Let Me Tell You About The Creative Writing Gene

Today’s guest post is by author Marianne Wheelaghan, co-founder of the online creative writing school, Writing Classes. She is an informative and supportive voice in the online writing community and I have enjoyed getting to know her over the past few months. I highly recommend her writing blog and her twitter feeds are full of good writing tips.

For the first half of my working life I was a croupier, a Brussels sprouts picker and a marketing manager for a company that sold warm air hand driers and soap dispensers, but most of the time I was an English teacher. Then someone I knew died in a terrible accident. I wanted to write a story about what had happened but I didn’t know how to. Being a big believer in education, I enrolled in a creative writing night class. But when I finished the course I still didn’t know how best to write my story. I asked my tutor for advice. She muttered something about “creativity not being something you can teach.”

I tried another class. Again I struggled to write my story. I asked my new tutor why writing was so difficult?  She smiled kindly and said  “not everyone has a creative writing gene, my dear.”  I was astounded. Could there really be a creative writing gene, and I didn’t have it? I wanted to give up but the stubborn side of me refused.  I carried on writing alone. At some point I saw an advert to do a Masters degree in Creative Writing at Lancaster University. I applied and my portfolio was  accepted. I wrote and studied and learned and was encouraged to take risks. My writing flourished and I learned five very valuable things about writing:

1. There is no creative writing gene. Being successful in creative writing is more to do with an attitude than an attribute: we have to work hard, yep, it’s that thing about 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration; we must not be afraid to take risks and we must have something to say – even if, like Flannery O’Connor, we don’t necessarily know what that is at first.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Flannery O’Connor

2. While “being creative” is something that cannot be taught, it is something that can be encouraged and nurtured and coaxed – and as the wonderful Maya Angelou said,

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

3. A story does not arrive fully formed, like he Goddess of Athena popping out of her father Zeus’s head. A story is created by working out the different ways of telling it by rewriting and cutting and rewriting again – it is often only through the rewriting that we discover what it is we want to say and how we want say it.

4. There are writing techniques you can learn which can help you develop your writing skills.

5. All writers – beginners and experienced writers alike – are nervous about facing the blank page, but for some of us there is nothing more rewarding than creating our very own story from nothing.

When I finished my degree I was determined to share what I knew with others – setting out on the rocky road to becoming a writer requires a big leap of faith, but there are techniques and skills we can learn to help it make it less scary.  I wrote a course for beginners – the kind of course I would have liked to have been able to take. It included lots of advice on writing techniques and lots of writing opportunities for beginners to take risks and make mistakes and learn by them.

Next I sought out some tech support because my new course was going to be all online. I’d studied for my masters degree online. It had meant I could join in from the comfort of my home, at a time that was convenient to me, which was usually late at night after I’d finished work and my children were in bed. There was no time wasted getting to and from classes. No worrying about talking in front of others. No having to get baby sitters. No being late or early or missing classes because the virtual classroom is always open. It was a magical world within a world. I wanted to recreate this world for the beginner writer.

After much research my techy helper found a reliable, affordable, easy-to-use conference programme. I was ready. Armed with a five year business plan and a lot of brass neck, I approached various bodies for funding. And I got some! Writingclasses.co.uk was born. I now have six wonderful, encouraging tutors and offer six courses – including one for experienced writers wanting to finish that novel, and a poetry and magazine article writing course. We have thousands of students pass through our virtual doors and they are all too distracted developing their writing skills, and working around the different ways of telling their story, to worry about whether they have a creative writing gene or not.

‘It may not look like pleasure, because the difficulties can make me morose and distracted, but that’s what it is – the pleasure of telling the story I mean to tell as wholly as I can tell it, of finding out in fact what the story is, by working around the different ways of telling it.’ Alice Munro.

marianne1Marianne left Edinburgh, her home town, when she was 17 and returned after 30 years when she founded the online writing school, www.writingclasses.co.uk. Her first novel, The Blue Suitcase, is based on her mother’s life and tells the disturbing story of a Christian girl growing up in Nazi Germany. Food of Ghosts is her debut crime thriller and features Scottish detective Louisa Townsend – feisty, fearless, vulnerable and on Tarawa, a remote coral atoll, where she has a week to find a serial killer. She is presently working on a sequel to The Blue Suitcase and a second DS Louisa Townsend novel.

