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Creative Process

What’s a creative process? Well, if you need hourly caffeine intake, that’s creative process. If you need to write your story from end to beginning, that’s creative process. If you need to stand on your head to get the brain juice flowing… that’s just weird, but I suppose that’s creative process too. Basically, anything that enables you to effectively siphon what’s in your head into written material is a component in your personal creative process.

Naturally that means some people have awesome creative processes, where they both channel their imaginative and productive abilities and are able to pound great writing out. Some peoples’ creative processes are slower, more procrastinating, and even if they stay true to their imagination and what they love, they don’t get much done. I’m pretty sure that’s always been me.

Even when I was little, I loved to write. I’m talking probably 6-years-old and up. I remember the first story I really sat down and tried hard to write (on paper); it was called Wally The Waterbug, and it wasn’t a comic, it was a written story. He walked across the road, almost got ran over by a car, and got flung up into the bed of a truck. After the truck pulled into the garage, he got flung into the house somehow (repetitive flinging, I know—I was 6 or 7) where he fell into the cracks of a keyboard. I never got any further, but the idea was that kilobytes and megabytes (in the form of Pac-Man-esque evil creatures) then would chase him around trying to eat him. This poor waterbug clearly had a very upsetting life, and I don’t think the story had much purpose beyond that, but hey.

Imagination is great and all, but if this happens to you, call a doctor. (Image by xbooshbabyx @ devART.)

The reason for the useless trip down memory lane is to highlight the birth of my creative process. I started on something, got bored, and never touched it again. Totally understandable for a little kid, but the problem is, I did that same thing for the next decade or so. I’d start writing something (usually fan-fiction about whatever I happened to be into at the time), and would quickly grow tired of the project before moving onto something else. My creative process was a rather nasty cocktail of procrastination, impatience, and boredom.

So how did I kick it? I didn’t. Well, I did, but bad habits are the hardest ones to kick. I think over the years I’ve gained a little more patience simply through getting older. I make a strong effort to read what I write after the editing process just to see what I’ve accomplished and say “Hey, that’s pretty darn good. This is worth continuing.” I also make sure not to embark on projects that won’t hold my interest. I wrote a short story not long ago that didn’t fall under any of the genres I love so much. It was a thriller, maybe with a little bit of a psychological element thrown in for good measure. I had an idea, and I rolled with it. I put it on paper over the course of a few days. I made sure not to let the ideas in my head grow stale. Why? That brings me to my next point.

I’m what they call a pantser. I explained the term in another one of my posts, but I’ll explain it again.

Pantser: Writes by the seat of his pants—dislikes planning and outlines.
Planner: Plans their writing ahead of time—swears by the use of outlines.

Simple enough, right? Right off the bat, you can probably pick out which one you are. Now most “novice” writers are pantsers, but many famous authors can call themselves pantsers as well. I think when a writer hasn’t developed their craft yet, and hasn’t established exactly what their creative process is, they’re a “novice”. Once you pin down those things, you’ll probably form a structural process. As in, maybe you’ll discover that sitting down and throwing all your ideas down into a document helps you move your story along faster and more effectively. But on the flip-side, many might find that they just prefer flying free. There’s no right way, only the way that works best for you.

In the past, I was young and lazy. I never made outlines, I never did any of that stuff. I just wrote when I wanted to, and ditched my work when I got tired of it. Nowadays? I still don’t use outlines. I’m not against them, but I run with a different method. I have a good memory when it comes to my stories. I know what’s going to happen and when—not because I wrote an outline of it—but because I’ve got the scenes imagined in my head. When you can see the scene in your head as a real, moving scenario, I think you’re far better off than simply referring to a quick, dead blurb of text on a scene such as “Thieves ambush the protagonist, gunfight ensues.” If it’s in your head, you can see the dust fly, smell the gunsmoke, imagine the inner thoughts of your character as he fights for his life. It’s more real, and that translates well when you actually write the scene.

That’s not to say that making use of an outline makes your writing less powerful, or simply worse. On the contrary, sometimes it helps you remember key details that would otherwise be lost. That’s why everyone’s personal creative process is different. I can use my head. I can remember. When I put something into an outline, it takes some of the life out of it, and further than that, it doesn’t allow my story to have the twists and turns and last second changes that I often incorporate. If I sat down and started outlining everything, the writing just wouldn’t be honest. That’s a problem.

Some people feel just the opposite, and that’s totally fine. In the end, you do what works for you. That’s the most important thing. Just remember not to feel bad about yourself because you don’t have some articulate, masterful process of outlining each scene, summarizing every character, etc. If your quirky process creates material that you’re proud of? Well then you’ve got nothing to worry about, friend.

Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part II: Metaphors & Similes

Welcome to part two of this little course. If you haven’t read part one, I’d strongly recommend you check that out first here. I say that not because it’s a necessary step in the learning process, but because this is a series meant to enhance your ability to liven up your writing. Each part is meant teach and equip you in the practice of a certain tool to turn boring writing into, well, not-boring writing.

