Monday, November 2, 2015

Writing Creatively

by Lyndi Scott 

Often students outside of creative writing, or literature majors, feel a lot of anxiety about writing creatively. Or even those who write a specific genre, like non-fiction, freak out when assigned to write a poem. This is completely normal. Writing creatively can be really intimidating, no matter what major you are or genre you write, even for those who are creative writers like myself. People worry about the form itself, like poems, or are off-put by the inherently intimate nature of creative writing. For years you've written academically, distancing yourself from the writing. You've been told, "Never refer to yourself!" "No I's!" And now you have to write all about the "I!"

Don't worry, you'll be fine. I've got some tips for you to overcome that anxiety for the three main creative genres: non-fiction, poetry, and fiction.


In terms of intimacy, it doesn't get much more intimate than this. You are literally writing about your personal life, your life experiences. And in this genre, the deeper and darker you go, the better. They want you to explore all the dingy and deep places of yourself. That can be terrifying, but also very liberating. So by all means, do that-- go dark and deep. If you feel uncomfortable, though, a solution to ease that anxiety or to distance yourself a little without compromising the piece's truthiness is to add facts. There are many non-fiction writers who balance emotionally heavy pieces by incorporating facts about history, scientific tidbits, or similar events as a comparison. The implementation of facts can help ease your writing anxiety by giving you a little distance while also heightening the quality of the piece. A good example of this is Eula Biss' piece, "The Pain Scale." In this work, the speaker describes her struggle with a rare medical condition that causes near constant and horrible pain. It is a heavy piece, made lighter and more compelling through her lacing of scientific and historical content. You can see the example (here: and get inspired to find some ways to insert facts into your nonfiction piece. 


Poetry is what freaks people out the most. Somehow poetry has this stereotype that it's deep and soulful and life changing. And while poetry may be mind-blowing, it doesn't have to be. Really, poetry's biggest goal is just to give people a different perspective. That can mean describing a sunset in a way that has never been done before (this is unlikely though, because EVERYONE writes about sunsets) or conveying how you see something in your unique way. So the easiest way to write poetry is to take a single thing, like the green sweater I'm wearing, and describe it in a weird way. Example (and this IS copyrighted):
    Cables wrap around me,
    These cables are the same ones
    my mother wore. She called 
    these cables clothes.
    He says it's a sweater.
    I call them bindings,
    bindings I'm told to wear
    for their sake.
    Without my cables-
    there is chaos.

Somehow that poem became a feminist commentary on clothing conventions, but you get the point. This poem is about a cable knit sweater. But you would never know that unless I had told you because I presented the sweater in a way that you and others may have never thought of. You may think, well yeah, you can do that, you write poetry! True. But! Another technique to help with this process is to make lists. Choose the object of your interest and list its attributes. 

This was my list:
    -green- a bright dark green with blue undertones
    -cable knit - bumpy, crisscrossing patterns
    -80's style
    -frumpy and old - my mother's

After completing the list, the goal is to reorganize these characteristics, give them context, and then viola!, a poem! I won't lie to you. It is not as easy as I am making it out to be, but it will be easier than trying to write the next Emily Dickinson collection or appropriating Shakespeare. Also don't fret about form and punctuation just yet, cut yourself a break for right now. The point here is that literally anyone can write poetry; it is all about getting a little weird.


Let's be real, most of us are probably not going to write the next Harry Potter. I'd be impressed if either you or I did. But fiction is, of the genres, arguably the easiest to write. Fiction is distanced, since it is fictional, and it is entirely loose - no structure and no rules. You can pretty much write anything. But that is usually the problem. I'm not creative! you say. That's fine. To resolve that problem, you'll do kind of the opposite of what you did for non-fiction. Instead of moving away from the personal, use the personal as a basis to write your fiction. Though "personal," I should clarify, does not necessarily mean something that is an emotional or intimate experience. It can be a mundane experience as simple as writing about something you saw while riding the bus. One real life example my fellow writing consultant gave is when you see a dog sniffing a trash can. Take that experience and you pimp it out. Now your fictional life example is that the dog was sniffing the trash can because that is where a serial killer dumped the body of a Chick-Fil-A employee. The more wild the idea, the better the fiction. Now, I will say, don't get so crazy that the plot is unbelievable. If your example spirals out of control and the dog ends up being a shape-shifting CIA agent hunting down a terrorist group funded by Chick-Fil-A to build a dirty bomb full of used chicken grease, readers are not going to believe you. You still need to have a certain amount of credibility, and that comes from reflecting reality. But in terms of developing ideas and plots, real life is your best resource. Once you have your main idea, just add a beginning, middle, climax, and an end. 

I truly hope these techniques are helpful to you and help empower you as a creative writer. My overall advice in writing creatively is that it is much like academic writing - you write it in steps. The process of creative writing is logically equivalent to writing a research paper except you're using your own brain as the resource rather than the library. When you break it down logically, the creative process becomes simplified and easier to handle. Also, hit a friends up as well. If you explain your plot or read your poem to them and they don't hate it, then you're most likely on the write track.  

P.S. Did you get my pun?


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