You can find her on twitter @MWheelaghan and @sol0vewriting and at http://www.mariannewheelaghan.co.uk

Her books are also available on Amazon.

 

9 Books on Reading and Writing

 

Taken from Brain Pickings (via kobo writing life) which is a really good website on what’s out there in relation to creativity, thinking, culture and art. These books are highly recommended. I have read most of them and would especially recommend Elements of Style and On Writing.

 01 elements of style 1The Elements of Style Illustrated –  marries Maira Kalman’s signature whimsy with Strunk and White’s indispensable style guide to create an instant classic.

 

 02 bird by bird 2Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott – the 1994 classic is as much a practical guide to the writer’s life as it is a profound wisdom-trove on the life of the heart and mind.

 

 03 on writing 3On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King – part master-blueprint, part memoir, part meditation on the writer’s life.

 

  04 zen in the art 4Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You, Ray Bradbury  –  Bradbury shares not only his wisdom and experience in writing, but also his contagious excitement for the craft.

 

 05 war of art 5The War of Art: Break Through the Block and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield  — a personal defense system of sorts against our greatest forms of resistance. “Resistance” with a capital R, that is.

 

 06 advice to writers 6Advice to Writers, Jon Winokur – From how to find a good agent to what makes characters compelling, it spans the entire spectrum from the aspirational to the utilitarian.

 

 07 how to write a sentence 7How to Write a Sentence, And How to Read One, Stanley Fish – an insightful, rigorous manual on the art of language that may just be one of the best such tools sinceThe Elements of Style.

 

 08 hemingway on writing 8Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Larry W. Phillips – a collection of  the finest, wittiest, most profound of Hemingway’s reflections on writing, the nature of the writer, and the elements of the writer’s life.

 

 09 how to read a book 9How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler & Charles van Doren – from  basic reading to systematic skimming and inspectional reading to speed reading, the how-to’s apply as efficiently to practical textbooks and science books as they do to poetry and fiction.

 

Why You Should Try Writing in Second Person

First person and third person—you’ve been there, done that. But what about writing in second person? It may seem strange, unconventional, or confining, but playing with point of view is one way to transform a story.

Point of view affects a story in that it allows readers to gain a very specific perspective. The second person is no different. Here are three reasons why you should try writing in second person:

Photo by Rick Seidel

Photo by Rick Seidel

You, Your, and Yours

1. Second person pulls the reader into the action.

Especially if you write in the present tense, second person allows the reader to experience the story as if it’s their own. To avoid a “choose your own adventure” feel or an aggressive tone, mix up sentence structure and add in description and dialogue. Using the pronoun “you” and describing action as it happens supplies a personal sense of urgency, propelling the story—and the reader—forward.

Example: You’re late. Heart pounding, you race up the stairs as the train enters the station. You weave around the slow-moving people milling on the platform and dash towards the train, throwing your body through the doorway with only a moment to spare.

2. Second person gets personal.

One way to experiment with second person is to write as if the story is a letter from the narrator to “you,” reflecting on past events and current feelings, asking questions. (It doesn’t have to be in an actual letter form; the idea of a letter is simply a way to describe the intimate tone.) This technique isn’t necessarily “pure” second person, as it pairs “you” with the narrator’s first-person point of view, but it allows you to dip a toe in the second-person perspective. At the same time, it gives readers a peek into a relationship, a memory, and a character’s emotions.

Example: You told me to meet you at the bar. Things hadn’t been going well, but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was wrong. Did you plan on breaking my heart that night? We locked eyes as I walked through the entrance, and I knew things were coming to an end.

3. Second person stretches your skills and surprises readers.

Because it’s not often used, the second person point of view feels fresh to readers. And for writers, it means a new way of telling a story, a different way of revealing character. In this way, it offers a new perspective for writers and readers alike.

(Reblogged from The Write Practice)