Writing as a Process and Practice
In the Introduction to Creative Writing lesson, I said that you have to write in order to find out what you want to write about. So what does that mean, exactly?
Well, first and foremost, you have to start thinking of yourself as a writer. This lesson will give you some ideas about what writers actually do: things that are not really so mysterious, things that you can do yourself quite easily.
OK, so you're a writer now. Yes, that's it-you don't need to take a test or fill out a form. All you need is the desire to do it.
Plus, at some point, you're going to have to put some words onto paper-or into your computer, at least.
All right, that's taken care of. Still, what if you want to be a writer, but you don't have that competed novel in your head already? What if you have, instead, a sort of vague psychic itching that has not quite formed itself into a topic? Where are you going to get your material?
Well, here's something you can do right now. Get yourself a notebook. It should be cheap, so that you don't feel compelled to write in it with a quill pen and fill it with only the most perfect thoughts. It should also be reasonably small, and light, so that you can carry it around with you. Actually, you might as well get a big pile of these, because they fill up quickly.
This notebook will be your writing journal. What goes in a writing journal, you ask? Here are just a few ideas:
Descriptions of people you see on the bus
Sensory observations, like the smell of the pavement outside your door after a warm summer rain
Clippings from newspapers or magazines
Bits of overheard conversations (have you ever really paid attention to how people express themselves? Isn't it amazing?)
Notes from research you've done
First drafts of poems, stories
The journal is your source for ideas-for all those times when you want to write, but your mind seems blank. And if you carry it with you always, you'll never have that annoying problem of coming up with a great idea when you're away from your desk, then forgetting it by the time you're back home.
Carrying a journal around isn't enough, of course. There is a discipline to writing, too. As with anything else, to get better at writing, you need to practice. So, we writers must make writing a habit, as much a part of daily life as eating. Of course, most people have other things to do-jobs, school, family-that make it impossible to write full time. But set aside a time each day when you will write. It doesn't have to be a long period of time-maybe just an hour or 45 minutes. Just so it's regular.
And set a goal for yourself. Word-counting is a good way to make sure that you accomplish a certain amount of writing, instead of just sitting and staring. For example, if you write 250 words a day, that's equivalent to one typewritten, double-spaced, 8x10 page. Do that every day of the year, and you have 365 pages: the size of a pretty large novel!
Unfortunately, not all of those pages will be gold. You will have bad writing days, just like bad hair days; they're unavoidable. But accept this and go on. Don't give up, because if you do, you'll miss out on those wonderful days when you are brilliant!
Finally, of course, you won't always be brilliant the first time. You'll need to do some revising. We'll talk more about problems to look for and how to revise in other lessons. Do consider, though, showing your writing to other people. It's scary at first, but it really gives you valuable feedback. Consider joining or forming a writing group: we'll talk more about this in other lessons, too.