Tag Archive: Creativity


Writing From the Heart

You might have noticed, but I’m a highly analytical person.  This doesn’t just apply to books either.  I can’t watch a movie in the theater because (aside from an irrational fear of crowds of people in dark places) I can’t pause the action for discussion.  And I’m just as analytical when I’m watching commercials, TV shows, or news programs.  I like to figure out how things work.  Why does that commercial make a person want to buy something?  How is that news article reporting a story and how is it influencing the viewer’s opinion of the story?  How is the TV show arranged around the commercial breaks to keep me, the viewer, from changing the channel?  As a writer, this skill has been invaluable.  But it can only take you so far.

Once you actually have the writing mechanics down, there are an endless number of ways you can tell a story.  Most of my favorite books have a couple of things in common: an intriguing plot and a compelling character.  I enjoy working out the details of a plot.  Making a compelling character, however, is much harder for me.  If it’s done right, it’s a beautiful thing.  We follow the character and root for them.  If the writer is effective, we laugh with their characters and ache for them.  A good writer has the power to play with our emotions.

I want to be an emotional writer, but I’m not.

First of all, I find it very hard to draw off of powerful real-life events in my writing.  I don’t have any shortage of emotional experiences, both in the positive and in the negative.  But for some reason, when I try to capture the sensation on paper, I feel like I fall short or over-write.  And I’ve never even tried to represent some of my strongest emotional experiences.  I try to imagine agent rejections around my most painful and tender moments and I have a hard time staying objective.  As a result, I stick to safe, otherworldly, young adult fantasy.

Second of all (and I’m going to get all metaphysical) I think to represent emotion, you have to let yourself feel it.  You can’t analyze it and pick it apart.  It comes from the gut and the heart.  Not the head.  And it needs to flow organically on to your page.  No worries about sentence structure or grammar or pacing or all of those things that are supposed to be important.  Emotional writing just flows.

So, help me out here.  Are you an emotional writer?  Did you do something to draw this out of yourself, or was it something that just came to you? Do you dare to put your most painful or private feelings on the page and how do you deal with it when agents and editors don’t give you a positive response?

That beautiful photo is by artist D Sharon Pruitt and I found it on Flickr.

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Voice.  It’s the one thing that will make a writer wax poetic for hours.  Do you have a voice?  Is it an authentic voice?  Is it a consistent voice?  Is it a strong voice?  Can I lose my voice? (OK, I’m just making fun with that one)  Here’s what I know: every book that I’ve ever loved has had a very strong voice.

To me, voice is that quality in writing that makes you feel like the narrator or point of view character is speaking directly to you.  When you write with voice, you’re not dictating your story to your reader; you’re engaging your reader in a very lopsided conversation.  They’re nodding sympathetically while you talk.

In my second novel, after about ten false starts, I found a voice.  I knew the story I wanted to tell in that book.  I knew the middle and most of the end.  But where to start?  I wrote beginning after beginning, because something just wasn’t working.  It was horribly frustrating.  I wrote in the third person and the first person.  I started with description and then dialog, and then action.  Finally, because I was so aggravated, I put it down for about a month.  When I picked it back up, I could hear the “voice” of my main character.  She was tough and sarcastic.  This book HAD to be written in the first person.

So what had I been doing wrong?

  • I wasn’t writing with any confidence.  I wasn’t sure who my main character was.  I didn’t know how she should sound.  That made my writing tentative and the voice just dried up.
  • My writing was very self-conscious because I was thinking too much about the rules of writing.  Even as I was trying to compose a paragraph, I would wonder if I was using too many adverbs or if the sentences were too long for such an action-y scene or if I was staying consistent with my themes in my figures of speech.  It’s a ridiculous way to write.  Nothing flows when you’re just thinking about the rules!  Besides, that’s what revisions are for.
  • I didn’t trust my readers.  I was micro-managing the audience with too much description and too much stage managing. I was inserting my ego into the story ahead of my character’s personality.

As soon as I loosened up, trusted myself, and let the writing flow, the “voice” was there.

It’s not like I’m in the clear, though.  For the life of me, I can’t get a good voice when I’m writing in the third person. It’s frustrating for me because there are some stories I think belong in a more distant point of view.  So, I keep hoping a narrator’s voice will find me.

As a final note, literary agent extraordinaire Nathan Bransford wrote a fantastic blog about the components of voice. You know how I love a good dissection!  It helped me look at my own style.  So if you need a great read about voice, check this out.

What about you?  How do you define voice? Do you feel like you’ve found your voice or are you still looking for it?  What do you do to help develop your voice?

I love that photograph!  It’s by ktylerconk and I found this art on flickr.

I have a theory.  I think that many people who write also have some other artistic talent.  I was once part of a writing message board and a number of people wrote about how they sketched their main characters or drew pictures from scenes in their book.  Some of them painted.  If you’ve been to J.K. Rowling’s webpage and found some of the hidden content (Yes, I’m that big of a Potter-dork), you know that she has sketches of some of her characters, too.

I wish that was me.

