Monday, June 29, 2020

Creative Writing 101

A week ago, I started teaching Creative Writing again at our community college.  We’re all wearing face masks, are seated at least six feet apart, and are using copious amounts of hand sanitizer.
It’s the first time I’ve done any public speaking in a face mask. It’s a little like trying to talk while underwater.

My first class is a bit of getting to know everyone.  What do they read? Who are their favorite authors? What genre interests you the most?

Next week, they’ll start reading their own work out loud. The rules of engagement for that are once the student has finished reading, scary enough, we will all applaud. Then we’ll talk about the work’s strengths.

Then, we’ll talk about ways we might make the work stronger.

But the first week, I talked about some Creative Writing 101 tips. Most of them come from Stephen King.

Tips like stop watching television. Instead, read as much as possible. I might add my own bit of advice, don’t slide down the internet rabbit hole. It’s too easy to move from the New York Times website to YouTube and watching puppy videos. King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Another one of his tips: don’t be pretentious. It took me a long time to learn that one. King said, “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re a little bit ashamed of your short ones.”

Avoid adverbs and long paragraphs.  My editor has been ruthless about teaching me this. King said, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

This is a tip that I really take to heart. Understand that writing is a form of telepathy. King makes the claim that an important element of writing is transference. Your job isn’t to write words on the page, but rather to transfer the ideas inside your head into the heads of your readers. He said, “Words are just the medium through which the transfer happens.”

It excites me to no end when a reader tells me how much they enjoyed a book I’ve written and how they loved Geneva Chase, the lead character in my mysteries.  In their minds, she’s a real person.

Write every single day. King said, “If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind…I begin to lose my hold on the story’s plot and pace.” Amen to that.

When you’re finished writing, take a long step back. “When you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” He advises that take six weeks recuperation time after you’ve finished writing so you can have a clear mind to spot any glaring holes in the plot or character development.

I’ve found that to be immensely helpful.I’ve come back after I’ve left the manuscript in the drawer for a while and then look at with a fresh set of eyes.

The final bit of advice is to stay married, be healthy, and live a good life.

I like that very much.

1 comment:

Anna said...

King's advice never gets old. It's good for all of us regardless of our level of experience. Thanks!