This past semester, I enrolled myself in a Creative Writing class that was entirely useless for my degree. I took it anyways. I have always been drawn to and had a love for creative writing. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to improve my writing. I was really nervous about this class because you just know, it’s either gonna be amazing or a total bust. Spoiler – it was amazing!
This class has been completely transformative for me and has taught me so much about types of creative writing that I did and didn’t know I liked. It has also completely changed my perspective, in addition to improving my writing. I have gained a whole new confidence when it comes to my writing. This is largely due to a realization that not all writing has to be perfect for people to like it. Also, not everyone has to like your writing for it to be good. Have you ever read a “classic” that you absolutely hated? Case in point.
I want to share what I learned with YOU!
I struggled with writing consistently (still do!) and specifically writing on here for a long time. It is such a wonderful feeling to not be as scared and uncertain. After going through this class, I thought the information could be useful to a lot of other people out there. Not everyone has the opportunity to take a creative writing class in a college setting. So, I decided to write up this little blog post with some of my key takeaways. In addition, I have created a little freebie checklist that you can use when editing your work. I hope this blog post helps any other creatives out there, and if you are interested, sign up with your email to receive the full editing checklist of questions to ask yourself!
WHO am I writing for?
The very first question I have learned to ask myself, which has become the most important for me, is “WHO am I writing for?”
Because writing is a form of self-expression, it can be hard to remain impervious to perceived judgment or criticism. Most of us get ahead of ourselves and criticize our work before it’s even done with our assumptions of what people might think. Not everyone will like your writing. I’ve had some of my writing called pretentious, but other people really loved that same piece and didn’t see it that way. Just because one person wouldn’t buy your book, for example, doesn’t mean that there isn’t something of merit that they can see in your writing anyways. Workshopping each other’s pieces in class really showed me this. There were certain writing styles that just weren’t really my thing, they were never the pieces I loved, but I learned to find good elements in every piece of writing.
Learning to ask yourself who this is for helps you to refocus your writing, keep a clear voice throughout the piece, and stay true to you and your intentions. We all use different voices when speaking to different people and the same goes for writing. It’s important to keep a clear idea of who your audience is (it can be just you) and be consistent with that intention.
Are all of my senses present?
Writing relies entirely on description to put clear, vivid images and scenes in people’s heads. Because of this, it is incredibly important to consider all five of your senses. This notion of active description ties in with scene vs. exposition, or as you may have heard, show don’t tell.
Think about if you were writing about a moment at the beach. Sure. you could say it was hot and the sun was bright and the water was blue. But that’s rather boring, isn’t it? Instead, put yourself into that place and explore your senses. Describe what you see, or maybe how little you can see because of the searing sun glinting on the waves. Describe the feeling of the gritty sand between your toes or the slimy seaweed wrapping around your ankles in the shallows. What about the smell of sunscreen, how sticky and cold it is being lathered on your shoulders?
You can write about the rhythmic crashing of the waves, the seagulls cawing overhead, or children shrieking in delight as they play in the water. You can even use your sense of taste here if you want. Ocean air is palpable, the salt can almost be tasted. Or, maybe you get actual water, or sand, in your mouth. Stretch your senses as far as they can go to create the most realistic and vivid scene you can. Transport your reader!
Does my piece flow?
The flow of a piece is essential. Especially if you’re not entirely writing in chronological order, or if you’re using interjections of thoughts in between real-time moments. I often move sections around as I’m editing and find new ways to connect them to a different section that actually works better. Especially if you’re writing a non-fiction piece with various distinct sections, it’s important to make sure that they all still feel connected and still flow, even while remaining distinct.
A way to do this is by considering “threads.” In any story, fiction or non-fiction, there is generally one major theme, purpose, point or “plot.” However, there are also several smaller, connecting themes or “threads” that also run through the story and give it a sense of cohesiveness. Making sure to pull all of your threads all the way through to the end of your story will help greatly in giving it a cohesive flow. A fairly obvious thread can be a relationship that is not the main focus of the story, but would be missing if you suddenly stopped talking about it. Or, if your character really likes to cook, their meals and their connection to them can be an underlying thread that runs through the book. This creates a sense of familiarity for the reader, even as you introduce new elements and take the story in different directions.
Who can read my work?
Getting other people to read your work and provide feedback can be very scary but is also very important! Not only is it important to have your work read, but who you choose to read your work is critical as well. Choosing your best friend who won’t offer any criticism is not the best choice. I like to pick people who I know are good at being straight-forward and honest with their opinions and will not be afraid to criticize my work. Taking criticism can be hard, but without it, you will never improve as a writer.
It can help your reader if you have a few sort-of “guiding” questions about specific concerns. Get as many people to read your work as you can! This is the part that I will miss the most about my creative writing class. Having constant feedback, positive and negative (we called them “glows” and “grows”), is such a blessing and SO helpful!
Have I written today?
Write as often as you can! Keep a small notebook on you constantly. If you hear or see something you like, write it down. It may serve as inspiration later. Some days, you will sit down to write and it will just flow out of you like an eloquent river. Other days, you will just write “I have nothing in me” over and over again. I suggest setting a timer and forcing yourself to sit down and write something – anything, for that period of time. It’s a hard habit to get into, but once you do, it feels so good.
Best of luck in all your writing endeavors!