it? One of the reasons I’ve been able to gain more confidence in my writing is by remembering that it is personal. Other people may read it, but I don’t have to listen to what they say. As long as I feel like it’s doing what I want it to, I don’t have to change a thing. My writing is mine, and I believe in it.

The reason confidence is important is because it shows through in your writing. The more confident you are, the more likely you’ll be able to make your readers see things the way you do. It comes full circle. So the next time you sit down to write anything, believe in your words. Believe that they mean what you want them to, that you are in control. Be confident in your ability and your stance, and you’ll be confident in your words.

Trusting the Workshop

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We tend to think of writing as a personal, internal experience. Thought to paper, right? And that idea is fine until someone actually reads your work. Then you have to think about what your writing means, its relationship to reality, what people think of it–all the stuff you would rather avoid while just continuing to write.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that sometimes I wish I could stay in that oblivious stage and just keep thinking, “this is the best thing I’ve ever written.” But this isn’t the life of a writer–at least, not a good writer.

Tomorrow my story is being workshopped in my Advanced Creative Writing class, and I’m nervous. I’ve thought it through, in the agonizingly long week since I’ve turned in my story, and I think the reason I’m nervous is not just because I don’t want them to dislike it. I’m nervous because I really like the story (more than any short story I’ve ever written) and I don’t know how I’ll react to negative comments.

We say criticism isn’t personal. That’s true. But writing is personal, and sometimes it’s hard to separate something that is such a part of you from the words, “I didn’t like…” It can often feel like a stab to the heart.

But workshops are about trust. The readers trust that I am attached to this work, that I have given them my best. I trust that they know this, and that they will be cognizant of it. I trust that they have my (and my story’s) best interests at heart when they offer suggestions or critiques. I trust that they only want me to be better. And if all of these things are true, then I know I’ll be able to make it through workshop (but wish me luck, just in case).

Eating vs. Reading: A Research Comparison

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Just like fiction, feature writing is hard. I spent a lot of my time doing both this semester, and I learned quite a bit about what translates between genres and what doesn’t. If you’re looking to switch from one to the other, here are a few tips (and my thoughts) on the differences required when researching a topic for a fiction piece versus a feature.

As an introvert, I tend to prefer doing research for fiction because it usually involves books or the internet. While these can be useful tools when writing a feature article, interviews are often the best source of information. And after you get over your nerves, they can really be kind of fun.

My favorite part about interviewing is getting to know people and becoming an “insider” in their world. Recently I sat down for an interview with a food truck owner, and in addition to learning more than I ever thought I would, he now greets me by name and remembers my order – what a plus!

And let’s not forget that hands-on research is fun – during the creation of my magazine I got to see and eat so many cool things. While hands-on research is not really as important for fiction writing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Spending time in the city you’re setting your novel in, or eating at the same restaurants as your characters will help you write them better.

When I think about my title I wonder how I could I possibly pit two such important things as eating and reading against each other? But just like fiction and feature writing are similar yet different, so is the research you have to do to make them the best they can be.

And if you’d like to see the feature writing I did this semester, click here.

When Writing Becomes Work

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With the end of the semester quickly approaching, I’ve been working more and more on my final projects, all of which are focused on writing. Now that I’m spending seven or eight hours a night doing nothing but writing, I’ve started to wonder at what point this writing stops being fun or even bearable and becomes work.

I’m happy to say that most of the writing I’m doing is still pretty fun for me, even though my combined workload comes out to over 200 pages. After I got over my initial panic, my screenplay has been steadily coming along. The hard parts are over (I hope). Even my two research papers aren’t truly work–they’re on topics I enjoy and am interested in, so even though they each involve hours of research and writing, it’s bearable.

Surprisingly, my creative writing class has become the one most burdensome–the writing itself is fine, but my professor requires additional edits and self-analysis to be done for each story. It’s difficult, and I don’t feel I have enough time at the moment to devote to editing, but it has to be done.

So it seems what I’ve decided is that writing becomes work when it’s extra–additional revisions, feedback from professors that isn’t necessarily encouraging, papers that take longer than they should. This is the work.

Of course, as we all know, these are some of the most essential parts of the writing process. Writing is the fun part, and in most cases revising is not (especially when it’s on someone else’s terms). But it’s important and required. This work is good.

So that’s what I’m reminding myself as I type nonstop, as I wonder whether I’m getting carpal tunnel or if I’m getting sore from sitting too long. All of this work is making my writing better.

Relearning the Craft

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I begin each new semester with a bit of trepidation about what I’m going to be learning. Last semester the daunting project was a grant proposal. The semester before that I fretted over both nonfiction and fiction workshops, which I hadn’t had any experience with before.

This semester the worry is threefold. Due to some scheduling issues, I’m taking another beginning level creative writing class. While the first one I took focused on novels, this one focuses on short stories, which I’m not very comfortable with. I’m also taking a screenwriting class, in which we are required to write a full-length screenplay. As you may expect, I’ve never even begun to think about writing a screenplay, so it’s not exactly within my comfort zone. In addition to these, I’m also doing an independent study with another student. We’re each creating our own magazine; this includes researching, writing, and editing articles, as well as designing the pages and creating a blog to go along with it.

It sounds harder each time I think about it.

Of course, the main reason I took these classes is because they would focus on topics that I’m interested in but not necessarily comfortable with. But I’ve never had so many outlets requiring my creativity before, and I’m not completely sure that it won’t run out.

That said, I’m really looking forward to my creative writing class. It’s a back-to-basics course for me, since it’s geared towards non-writers, and I’m hoping that the focus on the craft will lend itself to improvement in other genres of writing.

Here’s to a great semester!

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