Last time I talked about personification. It’s a useful tool, but odds are you’ve used it without even thinking about it. Still, when you mindfully apply these things to your writing, they’ll be much more effective, and certainly more fun to read. The subject of this part will be metaphors and similes. You’ve likely used these without thinking too, but like I said, when you thoughtfully use these skills in your writing, the results will look great.

So first off, what’s the difference between a metaphor and a simile? Here’s an example of both.

Metaphor: The moon was a spotlight in the sky, illuminating the dreary harbor.

Simile: The moon was like a spotlight in the sky, illuminating the dreary harbor.

Pretty darn simple, huh? A metaphor is saying something is something else. A simile is saying like something is like something else. They’re very, very similar, and your reason behind using one in lieu of the other just depends on what looks, sounds, and flows better in your writing. In the example above, I like the metaphor version better. Why? Because though the scene’s setting is very mild and calm, a metaphor paints a strong, powerful image. Where a simile might be suggesting the similarity of one thing to something else, a metaphor is telling you like it is.

So where should you use metaphors and similes? That all depends on your writing. Don’t be afraid of using either; just be sure that the similarity is good. No one likes stupid metaphors—they need to be relatable and effective. How can we do this? How can we figure out where to use these skills? This calls for a little medley of examples, I think.

Her words were harsh.

This sentence works, but it’s very bland. It also makes use of “were”, which is a passive verb. It’s not strong, and it doesn’t do much to grab your attention. Let’s see how we can spice it up.

Her words cut into me.

What’s this one? It’s a personification. It’s effective and it impacts you, but for this sentence, I think we can afford to make it as hard-hitting as possible.

Her words were like razors, slicing and tearing at my heart.

This one hits hard. When you read this one, you can really see how hurtful the situation is. However, this is a simile, and I think a metaphor might work even better.

Her words were razors, slicing and tearing at my heart.

A minor difference, but I think this usage transforms a comparison into something with poetic, hard-hitting emotional impact.

An overused metaphor, but the imagery is powerful.

Which one do you like the most? I have to bring out that there is no best version of this particular sentence. Why? That’s the next point; just because something sounds good doesn’t mean you should use it every time. Placement strongly relies on whether or not the phrase will fit well into your paragraph. If you just likened something to something else, used a personification in the sentence after that, and now are about to throw in another powerful metaphor, you should take a step back. Read the paragraph over, perhaps even aloud. You may end up rewriting the entire section.

The key there is balance. Just like a painter probably wouldn’t glop all his paint onto one side of the canvas, you shouldn’t bunch all your hard-hitting sentences next to each other. That’s not to say you should purposely write bad sentences, but simply that you should place extra emphasis on the sentences that matter. If you used a metaphor, and two seconds later, you’re using another one, read them both over. Decide which one creates a bigger impact, which one is more important, and simplify the other.

You want your writing to flow, as if the reader is ascending and descending soft gentle slopes, not climbing up and tumbling down jagged craggy mountains. Even if you’re writing a horror novel that is supposed to be anything but gentle, the writing still needs to flow. When you read, you don’t want to be thinking about reading, you want to be thinking about the story. Of course, effortless reading is not effortless writing. It takes a lot of editing to balance your writing and create that flow.

Without highs and lows to the gentle slopes you’re creating, they wouldn’t be very interesting, would they? Avoid flat writing. That’s why tools like personification and metaphors are so useful, because they create those rising peaks in each paragraph. They make the reading fun, and that’s very important.

So how can you apply metaphors or similes to your writing? Just like last time, I’m gonna give you a few different things to turn into metaphors or similes. Remember, you’re going to be describing these things by likening them to something else.

A sunset

A mean old lady

A shooting star

Don’t be shy! Post your results in the comments section!

 

Useful links:

Metaphoric Formula
The Difference Between Metaphor & Simile
Metaphor In History

Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part I: Personification

Have you ever written a paragraph of a story you were working on, read it back, and grumbled at how plain, uninspiring, or boring it was? Well, we all have. Even if you’ve got ideas in your head, as great as they might sound inside, sometimes you’ll put them on the screen and completely disappoint yourself. What sounded like an exciting, action packed scene in your mind now looks like a trudging block of exposition. It’s boring.

Don't let your exposition stay looking like this!

Well don’t let it get you down. It’s just something that’s going to happen when you’re pounding your thoughts into material. Quite often, even if what you just wrote looks terrible to you, it’s still a vital step in the creative process. It’s extremely important to put your thoughts down in written form. So many “writers” have the story all in their heads! It might be amazing and inspiring and wonderful, but no one can see it. That’s why actually filtering the ideas out of your mind into visible form is so important, but it’s of course only the first step.

Let’s go back to that boring block of exposition. Odds are that you’re going to have to dissect it, chop it up, sew it back together, and send a bolt of lightning into it before “It’s alive!” Silly, but truer than you think. Quite often you will have to remove entire sections of writing, even if your productive ego tells you “What are you doing!?” It just feel unnatural and wrong to delete something you put in your story, but trust me, don’t be afraid of it. Often less is far more, and there’s only one way to find out when that’s true.

