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Writing Creative Nonfiction: The Opinion Essay

Wednesday, July-17-13
By Dave Hood

The opinion essay (also called a commentary)  is a form of creative nonfiction writing. It is part of the category of personal essay, along with the personal narrative essay, the meditative essay, the lyrical essay, and collage essay. As an  aspiring creative writer, you’ll want to share your life stories and  your opinions about events, topics, issues, and people. The opinion essay or commentary allows you to do this. You don’t have to prove your point conclusively, or state the other half of the argument, but you must present a logical argument, which is based on evidence, facts, and reasons. The more evidence you provide for your opinion, the more powerful your argument.

The opinion essay provides you with a way to share your opinion about any topic. For instance: Does God exist? Is capital punishment cruel and unusual punishment? Do you support abortion?  Do you agree with the war on terror? You can read opinion pieces or social commentaries in the newspaper, magazines, periodicals, Websites, and blogs. They often reflect the mood of the public consciousness on topics or issues making news. The opinion essay is intended to “sways hearts and changes minds.”

Many publications include opinion essays, such as newspapers, anthologies, magazines, and the Internet. Consider reading The New Yorker magazine, Time magazine, The Atlantic, and The Walrus.  You can also read less mainstream publications, such as   http://www.Slate.com, Mother Jones, Adbusters, and  Unte Reader. As well, many bestselling books are based on the opinion essay, including “God is Not Great” by the late Christopher Hitchens and “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins.

In this article, I’ll discuss the opinion essay. The following will be covered:
• Definition of an opinion essay
• How to write an opinion essay (lead, argument, ending)
• Writing style
• Suggestions for writing an opinion essay

Definition of an Opinion Essay

Writing an opinion essay requires that you state your opinion about a topic or issue or person, and then support it with an argument, evidence that supports your opinion. First, you must find a topic to write about. Next, you might have to collect evidence or facts to support your opinion. Then, you can create an outline. Finally, you’ll write the opinion essay.

Finding a Topic or Issue

Creative nonfiction writers often write about social issues, such as gun control, suicide,abortion, depression, addiction, unemployment, global warming, terrorism, war, right to privacy. Another popular topic is politics. Writers often give their opinion on why they support or disapprove a policy or action of the government. Popular culture is another place to unearth a topic, and then share an opinion. Writers share their views on art, film, music, fashion, photography, and more.

You can write an opinion essay about any topic. The most important point to remember is that you are sharing your opinion with readers, who might have a different opinion. And if you are not an expert, you’ll need to do some research before writing the opinion essay. You can read a book, conduct a Google search, visit your library,  immerse yourself in what you are researching. For instance, if you want to write about Buddhism, you could read a few books and engage in the practise of Buddhism, then write about what you have learned from the experience.

As well, you can mine your memory for topics. Many past experiences reveal universal truth. You have an opinion about that time in your life. Perhaps you got married and thought you were going to live happily for the rest of your life. Now you’re separated, divorced, or a widow. What are your memories of the experience? What is your opinion now? Write about them in an opinion essay.

In an opinion essay, your goal is to share your opinion with readers, with the purpose of explaining your view and educating others. To change a person’s mind or at least motivate the person to think of a new perspective, you’ll need to present a good argument. To do this, you must include real life examples, facts, evidence. The stronger your argument, the more apt you are to alter another person’s opinion.

Research

Sometimes, you will have to conduct research, at the library, on the Internet, by interviewing, or by immersion. You might also have to rely on personal experience, including mining your memory, and using your skills of observation. Before writing the opinion essay, determine what information you require. If you don’t understand the topic or issue, do some research. There are several methods of research:

Library. Visit the library, where you can read and take notes from books, magazines, articles, and microfilm.
Internet. Conduct a Google search, the most popular search engine in the world. Use Google to find out what has been written and to discover where you can unearth facts and other evidence to support your argument.
Immersion. Consider immersing yourself in the experience before you write about it. Suppose you’d like to write an opinion about golf, but you’d never played a game. It would be best if you rented some golf clubs, took some lessons, and played a game of golf before writing an opinion essay about why you don’t like golf.
Interview. Some writers like to collect quotes from subject matter experts or eye witnesses.
Observation. Sometimes you can observe the story. For instance, you’re gathering information about the joys of cooking. You could observe a chef in his kitchen, watching how he prepares and cooks the food.
Reading. As a writer, you must continually learn. Read biographies, essays, articles, newspapers. A good creative nonfiction writer is always reading about different people, places, events, experiences, and so forth. Incorporate the memory of facts into your opinion.

Argument

Writing the argument involves sharing facts, evidence, examples, personal experiences, anecdote that support your opinion. The best opinions sway hearts and change minds. You need present facts or evidence that supports your view. But you don’t have to prove it. You must support your opinion with evidence, reasons, and facts. Unlike a university essay, you are not required to present the other side of the argument. But many writers do provide the opposing argument or view, as they desire to be viewed as an expert who is credible.

I often read the personal essays by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail, a newspaper published in Toronto, Canada. She writes about any topic you can think of. The other day she argued that environmentalism is ‘dead’ in an opinion essay called ‘The Agony of David Suzuki’. You can read it here:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/margaret-wente/the-agony-of-david-suzuki/article2401816/ . After reading her essay, I could understand her point of view–and agreed with her. Not only did I gain an education, but I also acquired ammunition for my own opinion.

Before you write your opinion, make sure you have three or four important points to support your argument. Jot down these important points in an outline. Use this outline to guide you in writing the opinion essay. The more evidence you provide, the stronger your argument.

