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Creative Writing Tips and Tricks

Month

August 2016

Take the Memoir Challenge

My eyes were always larger than my hands. Big, bright eyes that swallowed the world and spit it out between four wobbly baby teeth: transformed. The large Floridian palm trees were my friends, the tennis court behind our small apartment was my playground, the hedge embedded between the pores of backyard dirt was my wall to scale.

I saw the world with radiating irises, with pulsing lenses of naïvety. Using small, nimble fingers, I carved my name to my tree and sculpted the bark to advertise that I’d been there. That I’d been alive. My tree– whom, being a child, I had called some frivolous name– rested beside my sister’s in a field of manicured grass. And, throughout the years, the dense hedge beyond our trees continued to separate our world between what was known and what was unknown.

We wanted the unknown.

ornament-950562_1280.jpg

I’ve been staring at this introduction to my memoir for hours now. I know what I want to write, what I want to say, why I want to say it. But I’ve no idea how. I want my tale to be one of innocence, imagination, and uniqueness. But, as I’ve realized now, I’ve no idea how to go about it.

I’m learning that the process of writing a personal narrative or memoir is much more difficult than writing a story within a fictional world. At least you can control the characters and environment in a fictional setting. You can change details, rearrange events, exaggerate character traits, delete others. However, in a memoir, things simply… are. It is harder to state the facts. It is harder to record our past, because it cannot be changed. And, quite frankly, I believe that we are terrified to relive it.

Despite the subconscious fear writers have of regurgitating their lives on paper, it is important to remember that writing about your experiences is essential. This is true for many reasons. Your words may inspire many others to turn their lives around for the better; you will feel as if a large boulder has been heaved off your chest when you are finished; you will breathe life into your most departed memories; and, most importantly, you owe the world your voice. Every writer has a small yet powerful voice writhing inside their minds that needs to be transcribed. That is, of course, my opinion, but I believe that lives deserve to be recorded. It is sort of a way to express your gratitude to the universe as a storyteller, a poet, a human being. You are given an incredible gift. It is of utmost importance that you use it.

Currently, I am trying to look at writing my memoir as a trial that can be overcome. And so, with this idea, I came up with the notion to offer you an enticing new writing challenge: write your own memoir. Pen your story to paper and share it. Be bold, be brave, and be beautiful; release your thoughts, your feelings, and your countless memories onto paper.

Can you beat the challenge? There’s only one way to find out! I encourage you to comment with a possible introduction to your own memoir below; I’d love for everyone to share ideas and to help cultivate the best writing experience.

Good luck, and happy writing!

The MuseHunt

Inspiration is a fleeting thing. A passing entity, a ghost at large. Once it passes through your mind, you must reach out and grab it instantly. Otherwise, it may be lost forever.

This inspiration is often-times referred to as a Muse, a spirit that enters your creative thought process and guides your writing to its utmost success. Some people find that a Muse is easier to capture than other people; after all, some lucky writers are just natural Muse hunters. However, like myself, most are not. If you’re like me and happen to find inspiration once in a blue moon, there’s no reason to fret; below is the broken-down version of the Muse-hunting process for you to refer to as you trek farther into your writing adventure.

Step 1: The Ideal Location 

If you are planning on capturing your Muse, you must first lure it to an ideal location. Create an environment for yourself that will seem both inviting and peaceful. Areas of nature are typical places where Muses have most often been spotted; travel to a beach, get your toes in the sand; rest for an afternoon by an open lake; wake up early and gaze at a newborn sunrise. I can guarantee that, if you surround yourself with nature and its art, your Muse will most likely surround you as well.

Step 2: Communication

Muses do not like to be ignored. Once you have secured the best environment for your Muse, coax it closer to you by asking it to help you. You have to want this Muse to guide you through your next project, and, therefore, you have to convince it. Look inside yourself, through your heartbeats, through your breaths; recognize what you want, and how you want your inspiration to mold your creation. Do you want your Muse to guide you through a dense jungle of writer’s block? Are you wishing for a new map to outline your next story? Allow yourself to understand what you need, and, soon enough, your Muse will understand too.