But that still doesn’t say much for energizing that dead chunk of text. If you chop up paragraph cadavers and splice them back together, you’re still using dead word-meat. What do you need next? A bolt of lightning! But where do you find that? Well, there are many viable alternatives to a lightning rod affixed to your roof. Writing is an art, and just as there are a myriad different ways to bring a painting to life, the same can be said when it comes to writing. I’m going to bring out one that I personally like to employ in my work.

Personification. What’s that? Well, basically it’s when you take an lifeless, inanimate object, and give it active, even human traits. If you cut eyes and a mouth into your sandwich and make it talk, I suppose that’s personification. Thankfully we can be much more subtle when it comes to writing. How can we do this? Well the best way to explain is with an example.

The wind moved the curtains.

This sentence of exposition is to the point, but it’s also pretty boring. I think I just yawned.

The blackened night exhaled a heavy breath against the curtains as they fluttered in a ghostly dance.

Alright, I’ll admit I went a little overboard there, but this looks a lot better, doesn’t it?

Looking at those two sentences, why is the second one funner to read? It’s hardly because of the dramatic descriptive adjectives. Don’t believe me? Then let’s strip it bare, leaving only the personifications.

The night exhaled a breath against the curtains as they fluttered and danced.

It still sounds pretty darn good, doesn’t it? Some would even prefer this version to the last. Why? Well that’s a key point when it comes to personification. A writer can pile on all the fancy adjectives he wants onto his work, but when you overuse adjectives, you’re telling the reader what something is like, you’re not showing them what it’s like. That’s probably the most widely preached mantra of writing: Show, don’t tell.

Maybe this is a bit too literal of a visual aid, but I kind of want middle one's number and to have a brewski with the one on the left.

When you utilize a personification as opposed to a handful of adjectives, you’re giving your setting human characteristics. Obviously, any human is going to more fully connect with human characteristics. It hits home harder, and it wraps us up in the scene. You see? That’s a personification right there “It wraps us into to the scene”. Obviously a sentence or paragraph cannot physically wrap around your body, but through use of a personification, your mind immediately grasps the idea behind that phrase and interprets it in a very literal, visceral way. That’s why personifications are so powerful when read. You might not even see them as you read, but they’re there, and they make you keep reading.

So now that you understand exactly what personification is, why don’t you try it out? I guarantee that you already use it in your writing, even if you never thought about it before, but now that we are thinking about it, let’s practice and evolve this particular skill.

Below is a list of random, lifeless objects. They’re lifeless because they’re not breathing and thinking, but you personally can breathe life into them through personification, and they will repay the favor by breathing life into your story.

Wind
Marble/s
Camera
Dress
Xylophone

So take each of these boring, inanimate objects, and use personification to place them each in a sentence that imbues them with life and human characteristics. Remember to make good use of active verbs, not passive ones (like were, had, and was), and for a twist, try to use little to no adjectives in each sentence. Don’t be afraid of using emotion! Just because a mansion can not feel literal sorrow, it can look very sad and alone as it sits atop a dark, cloudy mountaintop, right?

Post your practice results in the comments section and let me know how personification works for you!

Ready for part two? Read the next lesson here: Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part II: Metaphors & Similes

Words With Friends – Vocabulary Booster!

Ritz? That's a good one.

I’m not ashamed to say, this game sucked me in right away. I’ve always been a big Scrabble fan, so when I watched someone play WWF (Words With Friends), I thought it was stupid. I mean, come on, you can sit there and put down complete nonsense words, forcing your moves onto the board and basically “checking” if they’ll work or not. Theoretically speaking, you can try everything you have (or don’t have) before choosing which move is the very most points. There’s not a great deal of skill and foresight involved. Does that make it bad, though?

Not really.

If you’re a Scrabble fan, you have to come at this game knowing that it ISN’T the same game. It’s all too similar, sure, but it’s in a whole ‘nother ballpark when it comes to actually playing the game. Obviously it’s far more friendly to beginners than Scrabble, as well as being a lot easier to play if you aren’t a walking dictionary like some people are. It’s easy to jump into, and those who might find Scrabble tedious, time-consuming, boring, WWF will be a lot funner for them. If you haven’t tried it yet, go ahead and check it out. it’s even on the iPhone or just about any other smart phone!

But as is true with any word game, it’s a good little exercise for you if you’re a writer. Scrabble is great for thinking of words and terms that seldom cross your mind otherwise, sure, but when it comes WWF, you’re likely going to learn a new word every couple turns (at least when you first start). I mean, maybe you knew that xi, qi, and qat were words, but I sure didn’t. It’s certainly a learning experience.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean it’s only full of crazy, ridiculous two-letter words composed of Q’s and X’s. You’re going to be really using your brain, building words and connections that you typically would never think of. You can never go wrong with working out your mind, and this game definitely is a workout, especially when you’re playing someone whos… well, a lot better than you. I wonder how good Alec Baldwin is…

So, do you play Words With Friends (or do you wanna start)? Add me on Facebook here and challenge me!