Writing the Opinion Essay

Your opinion essay requires a beginning, middle, and ending. In the beginning, identify the topic and state your opinion. Consider grabbing the attention of your readers by making a provocative statement, stating a fact, sharing an anecdote. In the body of the opinion essay, write your argument. For each major point, include a paragraph or more. End by making an important point, one that readers can take away and ponder.

Writing the Lead

Your lead should grabs readers’ attention and compels them to read on. This is called a hook. Your lead should tell readers why you are writing the opinion, why they should read your opinion essay, and introduce what you are making an opinion about. There is no rule about the length of a lead. Some leads are short, only a few sentences. Some are only a sentence in length. Other leads are longer, taking several paragraphs. The length of your lead will depend on the type of genre and the audience you are writing for.

There are several techniques you can use to write the lead for your opinion essay. Here are the most popular methods:
1. Ask a question. Example: How can the federal government reduce unemployment?
2. Make a thought-provoking statement. This type of lead makes begins with an important point. Example: The unemployment rate is 10%, the highest since the Great Depression.
3. Write an anecdote. It is a short story that reveals a truth or makes an important point.
4. Use a quotation. Write an interesting quotation from an interview or one that you discovered when you conducted research.
5. Write a summary lead. It compresses the article or essay into a few sentences.
6. Use a combination lead. This method requires you to use a couple of methods. For instance, you might begin with a question, and then add a quotation from a well-known person.
7. When writing your lead, you can also answer a few questions: who? what? when? why? how?

Writing the Argument

In the body of your opinion essay, write the reasons or evidence for your opinion. Some evidence will come from research; others evidence will be based on observation, personal experience, and memory. An easy way to write an argument is to identify all the important points of your opinion. For each important point, include two or three reasons or facts or other evidence. Use an outline to guide you in writing the argument. As well, use the following argument structure:

Argument Structure:
Point #1
• Reason
• Reason
• Fact

Point#2
• Reason
• Evidence
• Fact

Point#3
• Reason
• Evidence
• Fact

This is not a five paragraph essay, because you might have additional important points to make, depending on the required length of your opinion essay.

Types of Paragraphs to Use

Author Priscilla Long, in “The Writer’s Portable Mentor,” identifies four types of paragraphs to use in any creative nonfiction:

The direct paragraph. It begins with a topical sentence, which identifies what the paragraph is about. Each sentence that follows will provide a reason or example or fact to support the topical sentence.

Example:
I believe in capital punishment. It’s a deterrent.. It protects society. It punishes the victim.

The climatic paragraph. Begin with a series of facts or evidence, and end with the topical sentence, which identifies what the paragraph is about.

Example:
The tee-off cost $100. I had to wait between holes. I lost 6 golf balls, and it rained, cancelling the game. I don’t like golf, and will never golf again.

Turn about paragraph. Begin on one place (the opposing evidence). Halfway through the paragraph, move in a new direction, providing your reasons or evidence. When you change direction, signal to the reader with words such as “and yet,” ” but,” or “nevertheless”

Example:
The film critic stated that the acting was superb and the special effects were awesome…And yet, during the film, I fell asleep from boredom….

Statement Paragraph. Make a statement, and support it with evidence, reasons, and facts. The second sentence expands on the first, the third sentence expands on the second, and the fourth sentence, expands on the third….

Writing the Ending

Once you finish writing your opinion essay, write a good ending. It should make a final point. In the text “On Writing Well, author ” William Zinsser suggests the following: “Knowing when to end…is far more important than most writers realize. You should give as much thought to choosing your last sentence as you did to your first.” Zinsser goes on to say that a good ending is a sentence or two, or paragraph in length, but not any longer. It should take the reader by surprise and seem like the correct place to stop. Zinsser writes that when you are ready to stop, stop.

Here are a few things to consider when writing your ending:
1. Don’t summarize your essay or article.
2. Your ending should encapsulate the central idea of your opinion.
3. Your ending should finish with an important point. Otherwise the reader will think “So what? What was the point?”” Zinsser suggests that this sentence should jolt the reader with “unexpectedness.”

A popular way to end your piece is with a quotation. Another method is to restate the beginning. Other popular methods include:
• An opinion
• Judgement
• Recommendation
• Call to action

Writing Style

To write the opinion essay, use the following writing style:

• Write with the active voice, and not the passive voice.
• Write with concrete and specific nouns and action verbs.
• Use adjective and adverbs sparingly.
• Use sentence variety, such as simple, compound complex sentences. If you don’t know what these are read “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White and “The Writer’s Personal Mentor” by Priscilla Long.
• Consider using rhetorical sentences, including the periodic sentence, the loose sentence, the balanced sentence, the antithesis sentence.
• Use literary devices, such as simile and metaphor, to make comparisons.
• Use appropriate diction or word choice. Use language readers will understand. Don’t use clichés or jargon. Use fresh and original language.
• Eliminate needless words. In other words, make each word count or perform something important.
• Follow the advice of “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser and “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White and “Sin and Syntax” by Constance Hale

Suggestions for Writing an Opinion Essay

Here are a few suggestions to help you write an opinion essay:
1. The best topics to write about are issues or events that are important to you. As well, write about what you know or have experienced.
2. Before you write an opinion essay, make sure you understand the topic or issue you are intending to comment on. Therefore, read articles, essays, books, search for personal experiences that support your opinion.
3. Create an outline before writing the opinion essay. This might involve jotting down the main points of your argument. You can this outline to guide you in writing the opinion essay.
4. The more facts, evidence, statistics, reasons you have, the stronger your argument.
5. In the beginning, state your opinion. In the body, write your argument. End with an important point.
6. Always revise your first draft. It is never your best work. To revise, complete a macro-edit (Structure and argument) and micro-edit (spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence patterns, paragraphs, figurative language.)