It isn’t.  Not even a little bit.  If I ever need to be an eyewitness to a crime I’m in biiiig trouble because I have absolutely no visual memory.  This little visualization handicap makes writing description really challenging.  Consider this description of Bella, from the TWILIGHT series, as written by Stephanie Meyers on her website under “What does Bella look like?”:

In my head, Bella is very fair-skinned, with long, straight, dark brown hair and chocolate brown eyes. Her face is heart-shaped—a wide forehead with a widow’s peak, large, wide-spaced eyes, prominent cheekbones, and then a thin nose and a narrow jaw with a pointed chin. Her lips are a little out of proportion, a bit too full for her jaw line. Her eyebrows are darker than her hair and more straight than they are arched. She’s five foot four inches tall, slender but not at all muscular, and weighs about 115 pounds. She has stubby fingernails because she has a nervous habit of biting them.

There is absolutely no way I can visualize this type of detail without a picture.  So, if I’m trying to write description, I surf the internet for an image.  Google Images is my best writing pal in the whole wide world.  It’s been my visual crutch.  I use it for every type of description: characters, settings, objects…you name it.  I have some other crutches, too.  In action scenes, I won’t figure out the blocking until I physically get up and act it out (Sometimes I make family members help me and, every once in a while, the family pets).  A couple of times I’ve looked up online videos to remind myself of how certain animals move.  Like, if I say someone moves like a leopard, I always check the video of a leopard to be certain I’m making a fair comparison.  I have to use these tricks or my books would lack the visual element that is so necessary in a well-rounded manuscript.

However, what I lack in the visual, I make up for in the auditory.  And I’m really grateful to have this going for me.  My manuscripts are very aural.  I can hear character voices very clearly–both the quality of their voice and the vernacular they would use.  Sound is almost always the first thing I introduce when I describe a setting.  Of course I rearrange things in edits, but that’s the sense I use to connect with the worlds I create.

It shouldn’t be a shock for me–I’ve always been musical.  I remember voices before I remember faces.  And when I write, I often get into the mood by listening to a little music.  When I acknowledged that my mind’s ear was much stronger than my mind’s eye, it changed the way I wrote.  I realized I had a strong tool that I wasn’t using.

How about you?  What’s your strongest sense?  How do you use it in your writing?  Do you use another creative outlet, like painting or music, when you’re working on a writing project?

Stunning image by djcodrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What’s your muse?

Some people are writers.  Whether you decide to develop your skill into something that you can market, quietly submit fan fiction to fan fiction sites, or just jot poetry in a personal notebook, something draws you to write.  You don’t have to.  Plenty of people don’t.  And, really, wouldn’t your life be easier if you didn’t?  How much free time would you have if you didn’t feel the need to finish that manuscript or that short story or that poem?  Wouldn’t it be nice to just relax sometimes and not think, “But I could be writing!”?  We might actually be able to sit in a coffee shop without eavesdropping on conversations for examples of authentic voice.

Nah.

But even for the most hard-core amongst us, every writer is bound to lose steam.  The thought of working out that troublesome section in my work-in-progress is just too daunting for me sometimes.  And I think about taking up knitting, instead.  At those times I need a little bit of writing inspiration.  Here are a few of the things that really inspire me.

  • Books and movies.  Other people’s creativity is a treasure trove of ideas for me.  Sometimes, I’ll write a scene or two of fan fiction from a world I love, like Hogwarts or Labyrinth (Remember that cheesy movie from the 1986 with David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly?  LOVE it.).  It works like a charm to get my creative juices flowing.  Some of my first stories back in my elementary school days were because I wanted to write myself into my favorite books and movies.  Not-so-great books and movies work for me too.  Sometimes my disappointment in the way another author handles a subject matter can inspire an original short story or manuscript of my own.
  • My writing group.  For me, creativity is contagious and so is success.  I love it when one of the people in my group sells a story, especially if it’s a story I saw in critique.  It makes me want to submit more.  Also, misery truly does love company.  When I’m submitting to agents and trying to be patient, I love hearing from the other people who are subbing, too.
  • Critiques, good or bad.  I have a live writing group and in the past I’ve submitted some excerpts from my works-in-progress to a message board of writers on-line for critique.  Sometimes having someone circle a paragraph and write “Love this!” will buoy me for days.  Likewise, when my critique partner can pinpoint something that isn’t working, and I can feel how it will make the whole chapter better, it will give me the excitement I need to revisit that section (probably for the umpteenth time).
  • Brainstorming with someone.  I’m lucky.  I have a creative person who loves me.  When I hit a rough patch, I describe the scene and we brainstorm together.  Switching gears and working something out verbally can be the thing that gets me over the hump.  And having someone to serve as a sounding board, especially someone who can give creative feedback, is a real godsend.
  • Looking at things I’ve already finished.  I have two completed young adult manuscripts and a handful of short stories.  I can finish something.  I can create a character.  I can spend a year doing this.  I know.  I’ve already done it.  Sometimes when I’m in creative despair, I need to remind myself that it’s not a question of, “Can I do it?”, it’s a question of “Can I do it again?”.

So, what inspires you to write when the creative river is starting to run dry?  What keeps you going when you hit a rough patch in your work-in-progress?

Awesome image by Suat Eman at freedigitalphotos.net