Why is creative writing so difficult?
Picture a seesaw.
One of the old-fashioned jobbies with a plank, a middle bit so the down side can go up and the up side can go down.
With me still?
On the high end, a weedy little character, kicking skinny legs, getting nowhere.
On the down end, bags and bags of unidentified inert lumps.
When it comes to creative writing, that skinny kicking chappie is me and the bags with lumps were full of things I didn’t know about creative writing.
Those bags weren’t going to slide upwards so the best I could hope for is that someone selling bags nearby was prepared to deliver and dump the suckers on the other side of that seesaw, and maybe, one day, the balance would tilt a bit in the other direction, so I could play properly or at least get the upside close enough to the ground so I didn’t kill myself jumping off.
And that miserable image sat in my head, even though I had published several non-fiction books and many many history journal articles.
That’s how different creative writing is to non-fiction writing.
There was a time I felt dismissive about fiction writers, sitting home and making stuff up. Not like researchers out in the archives, untying pink ribbon on bundles wrapped in brown paper, or inching through microfiche, straining our eyes and our sanity, looking for evidence.
Why’s creative writing so hard?
You can read that with a whinny kid wail or as a Socratic rhetorical quiver to the eyebrow.
Aristotle wrote Poetics, in 350BC, explaining principles of creative writing. Since forever, he said, story has had structure and while many writers happily ignore the structure, their manuscripts don’t gather awed audiences or eager agents or proud publishers.
They mostly gather dust.
Dust is not good.
Dust does not fill bags with lumps, and it does not help the weedy kid on the seesaw.
So I’m going to share three of the purchases I’ve made over the last four years, trying to learn so I can balance that seesaw a bit.
Craft books. I find them hard to read but these two helped me a lot:
- Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer. It’s a classic and I refer to it a lot.
- Jill Elizabeth Nelson, Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View. More of a booklet really, you can buy it on Amazon. It’s very slender so I lose it on the bookshelf, but that’s my only criticism of it.
Free podcasts and u-tube videos.
There are courses on structure and some of them are free and some of them are wonderful and free. I love this one: Dan Wells on Story Structure, part 1 of 5. Dan wrote I am not a serial killer (and other stuff) and founded Writing Excuses, an excellent series of podcasts. You can help out by subscribing.
I was so grateful to Dan for both those resources that I bought multiple copies of two of his John Cleaver (the serial killer) books. That’s my way of paying when free stuff packs good heavy lumps into the bags.
Margie Lawson. https://www.margielawson.com/
How many writers has this amazing tutor helped on their journey to not just be published, but to join the hallowed ranks of New York Times Best Seller lists? It’s got to be hundreds. Her courses are available online, in packages, and in real time webinars and, when she was allowed to travel, she did, so she could appear at conferences and run immersion classes. Everything she teaches is golden.
Remember that name.