Additional Reading

If you want to learn more on how to write an opinion essay, read the following excellent resources:
• Elements of Style by Strunk and White
• One Year to a Writing Life by Susan M. Tiberghien
• On Writing Well by William Zinsser
• Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
• The Art of Creative Nonfiction by Lee Gutkind
• The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long
• The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Philip Lopate
• The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
• God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

The Writing Life: The Art and Craft of Creative Writing

Dave Hood

“The Act of Writing Makes You a Writer.”—Julia Cameron

The best creative writing is both an art and craft. How is it an art? First, creative writers use  a set of cognitive skills to discover ideas to write about.  They learn to mine their memories, use their imagination, observe the outer world, apply their creative thinking abilities, and explore their curiosities.

Secondly, creative writing is the art of self-expression.  Writers  share their thoughts, feelings, and perspective about themselves and the world they inhabit.

Thirdly,  writers use their creative talents associated with language to write imaginatively with similes, metaphors, sensory imagery, and more.

Creative writing is also a craft in the sense that writers must learn the rules, guidelines, and techniques of writing.  To write,  a writer must learn the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  If the writer intends to write a poem, short story, or personal essay, the writer must learn the techniques of these genres.

Some people believe that  writing cannot be taught. I don’t agree. I feel that anyone who is motivated can learn both the “art of creative thinking” and  the “techniques” of creative writing.

In this article, I’ll explain how writer’s can learn to think more creatively by developing  several cognitive skills, which can be used  to find ideas and material.  The following will be covered:

  • Creative thinking
  • Memory
  • Imagination
  • Observation
  • Curiosity

I will also explore the craft of writing.  The following will be covered:

  • Showing and Telling
  • Literary techniques
  • Poetic Devices
  • Word choice/diction
  • Sentence Variety
  • Paragraph Development

The Art of Creative Writing

Creative writing is more than just writing about facts. It also is about using your creativity abilities to find ideas and collect material. It is also about thinking creatively so that you can discover a simile or metaphor to write a poem, or short story, or  personal essay.  In this section, I’ll explore a few ways in which you can learn to think more creatively.

Creative Thinking

You can learn a few creative thinking techniques, which will assist you in discovering  new ideas and details for your writing. These techniques will also assist you in writing better metaphors, similes, and types of comparisons.  Here are a few techniques that you can learn:

  • Brainstorm a list of ideas. How? Find a topic, and then list all the ideas that you might want to write about.
  • Ask “what if.” You can use this technique to write fiction or a poem. And then answer the question. Examples: What if you were diagnosed with a serious illness?…What if a meteor  plowed into the earth?…What if you won the lottery?…What if you  lost your job?
  • Challenge your assumptions.  You can use this techniques to find ideas to write about, to write poetry, to write fiction. What assumptions do you have about people, places, things, yourself, the world around you. Often truth is a matter of perspective. Your truth is often different than someone else’s.
  • Ask the question: “Why?” Then answer the question. You can use this technique  to find ideas and material to write about. You could begin by freewriting. Or you could do some research. For instance, why did 9/11 happen? Why do people write? Why do people smoke? Drink? Become murders?
  • Change your perspective. Step into the shoes of someone else. Emotional truth (How did it feel?) is always a matter of view point. You can use this technique for fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction.
  • Do some mind mapping. How? Take a blank piece of paper and draw a circle in the centre. Write down the topic inside the circle. For each associated idea, draw a line outward, and write the idea in a smaller circle. (Like a spoke in a wheel)
  • Look for alternatives. There is always more than one way to write a poem, tell a tale, or write a personal essay. You can use this technique for any type of creative writing.
  • Learn to make comparisons between different things. The easiest ways are to learn how to write similes and metaphors. A simile compares two thing by using “like” or “as.” Example: Writing a novel is like running a marathon. A metaphor compares two different things directly or indirectly without using “like” or “as.” Often the writer makes the comparison by using “is.”  Example:  Memorable writing is a work of art.

By learning to think creatively, you develop your artistic side.

 

Mine your Memory

Memories are the foundation of creative writing. Learn to mine your memories of people, places, events, and experiences. Here are a few techniques:

  • Write about what author Brenda Miller calls “the five senses of memory.” We experience the world through our sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. For instance: What is your favorite smell? What is the worst thing you’ve seen? What is the most delightful thing you’ve tasted? Once you have an answer (and there is no one right answer), write about it.
  • Do some focused freewriting. Sit down, write about something in your past, such as a birthday, graduation, first experience. As you write, you’ll discover that once you uncover a memory, you’ll discover related memories.
  • Use a timeline. For instance, pick a year from the past. Find out what happened during that year in the news.  World events, public figures, popular culture will bring back memories from your past. A good way to use a timeline is to conduct a Google Search.
  • What are your memories of special occasions, such as holidays, vacations, birthdays, graduations?
  • What are your achievements and accomplishments? What are your biggest mistakes?
  • What are the memories of first encounters? First car? First girlfriend? First job? First accident?
  • What are you happiest memories? What are your saddest memories?
  • What are the family traditions?
  • What are the turning points in your life?

For additional information on how to find ideas to write about, read “How to Write Your Own Life Story” by Louis Daniel.

Learning to dig up your memories is part of the art of writing.

