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Hello everyone, welcome to the first session of our free online creative writing course. Over the next eight sessions we will be looking at different aspects of creative writing and trying our hand at various forms. I’d strongly encourage you to have a go at the exercises along the way, and please feel free to leave comments or ask questions at the end. If you have arrived on this page without first reading the home page and frequently asked questions page (on tab above) please go back and do so now. If you have read them, enjoy the course!
Creativity and Art
What is creativity? The Collins dictionary defines it as ‘the ability to cause something to exist’. Without getting into too much of an existential discussion, I would say that with every thought that is expressed, something has been created. It was Descartes who said: ‘I think, therefore I am’; well I would add, ‘I think, therefore I create’ (do you feel a God complex coming on?). But how do we express our thoughts? Sometimes we do it verbally, other times by body language and still again through what is loosely termed ‘art’.
Art takes place when a thought is expressed and fixed in a way that other people may experience it on an aesthetic level – through music, writing, painting, sculpture, choreography and so on. Many artists say that their best work takes place when they ‘by-pass’ the thought and simply express the feeling. This may be true, but for writers, who use a verbal medium, a feeling must first be converted into a thought before it can be put into words. Don’t over analyse the thought before you express it, as this way you can ‘channel’ the purest interpretation of the feeling, but some cognitive process needs to take place. Some writers prefer to mull over a thought and give it form before they put pen to paper – I’m one of them – but it’s good practice to try and switch off the ‘editor’ at least for the first draft. First response trigger exercises are useful in this regard and can release some unexpected words and images.
Write down your first response to these words or phrases:
- Blue ball
- And that’s when the sadness came
The first task of a good writer is to convert feelings into thoughts and then into words. This is the raw material that can then be converted into something more permanent. Some writers refuse to toy with their first drafts, believing their creativity will be diluted; I disagree. Allowing your critical mind to improve a piece of writing is where the craftsman meets the artist. Something produced only by the former will lack soul and something by the latter will lack form. Good writing is a combination of art and craft.
For public consumption
Art, of course, is highly subjective and one woman’s masterpiece is another woman’s unmade bed. We all have the ability to create, but whether or not our creation is ‘art’ must be left to the eye or ear of the beholder.
In this session we will look at how you can craft those creative thoughts into creative writing to share with other people. And that’s what sets ‘public’ writing apart from ‘private’ scribblings – there’s a perceived readership in mind. When I ramble on in my journal, I am the only one who will read it (hopefully!) so my only concern is getting my thoughts down on paper. The moment I want someone else to read it I begin to consider ways to improve the presentation and craft it into something more aesthetically pleasing. I consider which words may sound more colourful, whether or not my sentence structure is grammatically correct, whether I’m using evocative imagery, and so on.
Story, feeling or image?
What is it about those creative thoughts that you think might be of interest to other people? Do they speak of an eternal truth or a common experience? Do they make you laugh or cry? Do they suggest a story that will entertain or a poem that captures a moment that must be shared?
Exercise 2: In 50 words or less write down why you want to write then list three creative thoughts that you’ve had lately (each 10 words or less). These may be an image, a musing, a ‘truth’, a story, or so on. If you haven’t had any, take yourself for a walk and look around; what grabs your imagination? Browse through a newspaper or a magazine; do any stories or pictures catch your attention? Think back over your day; did anything funny, charming, shocking or unusual happen to you or someone you know?
Poetry or prose?
Some people are more suited to writing poetry than prose and some people do well at both. Although we won’t be discussing it in this course, other people are more suited to script. I’m one of them. I’ve had relative success as a prose writer and in fact have managed to earn a living from it, but it’s taken years of hard work to get to this point. I recently branched out into scriptwriting and found that I had much more of a natural ability. (If you’re interested in finding out more about scriptwriting, check out getting started in playwrighting). You may find that you’ve been trying to make it as a poet when actually you’re more suited to prose. Now I don’t want to pigeonhole anyone, but ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you more attracted to films than stills?
- Do you enjoy telling people ‘stories’ from your life?
- Do you prefer to read stories or poems?
If yes, to these, then you may be more suited to prose than poetry. If no, then the opposite may be true. If it’s ‘sometimes yes, sometimes no’ then perhaps you are suited to both. We shall be looking at how to write poems in more detail in session 7, but suffice to say, a poem is like a snapshot of a moment. If you can’t rest until you know what happened before and after, then prose may be your genre.
Exercise 3: Take one of the three creative thoughts you wrote down in Exercise 2, then list 20 separate words that communicate or describe that thought. Do not, at this stage, link the words into sentences. Once you have your 20 words use them in a poem of 16 lines or less. Then, take the same 20 words and work them into a short story of under 300 words. Which exercise came more easily? Which form has best communicated your creative thought?
There are some excellent resources out there for creative writers. To get quick ‘starter’ images when your own well is dry I recommend The Writer’s Block by Jason Rekulak. I’m currently working through The Creative Writing Coursebook by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs and finding it very useful.
The next creative writing course session is how to write a short story. But before you move on to that, please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question in the box below.