Step 3: The Snare

Now comes the most difficult step in hunting down your Muse: you must open your mind and heart completely. Lay your emotions bare, raw, and unchanging. Invite the Muse in with genuine emotions and passion; Muses cannot resist the aura of unfettered feelings. Although this step may be painful and reopen old wounds, it is especially crucial to the process of trapping a Muse. Sacrifices must be made.

Step 4: The Capture

Once you feel the tail of that Muse slither into your mind, snap it shut. Trap it inside and don’t let it go. Run to the nearest paper and pen, keyboard and mouse. Jot down all of your ideas, your thoughts, your feelings. Don’t worry about grammatical errors, spellcheck, or logic. At this point in the process, the key to using your Muse to your advantage is speed. You need to make the most of the moments your Muse allots to you, and make them count.

Step 5: The Release

Once you feel satisfied that your Muse has given you what you’ve needed, murmur a quiet thank you and open your mind once again. Breathe a sigh of relief as you release it into the world so it can find a new writer to inspire.

Happy hunting!

Write For Charity and Inspire

For a long time now, I’ve thought about the reasons behind why I write. A few weeks ago I confronted myself and asked why, exactly, I write poetry; when I discovered that I use writing as a tool so “I can feel better,” I realized I needed to do more. To give more than just myself. To avoid selfishness and do something… impactful.

Many times you may run out of reasons to write. There’s no longer a cause, a bigger idea of why you do what you do. Your writing loses its passion, its pulsing energy because of it.

I did not want to lose the passion that I so valued in my writing. So I evaluated my limits as a minor and as a student, and came up with an idea that is both feasible and plausible in my situation. (When you try yourself to write for a cause or charity, be sure to do this as well; avoid allowing your eyes to grow bigger than your hands.)

Today, I am in the process of starting a writing club which will help support a local organization for the blind. These people meet once a week every month through a social and interactive luncheon where the administrators invite guest speakers and encourage activities. I contacted the socials coordinator of this organization (Lighthouse for the Blind), and she was welcome to the idea of the club getting involved. To my excitement, she invited the club to this venue once a month, and mentioned that the members of the club could read their own pieces to the visually impaired in her program. This made me so happy, and I am trying my best to plan for this. It is supposed to happen in either October or November; I am very eager.

In the future, I want to reverse the roles in the meeting and host workshops so that the blind can write their own poetry and short stories, which they can then share with the club members. This would enrich us as high school students and as humans as a whole; I received the idea from my former English teacher, who sent me a link to a website showcasing visually impaired people’s creative writing. You can read their stunning, beautiful work here. Reading through it solidified the club as something I wish to pursue.

I highly encourage writers everywhere to write for a bigger cause than themselves. Use your talent in a way that inspires others; write songs, write speeches, write stories that touch the hearts of those who have shut them out for so long. Write for a plight that words can amend. I recommend looking for organizations like those for the blind that are searching for creative minds to make a difference.

Comment below if you have any ideas on what charity to write for, or if you have suggestions on volunteer work as creative individuals. Change the reasons why you write. Be the reason why others do.

The Thesaurus: A Writer’s Best Friend

I have a confession to make. I frequently get lost in the abysmal black void that is Thesaurus.com. See, I don’t necessarily mean to do this. I may look up a word for options to substitute it; I look for synonyms; I click on those synonyms; I click on the synonyms of those synonyms; I click on the synonyms of those synonyms of those synonyms. In all honesty, I am entranced by the amount of replacement words one can find on a simple search engine. It’s quite a transfixion.

Whether I may have a strange addiction or not, getting lost in synonyms isn’t exactly a bad thing. After all, one of the best ways to improve a piece of writing is to substitute “throw-away” words for “trophy” words. These are the words that you are proud to showcase in your writing, words that give your piece the extra shine it needs to succeed. Thesauruses and related programs offer you that opportunity. For instance, if you read a sentence you’ve written and are not satisfied with its content, pinpoint specific words that are dulling your sentence. Many times, flavorless verbs or adjectives are the culprits shadowing your piece; it helps to always be conscious of those types of words (they end up being the meat of your sentence). Replace the dull words with vibrant, golden ones that give your work a certain sense of literary luminescence.