Use Your Imagination

Most people are taught  to focus on facts, truth, reality. They are not taught to develop their imagination.  Imagination is about using your mind to create sensory details or mental pictures of things that are not actual present in your senses.  The best creative writers know how to use their imagination to uncover ideas and details. Here are a few methods you can use to develop your imagination:

  • Ask the question: what if? Then answer  the question.
  • Learn the writing technique of showing and telling. Showing is about writing a scene. A scene includes action, dialogue, setting, sensory details. Showing the reader also means writing concrete, significant, particular details. Showing is about writing sensory details.
  • Practise freewriting.  You can use focused freewriting or unfocused freewriting. If you use focused freewriting, you select a topic, and then begin to write. If you use unfocused freewriting,  you write down whatever details rise into your consciousness. In both types of freewriting, write down the sensory details, and show the reader what happened.
  • Practise responding to writing prompts. A writing prompt forces you to use your imagination to write in detail by using similes, metaphors, description. If you are interested in using writing prompts to develop your imagination, purchase a copy of ” The Writer’s Idea Book” by Jack Heffron or “The Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves.
  • Ask and answer the  questions that journalists use to develop a story: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? You can use this technique  write a poem, short story, or personal essay.

Learning to use your imagination will enable you to write more creatively.

Observe the Outside World

As a creative writer, you must  learn to observe the world in which you live and make note of  what you experience with your senses.  Here are three ways to collect details about the world around you:

  • Live in the now. In other words, make note of what is happening or what you are seeing, or hearing, or feeling, when as the event or experience unfolds. This means that you don’t live with the auto pilot switch turned on. It means that you are aware of what is going on in the present moment.
  • Make note of sensory details. When you observe an event or experience, make a mental note of what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch.
  • Carry a notebook wherever they travel. When you see something interesting,  record the details. Make notes using concrete, specific, significant details. Make notes of anything unusual. Make notes of any idea that pops into your mind that might be used for a piece of writing.
  • Take yourself on an artistic date on a regular basis. For instance, visit the art gallery, buy a ticket to see a film, peruse the bookshelves of a bookstore. The artistic date will provide you with ideas to explore and write about.

Curiosity

The best writers are curious. They desire to know why? They desire to find answers to important questions. They have a passion for learning. They read books, magazines, newspapers— to feed their hunger for knowledge.

How can you develop your curiosity?  Write down all the topics or subjects you’d like to learn. Take one of those ideas or subjects and learn about it .  Read  books, magazines, journals. Do it for pleasure.  Conduct research to become a subject matter expert. Write about what you’ve learned.

As well, keep a writing journal, and make note of words, ideas, concepts, news events, that you don’t understand. When you have a question about something, write it in your journal. If it’s an important question, conduct research on the Web or visit the library. Then learn your material. Next, write about what you’ve learned.

Here’s an example of why curiosity is important to writing. Suppose you dream of writing a historical novel. Before  you can write about that period in history, you’ll have to conduct research of that time period. How would you conduct research? You can search on the Web, visit the Library, and read books on the historical period. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to write nonfiction details in a piece of fictional writing.

The Craft of Creative Writing

Creative writing requires that you learn the craft of writing. You  must learn the rules, guidelines, and techniques of writing. Otherwise,  readers will not read your work, and editors won’t publish your work. Here are a few important techniques about craft you should learn:

Showing and Telling. If you intend on becoming a creative writing, you must learn how to show and tell the reader what happened .  Showing the reader is about  writing in scenes. It is about creating word pictures in the mind of the reader.  Typically, a scene includes a setting, action, dialogue, and sensory details. These are details  about sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing. Telling is about summarizing what happened. It is about compressing and condensing time. It is about excluding vivid details.   Example: I woke up, read the newspaper, ate breakfast, then worked all day. It was an uneventful day.

Literary Techniques. You must learn the literary techniques  for writing fiction:

  • Setting
  • Plot Development
  • Character and characterization
  • Theme
  • Point of view
  • Voice and Style
  • Suspense, flashback, foreshadowing
  • Showing and telling

You will use these to write poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, such as a memoir or personal essay.

Poetic Devices. You must learn how to use the following poetic devices:

  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Imagery
  • Sound devices of assonance, alliteration, rhyme, onomatopoeia
  • Symbolism
  • Personification

You will use these to write poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

Word choice/diction. Use a dictionary to find the right word with the right meaning. Use a thesaurus to find the word with the right shade of meaning.

The Sentence. To avoid sounding dull,  learn how to use a variety of sentence structures, including:

  • Intentional fragment. Use of a phrase or dependent clause instead of an independent clause.  A famous quotation. New words that interest. Lyrics from a song. Observations. Overheard conversations. Fleeting memories. Dreams. Photographs.  Lots of odds and ends are included  in my writing journal.
  • Simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.
  • Periodic sentence or climactic sentence. You begin with a series of details, and end with the independent clause. Example: Falling from the tree into the ice river, gasping for air, being then pulled by the strong under tow, I exerted all of my energies to swim to shore.
  • Cumulative sentence.  You begin with the main idea in an independent clause, and then add one idea after another.  Example: I love the spring, the fresh air, sunny days, blooming flowers, green grass, watching baseball,  and riding my bike.

To learn more, read “The Writer’s Portable Mentor” by Priscilla Long. She identifies the various types of sentences you should learn to write.

The Paragraphs. Learn how to create a variety of paragraphs.  Author Priscilla Long, in “The Writer’s Portable Mentor,”  identifies four paragraphs that you should learn to write. These include:

  • The direct paragraph. This type of paragraph begins with a topical sentence, and then adds details.
  • Climactic paragraph. It begins with examples or illustrations, and ends with the main, controlling idea or topical sentence.
  • Turnabout paragraph. It is a paragraph that begins in one place and then turns in another direction in the middle. This type of paragraph contrasts ideas.  You signal a change in direction to the reader by using  the words,  “but” or ”  nevertheless” or  “and yet.”
  • Statement paragraph. Begin with a statement and then elaborate with a series of sentences.

