How to Write Creatively

Eight of the journals I bound over the recently concluded winter break.

After nearly 30 years of doing creative writing and over 15 years of teaching it, what I can profess are the following guidelines, which I still think about sometimes as I freewrite:

How to Write Creatively: Keep your pen moving across the page as you

1. Let go of ideas you already have. Ideas are arbitrary — there are at least 13 ways of looking at a blackbird. Making art is playing with ideas. You are not your ideas. Nobody knows what things really are. Question expectations. Release ideas you’ve heard from others or had yourself. Steer from others’ paths, others’ models. If you think you know what you’re making, change what you’re doing. If you’re not surprising yourself as you write, your readers won’t be surprised, either. There’s no wrong way, and other writers are your peers, not your idols.

2. Follow new ideas arising by your inner voiceKey to creativity — we’re NOT in control. We DON’T know where ideas come from — but we can just let them show up! Keep writing til the new ideas come. Write at the edge of thought — follow feelings and whims, get it all on paper, edit later. Ride your mind. Overdrive your headlights. Let the dog of your consciousness lead you astray. Write like you talk. Let your inner voice lead. The E.M. Forster quote: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” If you have something to say,  just say it, and move on — the point is to find an idea you’d never thought before. Learn from yourself by writing to the edge of your thinking. You’re smarter than you consciously know.

The point of writing is to write, to enjoy the act of writing — find what’s fun for you to write. Writing doesn’t have to be about the tedious process of scraping words together to meet an assignment. The resulting text isn’t really the point. And yet, if you’d like to share some of your freewritings with others, you may want to 

Edit by Discovering:

Get time away from texts so you can see what’s there on the page and forget what you were trying to do — that’s how others will see your texts. Pick out your favorite parts, like taking a bunch of photos and choosing the ones that turned out the best. (There’s a W.D. Snodgrass essay in American Poetry Review a few years ago where he describes this as panning for gold.) There are many ways to tell a story — there is no perfect way to tell a story. Accept what you do, what you did, and move on. Your writings are not you — they are separate from you. Your consciousness makes the art but doesn’t appear with the art. Your art will be rooted in you being you. No one’s ever had your mind, your sensibility (as shaped by your experience, your influences, feelings) before. When you write through a persona, you’re not being original — the only way to be original is to be unselfconsciously, intimately yourself.

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