Always be conscious that your words have a powerful effect on your reader; connotation means everything. Therefore, when you do use the thesaurus for word substitutions, be aware of two things: one, that the synonym you choose makes logical sense, and two, that the word consists of a connotation that agrees with what you are trying to achieve. For example,  say you are writing a narrative and you write the following sentence: “She seemed sad, her chin resting upon her knuckles.” However, you are not satisfied with the way this sentence feels; you feel as if you need to thicken the character’s emotional state a bit more. You try it a second time: “She seemed miserable, her chin resting upon her knuckles.” Both sad and miserable are similar words but possess distinct connotations, with “miserable” showcasing a stronger connotation in the reader’s mind.

As one of my last pieces of advice, don’t be afraid to use various sources to hunt for the best synonyms. If you are not satisfied with the results you uncover, scavenge the Internet to find more. Use websites like Thesaurus.com, Merriam-Webster.com, or a simple Google search to find that perfect trophy word for your piece.

Yes, a dog may be a man’s best friend. But a thesaurus is a writer’s lifelong companion. Leave a comment below about your experiences with thesauruses, your preferences, or whether or not you find that they are helpful. If you have not used a thesaurus yet while writing, or feel as if you do not not use it enough, give it a shot. You’ve nothing to lose, squander, ruin, or waste.

Oh dear.

Image courtesy of Janet Rudolph.

Formatting Your Writing: A Matter of Life or Death

You can claim to live by the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” However, everyone does, whether they wish to believe it or not. I learned this as I sat in a Writing for New Media class, learning about the mechanics behind blogging and writing on the web. Our professor said, “Don’t clunk up the page with words. People will skip over it and get bored quickly. Fill it up with images and shorter paragraphs instead.”

I raised my eyebrows, clearly skeptical about the idea that the way a page looks could be more important than its actual content. I couldn’t help but think, “Aren’t words the point of writing blogs? Aren’t they what matter?”

Apparently, I had a lot to learn.

I already knew that formatting a poem meant everything. Each line break, stanza, and word choice contributes to the professionalism, flow, and eventual success of a poem. The look of your poetry defines you as a poet; e.e cummings’ work is just an example. Even if you primarily write fiction, the look of your prose defines you as well. Do you tend to write large, chunky paragraphs? Or do the majority of your paragraphs consist of one or two sentences? Readers subconsciously take notice of these details; it can either entice them or drive them away.

Writing that looks shorter and easier to read has become more and more visually appealing over the years. I did not think that this could apply to types of writing other than poetry, but I’ve learned that the format of any category of writing can mean the life or death of your piece. It can allure hundreds of readers or only a handful. It can attract readers or repel them. It can breathe life into your piece or kill it. A consumer flipping through a literary magazine will skim through the pages and most likely read the pieces that visually attract them: short poems boasting a surplus of line breaks, short stories possessing two-page dialogue. This is the sad truth to the person who worked painstakingly on their seven-page narrative, but it is the truth nonetheless.

If you explore the contents of a handful of YA books, you might notice that a lot of them are formatted with shorter paragraphs and larger font sizes. These traits never particularly attracted me, but they have been getting increasingly popular in bookstores. Literature has evolved in such a way that a book’s insides, no longer just its cover, decide whether it is successful or not. Little things such as fonts, font sizes, paragraph breaks, and amount of dialogue no longer act as small aspects of your book. They now mean everything. Especially in the world of online writing, this is true. Someone scrolling through a digital newspaper will not wish to read the entire article. Instead, they will look at the images placed there, the videos, the graphics, the bullet points.

Today, writing seems to be following along the lines of “saying more in fewer words.” The idea of conciseness has entered new levels, and it can be seen in both positive and negative lights. On one hand, the concept could encourage writers to pump their sentences with concise, skillful imagery that does its job well, thereby eliminating unnecessary fluff. After all, a minimalistic approach is rarely a bad one. On the other hand, long, thought-out pieces of writing are discarded more often than not, and great pieces of work are looked over without a second thought. Is the evolution of formatting worth the consequence?

Leave a comment below with your thoughts on this subject. It is an interesting issue to ponder; the format of your writing is slowly becoming more and more significant, acting as the thin boundary between the failure and success of your piece. Keep this in mind as you move on to your next project.

 

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