Developing Your Writing Skills

Becoming a good writer takes time. And during that time you must learn and practise. What must you do? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. If you are just getting started, purchase a few writing tools: a notebook, pen, laptop, dictionary, and thesaurus.
  2. Begin keeping a writing journal. It will develop your habit of writing.  Write in the journal each day.  Write every day for 15 minutes or so. Write about anything that inspires you or is on your mind.
  3. Find ideas to write about. An easy way is to read the newspaper,  books, and magazines.
  4. Learn the craft of writing. Learn the rules of spelling, punctuation, grammar, and writing style. If you don’t have a copy, pick up The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
  5. Expand your vocabulary. There are many ways:  1) Learn a word a day. 2) Every time you bump into a word you don’t  understand, look up its meaning. 3)Use these new words in conversation and in your writing. 4) Discover synonyms by using a thesaurus. For instance, instead of using the word “walk”, you might say  plodded, dawdled, marched, strode, stroll, lumbered, wandered, traipsed,  trekked.
  6. Read poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction for pleasure. Reading will inspire you.
  7. Read as a writer. This involves reading and analyzing the writer’s style, tone, and voice.
  8. Learn to write imaginatively. This involves learning how to write similes and metaphors and other poetic devices. It also involves learning  how to show the reader what happened, how to write sensory images that appeal to the readers sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. It involves learning how to write concrete, specific, and significant details. A good book to help you is “Imaginative Writing” by Janet Burroway.
  9. If you are not interested in learning on your own, take a creative writing course in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Or join a writing group. Or attend a writing conference. Or take a trip to a writing retreat for a few days.
  10. Schedule an artistic date with yourself. Author, Julia Cameron, in “The Artist’s Way,” suggests that you go on a “Artist Date” each week. This involves participating in something creative each week or two–such as visiting the book store, the art gallery, music concert.

If you desire to become a strong writer, you must learn the art and craft of writing. Begin by  embracing the writing life. Write and read every day. Keep a journal. Get into the habit of writing. Learn the rules of spelling, punctuation, grammar.  Learn the elements of fiction. Learn the literary techniques and poetic devices. Learn to show and tell what happened.  Learn how to write free verse poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction.  Experiment with your writing. Find inspiration. Learn to write creatively with simile, metaphor, sensory imagery, and vivid description.  The act of writing each day makes you a writer.

Resources

For more information, read the following:

  • The  Right to Write by Julia Cameron
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • Imaginative Writing by Janet Burroway
  • How to Be a Writer by Barbara Baig
  • The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long

Writing Free Verse Poetry: Poetic Devices of Comparison

Dave Hood

Poets use various poetic devices or figures of speech to make comparisons. These figures of speech are intended to enhance understanding, to entertain, to add deeper meaning, and to enrich the quality of a poem. These figures of speech are also used by writers in other forms of creative writing, such as short fiction, novel writing, personal essay, and memoir writing.

In this post, I’ll explain how to use the poetic devices of comparison. The following will be covered:

  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Symbol
  • Synecdoche
  • Metonymy
  • Personification
  • Allusion

Simile

It is a poetic device or figure of speech in which the poet uses “like” or “as” to compare one thing to  some other thing. The things compared must be unlike each other. The purpose of a simile is to add meaning and understanding. A good simile also makes a poem pleasurable to read. It can turn a dull poem into something memorable. For instance, Robert Frost wrote” the attic wasps went missing by like bullets.” Here are a few other examples:

  • The neighborhood is like a ghost town.
  • The sick man looks like a corpse.
  • You are free as a gold-fish in an aquarium.
  • He writes as if possessed by a demon.
  • She strolls down the beach like a model on a runway in a fashion show.
  • The truck is rusty as a wreck in the scrap yard.

Metaphor

It is a poetic device or figure of speech in which the poet suggests the one thing is another. The poet does not use “like” or “as” to make the comparison between two different things. Often the word “is” or “of” is used to make the comparison.

A poet can create an explicit metaphor by directly suggesting that one thing is another. Example: He is a shark. She is a black widow spider. (A is B) Or the poet can make an implied metaphor by comparing one thing to another using the attributes of the object, such as adjectives or verbs associated with it. Example: He sailed down the highway in his new corvette. (Comparison to a sailboat) She cut him with her claws. (comparison to an animal)

The purpose of a an explicit or implied metaphor is to entertain the reader, to help the reader understand, to add deeper meaning to a poem.

Examples:

  • The running back is a tank.
  • The old man is a walking corpse
  • The house is a mausoleum.
  • Place of grief
  • Sea of death
  • Dinner of gratitude
  • Gift of pleasure
  • Lust is a drug
  • Teeth of the wind
  • Mouth of a river

Poets must avoid using dead metaphors. These are metaphors that have been used so often that they’ve lost their originality and effectiveness. The comparison has taken on a new meaning of expression —and is often viewed as a cliché. Examples of dead metaphors include:

  • Seeds of doubt
  • Fishing for compliments
  • Grasp the idea

Poets must also avoid creating mixed metaphors. A poet creates a mixed metaphor when one thing is compared to two different things in the same metaphor. A few ludicrous examples include:

  • I can see the light at the end of the rainbow.
  • I make my goal to shake every hand that walks in the door.
  • I am bone empty.

Symbol

It is a poetic device in which the poet an image to represent something other than its literal meaning or dictionary meaning. A symbol is usually a physical object used to represent some abstract idea. For instance, a  rose can be a symbol of beauty. A dove can be a symbol of peace. The cross can be a symbol of Christianity, faith, Jesus. The lion is a symbol of courage. The gun is a symbol of violence.

Poets use well-established symbols in their poetry, such as darkness for ignorance or light for knowledge.  Many poets also create their own symbols and then use them in a poem.

Not all images are intended to be symbolic. Sometimes a gun is just a gun, or a clock is just a clock.  It is up to the reader to analyze and then identify the symbol in the poem. For instance, a poet might make reference to a ticking clock in his poem. The purpose of the clock might be to symbolize the passage of time.

