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Posts tagged ‘creative writing’

Why original research is important to your stories

In my last post, “How to make dry research fun,” I wrote about the research I’m doing for my current work-in-progress. I’m writing a story that contains fallen angels, demons, and even the greatest fallen angel of all time.

Part of my research involves reading current novels that contain this subject matter so I can see what’s out there and what’s been done (so I don’t repeat it). But this is not all or even the majority of my research. Most of my reading is of historical texts and references. I’m going back in time to find the “real” history of my characters and themes.

So why not just read what’s hot now? If I were writing a vampire novel, I’d want to read, among others, Stoker’s Dracula, Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and Meyer’s Twilight (to see what all the fuss is about).

But if I only read these books, I’d be basing my knowledge on other author’s perceptions, themes, and ideas.  Read more

How to make dry research fun

I’m reading The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil: From the Earliest Times to the Present Dayby Paul Carus as research for my current work-in-progress. It’s not a book I’d normally read. In fact, it took me ages to make it past the first twenty pages—every time I picked up the book, I’d fall asleep. Great for catching up on some Zs but not so great if you’re actually trying to learn something. I don’t blame the author. I was never good at history. I had the same reaction in school—all those dates and past events would make me grow blurry-eyed and sleepy. My head was always in the future.

Yesterday, I made a breakthrough. I told myself I could not move off our front-yard swing (oh, darn!) until I’d read 100 pages. And, I told my obsessive-compulsive self that I didn’t have to read every single word.

It worked! I did read every word (OCD-self wins again) but, in the process of my game, I made another game of it: try to find an angle in all that history that interested me. About 80 pages in, I found it. I discovered what interested me most is not what the bible or other religious texts say about the devil himself but how religion through time has treated the concept of good and evil. Read more

Edit out literary throat clearing to make your work stronger

Writing a first draft is our opportunity as artists to follow the flow of our creativity, to let go and see where it takes us. Subsequent drafts are where we enter our editor mind and make sense of it all.

I do a lot of literary throat clearing in my first drafts. I used to worry about it and tried to fix it as I went, but I learned that was a waste of time. I learned some of what I’d written would be cut, so why waste time line-editing sentences before I’ve edited for plot or meaning?

When I am ready to examine my work at the sentence level, one thing I do is search for my throat-clearing words or phrases. These are empty or repetitious words that weaken my writing.

What I’ve noticed is they change over time. Evidently, I’m an evolutionary throat clearer. Read more

Turning creative accidents into successful works of art

My massage therapist is an artist in every sense of the word—he does fantastic bodywork AND he’s a sculptor and painter. Recently, he told me a story about when he was in art school.

He was working on his first painting and between each layer of paint, he’d dip his brush in the varnish and then paint another layer. When he was done, the piece almost had a 3D effect with all the layers of paint and varnish. It was a beautiful accident.

During class, the instructor praised his work in front of the other students and mentioned the “intentional” effect he created. My massage therapist smiled and nodded, as if he meant to do that. Read more

Submit your best work to contests

I have a confession to make. Sometimes, I’m lazy. Not lazy in a lay around all day way, but lazy in that sometimes, with my writing, I take the “easy” path without really thinking about what might be the “better” path.

Case in point: After winning first place in the memoir category at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference I had an epiphany—I realized that sometimes when I submit my work to a contest I pick a piece that I feel is finished but I don’t always pick a piece that I think can win.

I mean, I hope the piece could win but I don’t really look at it with a critical eye and ask, “Can this piece actually win—really win—this contest?”

It seems sort of obvious—that I’d want to submit a winning piece (keeping in mind that all contests are very subjective). But sometimes I pick what feels complete, even though it might not be 100% ready to be sent out into the world. When I enter a piece in a contest, I want to take it to the highest level. So, instead of one more rewrite, maybe that means five more rewrites.

My goal for the rest of this year is to only send out work I’ve examined with a critical eye and determined that it’s truly ready to be sent out into the world. Maybe it still won’t be chosen, but I’ll know that I’ve given it every advantage I could.

Storytelling and the art of letter writing

Lakshmi Pratury,  co-host of TEDIndia 2009, gives a 6-minute talk about the profound effect her father’s handwritten notes and journals had on her after he passed away.  See how she plans to carry forward his legacy.

Handwritten letters are a way to keep us connected with one another and practice our storytelling. In Carly Sandifer’s blog post, “Anton Chekhov’s six writing principles,” she discusses the different ways in which the great author used letter writing to advance his craft and inspire others.

Who do you write letters to?

How to write in your sleep

A few days ago, I had a flash of insight about a story I wanted to write. I quickly wrote out a draft and after making some changes, I looked at it and decided I was missing some of the deeper meaning.

I’m going to rely on my subconscious self to delve into the deeper meaning. I have a strategy to do this. If you’re also looking for ways to build out a piece of your writing, you may want to try it.

Here’s how:
1. Print a poem, short story, or a few pages of a manuscript you’re working on and read it right before you go to sleep. If you have any outstanding questions about its direction, write them in the margins of your page and think about them as you drift off to sleep. As you sleep, your story will be simmering in your subconscious. Read more