Below are guidelines I’ve formed from my own writing experiences. They are attitudes and processes that seem to help when I remind myself of them as I write. I can’t promise that these will make sense to every prospective writer—original thinkers and artists must, by definition, form themselves—but these ideas below are offered to help you get started on your own self-creation. I will share these with my creative writing students in the coming weeks.
Freewrite. Put down what comes to mind. Transcribe your inner voice. Interrupt yourself—that’s OK. Let out what’s in. Everything you write is something you produced, so
Accept it all. It took me years to stop seeing my youthful work as bad. All moments are equal; none are privileged. Keep it all as it comes to you—trust that there’s a reason each idea comes to you when it does, even if you don’t know that reason. Write in private so you can later decide what writings to make public.
Follow your feelings in freewriting, in choosing words, projects, etc. For years, I thought that I should write novels but doing that never felt like it had authentic energy for me. What I should be doing—what kind of writing is the most-fitting for me to do—will not feel like work.
Keep the faith. Being creative means making something you’ve never made before, and you don’t know if you can do that! You won’t know where you’re headed and you won’t fully understand what you’ve done.
If you want to make something that’s like something that already exists, OK—just follow the pattern. Buy a book on how to do that. But pattern-following is not what I want to teach you.
We’re trying to make texts that are new. If something is new, it can’t be compared to any existing standard or judgment criteria. We’re giving ideas to the world—we writers are helping others to see the world, life, reality, experiences in new ways. That is priceless.
You will change your sensibility, your mind, over time. That’s OK. Write anew today, as the person you are today. Some aspects of your writings made earlier will be similar to what you write now. Some aspects will be different.
The real value of, and the real message of, any text is what’s between the lines— what’s implied, what’s hinted at. If you write honestly and openly, you will say things you didn’t expect to say. You will learn from you—your best teacher!
If you are writing as yourself, you will also sometimes write things you’ve read and heard elsewhere—that’s OK. Our minds learn from the world. Consider these things to be allusions or cliches, and move on with your writing (readers will be able to relate to you through these things). But if you are trying to write like someone else, you’re not being original—you’re denying yourself. You’re insulting who you are now. Instead, accept everything your mind gives you. (This may also make you a better person, more willing to accept other people as they are. If we were all perfect, we’d be boring. Being perfect isn’t interesting. Be willing to show yourself as imperfect—be interesting.)
All writing is about someone’s conscious experience, yours or others’. The physical world is the physical world—it’s not up to us. How we think about/conceive of parts of the physical world, that IS up to us. Any object, in an emergency, can be a weapon. All ideas are partial and arbitrary.
Love what you have created. It represents you—it’s your chance to influence the world. But your writings are separate from you. You are undefined, your mind is infinite and open.
Every moment is new. Creativity happens here and now—not in the past where Famous Artists created, and not in the future when you’re older or wiser or richer or smarter, etc. Art happens now.
You don’t have to make things that look like other things that already exist. You make your things, and all they have to do is exist! Others may not like or understand your art. That’s OK. Make things that you enjoy making. Since nobody knows where they’re headed, you might as well enjoy the process of getting there! Do what feels right—what engages your mind and afterwords feels satisfying.
There’s no perfect poem, story, nonfiction, or any other text. What gets praised and popular is all too often art that is pandering.
Final concept: Everything on the list above is a limited-at-best description of certain ideas, moods, and experiences I’ve had. I can’t communicate to you what it’s like for you to make art. You have to teach yourself. Learn by trying and seeing what feels best and what you like.
(P.S. Here’s an earlier such list.)