Synecdoche

It is a poetic device or figure of speech in which the poet makes reference to the “part of something” instead of its whole, and this part is used to represent the whole.

Examples:

  • Skates sail up the ice. (Instead of writing “The hockey player sails up the ice.”)
  • The teenager purchased a “set of wheels.” (Instead of writing “The teenager purchased a car.”
  • All hands on deck (Instead of writing “All sailors on deck.”)

Metonymy

It is a poetic device or figure of speech in which one thing closely associated with another thing is used as a substitution. Frances Mayes, author of The Discovery of Poetry, states that a metonymy is ” an identifying emblem” substituted for the whole name. In other words, an associated quality or name or emblem,  which is not part of the whole, is substituted.

Examples:

  • Crown instead of monarchy
  • White House instead of President and Staff
  • Habs instead of Montreal Canadians
  • Leafs instead of Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Broncos instead of Denver Broncos

Personification

It is a poetic device or figure of speech in which the poet assigns human characteristics or human attributes to nonhuman things, such as ideas, concepts, places, objects, animals. The purpose of personification is to add deeper meaning, to entertain, to describe.

Examples:

  • Death comes knocking
  • Love arrives unexpectedly
  • Old Man Winter
  • Lady Luck
  • Jack Frost
  • April turns on the shower
  • The maple trees stood in silence
  • The walls stare back and talk nonsense
  • The wind whispers through a crack

Allusion

It is a poetic device or figure of speech  in which the poet makes reference to another person, event, art, history, religion, literature, mythology, or some aspect of popular culture. An allusion can also be a statement or quotation made by a famous or public person. An allusion can also be a line from a poem. Popular types of allusions  in poetry are biblical allusions, literary allusions, and mythical allusions. The purpose of allusion is to provide additional meaning. For the allusion to be effective, the reader must have knowledge of what the poet is alluding to. Example: The painting reminds/ of Picasso’s Cubism..f

T.S. Eliot often used allusion in many of his poems. For instance, in The Wasteland, he includes “I remember/those are the pearls that were his eyes…,” a reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

To master the art and craft of  writing poetry,  you must learn the poetic devices of comparison, such as simile, metaphor, and symbol. Once you`ve learned these poetic devices, you can use them to write powerful, entertaining, memorable poems.

Resources

For more information on simile, metaphor, symbol, synecdoche, metonymy, personification, allusion, read the following:

  • Good Poems for Hard Times by Garrison Keillor
  • The Poets Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
  • The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes
  • Western Wind by David Mason and John Frederick Nims
  • Creating Poetry by John Drury

Writing Free Verse Poetry: Adding Sound Effects

By Dave Hood

When writing a poem, a good poet will choose words for their meaning and their sound. Memorable poems have a pleasing sound. A pleasing sound is like music to the ear. The poet who composes free verse can select several poetic devices to create a pleasing sound, such as alliteration, assonance, rhyme, repetition. The best writers also use these poetic when writing fiction or creative nonfiction. In this post, I will discuss the poetic devices poets (and writers) use to create a pleasing sound. The following will be covered:

  • Alliteration
  •  Assonance
  •  Onomatopoeia
  •  Rhyme
  •  Repetition/refrain

Alliteration

It refers to the poetic technique of repeating the initial consonant sound in two or more words on a line. Here is an example of alliteration from Jane Kenyon’s poem This Morning: “…Sunflower seed and bits of bread scattered on the snow.” The words “sunflower”, “seed”, “scattered”, “snow” begin with the consonant “s.” She also uses the words “bits” and “bread.”

Assonance

It is the poetic technique of repeating the same vowel sound of words on a line, in order to create a pleasing sound. A vowel is “a, e,i,o, u.” A poet can use long vowels, such as “o” in snow, or use short vowels, such as “u” in lunch. Here is another example of assonance from Jane Kenyon’s poem This Morning: The cats doze near the snow. The words “doze” and “snow” have the same vowel sound. Onomatopoeia
It is the poetic technique of using words that sound like the words they mean. Examples: whir, buzz, moo, thud, crackle, and so on. Poets use these poetic devices less frequently than alliteration or assonance. Example: Under the light of the stars, we roasted hotdogs over a crackling fire.

Rhyme

It is the repetition of the same sound of words in a poem. Three popular types of rhymes are slant or off rhyme, internal rhyme, and end rhyme.

Slant Rhyme or imperfect rhyme
A poetic technique that creates near rhyme or off-rhyme. Emile Dickinson was the first modern poet to use this technique. The poet selects words that have the same consonant sounds and different vowels (e.g. cap and cup), and places them close together on a line. The poet can also select words with the same vowel sound (e.g. talk and walk; snug as a gun) and different constants, and place them close together on a line.

Internal Rhyme
A poetic technique in which one word rhymes with another word on a line. This is a popular type of rhyme for writing free verse.

Example: We talked and walked along the beach.

End Rhyme
A poetic technique in which the poet rhymes the final syllables of words and places them at the end of lines. Here is an example for Robert Frost’s Dust of Snow:

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

You can see how “crow and snow” rhyme, and how “me” and “tree” rhyme.

If you intend to use rhyme in free verse, use it selectively. A good rhyme doesn’t make the reader think “here’s a rhyme.” Instead “good rhyming is a feat of skill with words.” (Western Wind, Page 177) Often, when two words rhyme, the meaning of these two words interact to create something different.

Free verse poetry does not have to adhere to a particular rhyme scheme, such as “ABAB,” which means that lines 1 and 3 rhyme and lines 2 and 4 rhyme. In fact, many free verse poems have no rhyme at all. And yet, poets use rhyme on occasion.

