Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Pull of Writing On- and Offline

Considering that children and adults from age 4 to 90 have access to smart phones and interactive computer pads that encourage quick and easy creative expression, does this ease motivate former non-writing writers to write again?

I come by this question naturally, because my teenage son who says he hates to write is writing a 1.500 page book spurred by Google documents and the worlds created in the visual games he plays. From what I understand, because he won't let me read it, he describes actions and his characters vividly. He's also gathering readers.

He also tells me that he will finish this first "book" before I stop rewriting and editing my first science fiction novel. As a direct challenge, it is more than welcome. Although publishing is not the only reason to write, writing teachers (they can also be reading ones) have recognized the opportunities for students of all ages to publish online or in local papers or magazines. The National Writing Project at provides a thorough overview of this issue, although it also touts its writing programs and consulting service. 
Unfortunately, in many schools throughout the U.S., the emphasis is on reading and math, not the writing that would help both learning areas. Less than a quarter of  American 12th graders were proficient in  written expression in two studies, in 2002 and 2007, sponsored by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The remedies, culled from years of studies, include:   students analyzing models of good writing; explicitly teaching students strategies on how to plan, revise and edit their work; students collaboratively using these writing strategies; and students receiving specific goals for each writing project. This study can be found at

In terms of inspiration, this knowledge is useless, at least to me. I have seen young students who write outside such boxes get discouraged because teachers cannot differentiate. On the other hand, all of us could use the basic tools this study describes to frame our forays outside these far too restrictive walls.

Also, for those of us who write because it is a creative expression of our inner imaginings, it may still be necessary to create more standard pieces to survive and to grow. That is where all these studies come in. Doesn't it make you feel good to know that you may be in the quarter of those students who can write, or that despite not being in that quarter of students thought of as good writers, that you still write, and write well?

In other words, at some point you became a writer despite all odds against, or for you. Celebrate that knowledge.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bad Influences

I'm taking a class on interpersonal business practices that emphasizes the point that this blog is attempting to debunk: The only way to lead or follow is to conform. We are supposed to mirror, smile when we don't mean it, be false to ourselves and others just to fit in and accept that without doing all these things, we will never make good corporate cogs.

Does this sound familiar? Consider the day to day bad influences in writing. Few, if any of us, have been encouraged to write without both the text and our ability to write being judged, graded or critiqued in some way.  That means that most writing these days does not come from a genuine desire to communicate. We write to earn money or a grade, to prove something to ourselves or others, to convince or cajole and because we are told over and over that all writing is formulaic.

If you are lucky, as a child you were allowed to read every book you could understand and get your hands on. You read for pleasure, because the illustrations and the words' rhythms made you smile or laugh. We could get lost in that flow for hours.

Then as we grew, others decided what we should read and what shape our writing would take. For many of us, our only writing outside school was in diaries or journals. We started judging our own writing abilities based on whether the teacher put a star on a poem or shared a short story with the class.

In the next blog post, I will go into how high school English has always been about reading and comprehension. Although there is a push to change this.

For today, though, look around at the influences you embrace because they are familiar and make you feel like a writer when you follow the prescriptions closely. Think about one piece of advice that doesn't work for you, but has become a habit, such as outlining. Then consider how you can change that habit to help you write without caring about how it ends; to concentrate instead on how writing makes you feel at this moment.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

It Doesn't Take a Floodlight

Imagine lighting one small birthday candle to ferret out the fears you don't even know exist, except as a constant exception to your own rules of creativity. That small flicker is how many of us perceive the ability to look into the corners of this attic we call a brain and confront the writing terrors that hold us back. These may include:

1. Too little attention.
2. Too much attention.
3. Not creative enough.
4. Too creative for anyone else to understand.
5. Rejection based on valid concerns.
6. Rejection based on invalid concerns.

You get the idea...sometimes a writer is so busy fearing all the possible outcomes that she or he can miss an opportunity to write without caring about the end product.

Instead, take a few minutes to write out those fears, along with the most far-fetched ways you would handle  a rejection, too little or too much attention or being misunderstood. Outside school and work, our writing efforts don't get graded except by our harshest critic -- ourselves. (Granted, some people can't or don't do this to anything they create.)

No writer can control how a book will be received, despite all the advice on how to critic-proof a query letter and sample. You just have to trust that after all the time spent writing and rewriting, you have done your very best and let that baby go. Move on to the sequel, or a different genre, if you feel the spirit. After all, fear is what you make of it in terms of horror.

(I'm going to go off rail for a minute, but still talk about a fear that legitimately stalls many freelance writers. In November, I will no longer have health insurance and had to look for an alternative that makes sense economically and mental health-wise. My solution is to return to the university and put into an education what I am now paying each month for COBRA insurance.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Creatively Numb?

How long has it been since you gave in to your "calling" as a writer? Do you have to sneak up on it? Does it take meditation or medication to get you started?

If we constantly deny or avoid the creative urge, this power to make and break worlds can seep out through the cracks in our dreams and a constant feeling that we have left someone or something behind. (And you thought it was pure paranoia?)

First, a 2011 study at Cornell University found that wildly creative ideas often meet with resistance due to the fear of change, along with an inability of many humans to easily adapt to new situations. In a news release at, the authors of dual studies conducted at the University of Pennsylvania reported that common reactions to creative ideas include resistance and prejudice against all the details. Four findings of the studies were that:
  • The novelty of creative ideas can lead to uncertainty that makes many people uncomfortable.
  • Tried and true ideas, considered practical, win over creative ideas.
  • Facts or objective evidence in favor of a creative proposal do not lead to acceptance.
  • The subtly of this anti-creativity bias works against a person even recognizing that a creative idea is valid. 
Take a few minutes now to look at how you react to creative ideas at work, home or at school. Think about how many times you might have thought to yourself or told someone else,"That's not possible." If it is within the last month or week, it's time to push back against any fear of the unknown to find the breakthroughs that get you beyond "creatively numb" to creatively active.

The fear factor involved in creativity has been studied from both sides: catalyst and roadblock. The next post will address how to harness common inner fears as a catalyst to kick-starting your writing creativity.