Creative Writing Workshop

Creative Writing is geared towards search engine optimization for writers out there who are into the pay-per-word business.  There is even a formula for how to write this way in order to attract more traffic into a website. These content writers are like word-machines, they can produce features on call – say 500 words in thirty minutes, just give them the base content. They might have cared for creative writing at one point in their writing career, but now, if they like to earn from writing they need to write fast using a formula, factoring some key words, and delivering right away.

Now, creative writing doesn’t have a formula. And a serious creative writer, unless working for quick pay, will be more careful. Creative writing is often not done fast, and it is tedious (ask the opinion writers who need to come up with a regular column on how they agonize in their process). 

A creative writer cares about words (sans optimization and often makes no money at all by writing). If commissioned to write, a creative writer has the option to write creatively while still meeting the client’s demands, and still earn money, but this is professional writing at its mature point. That is, the writer is confident enough to assert how she is going to write, and insist on a voice and style.

A creative writer creates content that is a product of a struggle for unity, precision, and relevance. In their search for an expression creative writers

·         Must use language carefully

·         Must be knowledgeable about forms

·         Must always acknowledge an Other with respect

These three basic premises are crucial to the craft of writing, but especially to creative writing.  Can you fill out a quick survey sheet below?

survey sheet - creative writing

Please note that all fields followed by an asterisk must be filled in.

Please enter the word that you see below.

  

The survey somehow gives the idea of how much expression you put into writing, and the form you habitually use. You might have noticed that these forms are common, immediate, and natural to most people who may or may not be writers.

Since we are talking about creative writing, what you’d like to harness is your immediate content – personal anecdotes, memories, life milestones, or even daily routine. So to begin, try the following exercise:

  1. Write a personal story - don't worry about anything, just jot it down as you remember it. 
  2. Set this story aside.
  3. Come back to this story, read it again after a week or two.
  4. Revise your story applying some principles of creative writing.
  5. Have somebody read this story and let her give comments
  6. Revise your story again incorporating some of your responses to the reader's comments.
  7. Assess your piece using the principles below:

Creative Writing Cares About Language

You already know the pyramid about the level of abstraction in language use. When it comes to creative writing, language borders mostly on the concrete.  [As opposed for example to academic writing, which largely falls on the abstract level of the language pyramid]. However, ‘concrete’ here means more than just the opposite of abstract expressions. Rather, using concrete language involves awareness and application of

a.       Diction – or the precise use of words grammatically, semantically, pragmatically

  • a.       Simplicity
  • b.       Clutter free
  • c.       Logical

b.       Details – or a sensitive choice of details that will expand or illustrate content

  • a.       Check biases
  • b.       Check use of metaphor and other figure of speech (apt or awkward?)
  • c.       Timeliness and resonance

c.       Device – or appropriate tone and style

  • a.       Confident
  • b.       Sensitive
  • c.       Personal

Creative Writing Entails that A Writer Be Knowledgeable About Form

Form is not arbitrary. Any creative writer knows at the outset what form she will use in her expression. It may be a letter, a memoir, an autobiography, a biography, a devotional essay, a critical piece, a story. These are types of narratives that have definite characteristics. Today, there is even auto-fiction, which is an author’s fictional account of his life story. A creative writer may not venture into writing something that is formless, [that is, please don’t say, I’m going to write anything – just jotting down words….] although structurally, she might do some major adjustments of whatever has been drafted in a chosen form. Setting out to write something means that the writer knows exactly how she will focus her creative process.

But always, form is relative to the intention of the writer. Why write a biography? Why memoir? Why a critical essay? A life story is a mine of wisdom. And so is a collection of short devotionals based on an anecdote or event. In a writer’s life, all of these forms have at one time or another become a way of coming out with insight, ideas, beliefs, and perspectives.

Also, a creative writer who is an essayist might choose to write as a critic, in which case, writing needs to be more authoritative, confident and scholarly. There is a need to cite references informed by tradition and backed up by solid research. 

At some point, a creative writer will write profiles, or in Christian parlance, this is often called testimonies. This one will involve a different tack, interviewing, some travel. Sometimes, this is one of the more daunting of tasks a creative writer will do because this type of writing has to give prominence to another person, but not without compromising a personal take or style. 

Or what about travel essays? In creative writing, an essay about a journey entails describing where you went and what you saw. But often, the creative challenge is highlighting a particularity that gives meaning and resonance or a new perspective on even a well-trodden path. 

The point is that each form of narrative follows some kind of implicit protocol: for example, there is a difference between a book review and a book critique. And a film enthusiast, one who really studies film, will probably have more to say in terms of historical reference or tradition than the plain movie goer blogging about what he saw.

For creative writing, it is not always a strictly required to be "scholarly", but your piece must always have integrity.

Is it honest? Is it believable? Sometimes, it is honest, but the way it is written makes it unbelievable. And sometimes it is believably dishonest, but tells the truth – the craft of fiction.

Let us take a personal story. What form will you use to develop this base content? How will you proceed? The choice of form will informs you of what details to include. For example, if you're going to write a memoir, you will not include every memory that you recall, but only those that will effectively get some point or theme or tapestry across. With an opinion essay on the other hand, you as the writer will have to be conscious and decide how this same base experience will matter in the greater scheme of things.

The core struggle in writing your piece is about vulnerability. In writing, you are making public a private item in your life journey. Once out there and published or posted, your memories gain permanence and will be consumed and appropriated.

Creative Writing Demands Integrity

If you want your writing to be published, your editor’s first question is “who is your audience?” Many books target a particular audience, and this will dictate the language they will use, based on demographics. 

However most creative writers rarely think of an audience first when they sit down and write. Rather, they write for themselves about things they know best and are passionate about. But whatever their conceit, their ultimate agenda is to put an idea and/or a vision out there, because there is really no point in writing just for oneself. And why be a scribe if you cannot influence? Why even write if you prefer to remain muted?

But to bring yourself out there, you really need to be fully yourself;  to let your voice be heard, and to be authentic. In order for you to leave even a subtle mark in any reader’s mind, you must cultivate this voice and style. Creative writing demands integrity. The creative tension is in crafting experience into words fully aware that these experiences aren’t unique in the collective human toil. The creative tension is in particularizing the experience to be able to give the person listening or reading something unique and relatable. This particularity is something you alone have experienced, something that resonates because it is unique among the cacophony of voices.

Never be generic in creative writing. It is crucial to use precise details. Be conscious of the writing devices you will employ. You’re not choosing only what information to include, but also being precise for one single effect.

Your intended first reader may be undefined, or do not belong in a clear demographic. But your piece needs to resonate and touch a life. Acknowledging an Other out there means that you need to be – honest, sensitive, true – and, to use to a more complicated and nuanced term – ethical.

Some will not like your opinions or they may feel the opposite of what you have intended. As a creative writer you will need that confidence to stand by what you have written, notwithstanding the fact that your point can create divisions, or polarize opinions, or scatter instead of unite; in which case, you probably need to write more.