Some of you who know me, know that in addition to my own writing, I also work with a group of middle school kids after school to teach them creative writing. That’s a sort of inside joke because most of the time, they are teaching me more than I teach them. Below are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from my wonderful, creative, and overly energetic writers:
Don’t let the hard parts stop you. There’s a way around, through, over, and past whatever roadblocks you find in your writing. Our job as writers is simply to find those holes and drive through them! One of our exercises is to write on a prompt for five minutes then pass it along to the next person until everyone has added their bit to the initial line. It really teaches you to write neatly but is also really helpful in kick-starting your creativity when you’re faced with characters in a crazy situation you would never have envisioned if you were writing the whole story. It’s good for jarring us out of our every day ruts and generating a new outlook. And you never know where your piece in the story will end up once the last person adds their portion.
The tools you need are there – your job is to find them and put them to use! Last year, I was writing about a murder in a garden. I knew it was a spur-of-the-moment crime but I was stuck on just how to kill the bad guy. I decided to ask the group and I was quickly surprised at the number of ideas they had for me, including the one I eventually used, which was to simply bash the bad guy over the head with a rake. Obvious in hindsight, but I was so busy thinking beyond the murder to the next scene that I’d gotten stuck. So, don’t overlook the tools at hand – literally.
The most important lesson I’ve learned is this: it’s your story, you’re in charge and don’t forget it! One of my writers has a persistent universe she nearly always uses. No matter what we’re writing, Pearl goes back to her tried and true world with her well-known and trusted characters. The other kids try to cajole her into using other characters or to write about another place, but she always resists. The best characteristic of Pearl’s universe is that nearly anything can happen and be perfectly logical. I try to remember that in my own writing. This is MY universe, even if it looks like the one we all exist in. I can make anything I want happen and I have the ability to explain it away as logical and ordinary. Why worry about what is really real? Pearl and I know that in our worlds, things are different but that’s OK. It works.
Even if you don’t have your own middle school group to amuse you, educate you and keep your writing flexible, you can adopt the same mindset. They all know that the rules of writing are helpful and we should all know them, but sometimes, even if it’s just for fun, see what happens if you bend or even break those rules. You and your story might just take on a whole new dimension. You may not stick with the new broken-rule version, but it can be terribly freeing to imagine a sparkling new take on your WIP. Give it a try, Pearl and I recommend it!
Originally written as a guest blogger post for Christine Fonseca’s blog: An Intense Life http://christinefonseca.wordpress.com/, published June 30, 2010.