Repetition

It is a poetic technique in which the poet repeat words or phrases in a poem. The poet can repeat words or phrase at the beginning of lines, at the end of lines, in the middle of lines. Repetition is a way to create emphasis. It is a way to create energy. It is a way to draw attention to an idea. It is a way to echo the sound of words.

Poets use two types of repetition: Anaphora and repetend.

Anaphora
The poet repeats the opening words or phrase at the beginning of two or more lines. Here is an example from Mary Oliver’s When Death Comes:

When death comes like a hungry bear in autumn….
When death comes like the measle-pox….
When death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades…

Repetend
The poet repeats words or phrases at different locations in a stanza or poem. Repeating a word or phrase gabs the reader’s attention. It is a way to add emphasis to an action, person, place, thing, event, experience.

For instance, James Fenton writes in the poem “In Paris With You.”
…I’m one of your talking wounded. I’m a hostage. I’m wounded…I’ve been bamboozled…I admit I’m..

See how Mary Oliver uses repetition to write in the poem, Spring,:

My life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness…

Poet, Debra Spencer, uses the device of repetend in “The Discover of Sex”:

We try to be discreet standing in the dark
hallway by the front door. He gets his hands
up inside the front of my shirt and I put mine
down the inside the back of his jeans. We are crazy
for skin, each other’s skin, warm silky skin…

Learning How to Use Sound Devices

You can get into the habit of using sound devices–such as alliteration, or assonance, or repetition ——by learning how they are used and by practising how to use them. Here’s how: On a daily basis, open your writing journal and use these sound devices to describe the things you see, hear, feel, smell, touch, remember. For instance, suppose you passed a stinking sewer during your day, you could write: I strolled past the stinking sewer and wondered where the stench started. (Example of using alliteration)

As well, when reading poetry, short story, essay, or article that you feel is well written, analyze the piece of writing for these poetic device of sound. Answer the question: What poetic devices did the author or poet use to create such a pleasing sound?

How should you add sound effects your own free verse poetry? Some poets compose word by word. Other poets compose line by line. Many write out the entire poem, and then add sound effects during revision. I recommend that you write the first draft, and then revise for alliteration, assonance, repetition. If you also desire to create a few rhymes, add them.

Free verse poetry doesn’t require you use alliteration, assonance, rhyme, repetition. However, if you read the free verse poetry of great poets, such as Mary Oliver, you’ll quickly discover that these poets use these poetic techniques to construct memorable poems, poems that have deep meaning and pleasurable sound when read aloud.

Resources

For additional information on alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, repetition, rhyme, read the following:

  • Good Poems for Hard Times by Garrison Keillor
  • The Poets Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux
  •  Creating Poetry by John Drury
  • The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes
  •  Western Wind by David Mason and John Frederick Nims

Writing in the Digital World

Dave Hood

The Internet is a gold mine for writers.  You can find countless resources to improve your writing and advance your writing practise. For instance, on the Internet, you can do the following:

  • Find writing prompts that inspire your creativity
  • Search for freelance writing jobs
  • Create a free blog where you can post your writing and create a writing platform
  • Join an online writing community/ writing groups
  • Find out how to submit to writing contests or literary publications such as Tin House
  • Read and learn how to write poetry, short stories, personal essays, and more
  • Enroll in online creative writing courses
  • Purchase books on creative writing
  • Create a web presence and writing platform with social media
  • Learn how to self-publish your fiction or creative nonfiction
  • Read poetry, short fiction, personal essays from popular literary journals

In this post, I’ll identify some of the many websites that you can use to find this information.

Writing Prompts

The purpose of a writing prompt is to provide inspiration and help you explore and practise your writing. You can use a writing prompt to kick start a freewriting session of 10 to 20 minutes, writing about anything that is associated with the prompt. If you searching for writing prompts to inspire you, check out these websites:

  • First 50 Words  ( http://www.first50.wordpress.com )  The author of this blog, Virginia Debolt, provides you with a daily writing prompt for your writing practise. She suggests that you write ” often, write about anything, everything, what you see, what you learn, what you’re thinking, what you read.”
  • Easy Street Prompts (www.easystreetprompts.blogspot.com) On this site you will find video prompts, photograph prompts, and word prompts.

Creating a Free Blog

Would you like to create a blog, where you can post your writing and create a Web presence?

Here are the best free blogging platforms:

  1. WordPress- http://www.wordpress.com
  2. Blogger-www.blogger.com
  3. Twitter- http://www.twitter.com (micro-blogging)
  4. Tumblr-www.tumblr.com  (micro-blogging)

These blogs are easy to setup and post content to. Creating a blog is an easy way to establish a Web presence, share your writing, and build a writing platform.

Join a Writing Community

The online writing community offers many services to writers. You’ll create a profile and then  post your poetry, short fiction, personal essays, and so forth. You can also join a writing group, obtain free reviews, and free advice. And you can join various forums, where you can discuss different aspects of writing with others. Many of these online writing communities offer free online courses and advertise writing contests. Here are a few popular online writing communities that you should consider joining:

Freelance Writing

Are you searching for a freelance writing job? Here are some good sites to find work:

For freelance writing jobs in your area, use Google to search for websites in your area.

Enrolling in Online Creative Writing Courses

If you are interested in taking a course in creative writing, such writing personal essays, poetry, short stories, screen writing—- there are a myriad of universities in Canada and the United States offering online courses and certificates in creative writing. This means that you can study from your own home, instead of having to fight traffic to attend a lecture.

Providing you have an Internet connection and credit card, you can enroll in online education courses from anywhere in the world. For instance, all universities and educations institutions I visited on the Web offer a plethora of creative writing courses, which you can take online. For instance,  the University of Toronto’s Continuing Educations program offers online courses in creative writing poetry, fiction, and screenwriting courses.

There are countless educational institutions around the world where you can take creative writing courses online. Here are five places to checkout:

Resources for Writers

Creative Writing

One of the best sources of information is the Poetry and Writer website, a print-based magazine that also have a Web presence.  All writers should visit this site on a regular basis. Here is what you can learn on this website:

  • Find our who is offering writing contents and competitions.
  • Find out where to contact a literary agent via the Literary Agents database.
  • Obtain details about contact information, submission guidelines, and the types of writing small press publish by accessing the Small Press Database
  • Discover where you can attend a writing conference, workshop, or residency
  • Search for jobs in the arts, writing, publishing. (Some are Internships, which don’t pay, and most are in the United States.)
  • Obtain advice for writers about writing contests, literary agents, publishing your book with the small press or larger publisher, book promotion and publicity, MFA programs, literary organizations that you can join.

Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction Literary Journals

There are many online/print literary journals where you can read fiction, poetry, personal essays. Check out these Literary magazines:

Please note that these are just a few of the popular literary journals that you can read.

Poetry

If you are interested in reading poetry by the best poets from around the world, obtain how-to advice on how to write poetry, learn poetry terms, techniques, and genre, read articles about poetry,  visit the following:

Literary Nonfiction

Are you interested in reading creative nonfiction, such as short personal essays of less than 1,000 words? You can read them at the Brevity, an online literary journal.

Purchasing Books on Creative Writing

Do you live some place where you don’t have regular access to creative writing books? You can purchase them online at the following:

  • Amazon.ca
  • Amazon.com

In fact, most of the books on how to write poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction that I’ve used  were purchased online at Amazon. Here are  a few of the books I recommend that you can purchase at Amazon, books you won`t find in your local bookstore:

Creative Nonfiction

  • Truth of the Matter: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction by Dinty Moore
  • You Can`t Make this Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything In Between by Lee Gutkind
  • Story Craft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction by Jack Hart
  • Creative Nonfiction: A Guide to Form, Content, and Style by Eileen Pollack
  • To Tell the Truth: Practise and Craft in Narrative Nonfiction by Connie D. Griffin

Craft of Writing

  • Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser (Writing Creative Nonfiction)
  • The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla. (A great book for learning how to write creative nonfiction, especially the various forms of the personal essay.
  • Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale
  • Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway. (Everything you require to write creatively, such as showing and telling, writing with sensory imagery, similes, metaphors….

Fiction

  • Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway (Includes how to instruction, exercises, and anthology of short stories)
  • On Writing Short Stories, edited by Tom Bailey ( Two parts: How to write and an anthology of short stories)

Poetry

  • Poetry Repair Manual by Ted Kooser
  • Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen
  • The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio (Excellent book to learn how to write poetry)
  • The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayers
  • Creating Poetry by John Drury
  • In the Palm of Your Hands by Steve Kowell

Create a Web Presence with Social Media

Do you want to create a Web presence? Here are a few popular social media platforms where you can create a profile, network with others, and promote your writing skills, expertise, and work

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google +
  • Facebook

Learn How to Publishing an E-Book

Are you interested in self-publishing? A great place to begin is at the Self Publishing Review. At this website, you can obtain advice and find resources on self-publishing. You can join a social network, read their online magazine, and find out how to self-publish. The Self-Publishing Review also provides book cover design and an e-book publishing service. It can design a cover for your book for a  fee.  It can also convert your book of fiction or nonfiction to an XHTML file, the format of an e-book, for a fee. (For a book of 200 pages, the cost is $200)  And then you can upload it to Apple iBooks, Barnes and Nobles Pubit, Kindle, or Kobo-Self-Publishing. To find out more, check out The Self Publishing Review .

Another self-publishing service to look into is Outskirts Press. It offers the following services:

  • Copy editing
  • Cover Design
  • Private Label ISBN
  • Publishing packages
  • Marketing solutions

To find other useful writing resources, you can carry out a search with Google.

The Writing Life: Writer’s Block

Monday, February-11-13

Dave Hood

What is writer’s block? It is a psychological state in which the writer is unable to begin, or  continue, or end a piece of writing. Sometimes a writer is blocked for a short period of time, such as a few days. Other times, the writer is unable to write for weeks, months, years. The writer who is blocked might feel there that there is a lack of inspiration. Or the writer might feel  unable to develop an idea into a poem, or essay, or story. Or the writer might feel that their work is not good enough for publication. Whatever the reason for the mental block—the writer is unable to write.

Many writer don’t believe in writer’s block. In “The Poet’s Companion,” a splendid book on how to write poetry, author Kim Addonizio, who is a well-known poet and writer and instructor of creative writing, suggests: “We don’t believe in writer’s block. We believe there are times when you are empty and times when you are full” of ideas to write about.

However, many writers, including myself, believe that sometimes writer’s are blocked. Grief, depression, addiction, anxiety, illness, fear of failure, self-doubt, burnout,  and the internal critic who demands perfection or undermines your confidence can empty the well of creativity, leaving you with a lack of inspiration and a blank page.

Some writer’s also believe in the  “muse”–some sort of higher power that provides them inspiration to write. This is just myth, just like Greek mythology.  The ancient Greeks  believed in the various Goddesses of the muse, who provided a select few creative geniuses with inspiration. In my view, it is the writer who must find inspiration and continually write, even when he/she doesn’t feel like writing.  The writer creates his/her own muse.

By nurturing creativity,  you can bring an end to writer’s block or  prevent it.  For a writer, creativity is about uncovering ideas to write about and then applying techniques of fiction to craft a complete story, or using various poetic devices  to compose a poem. Sometimes a writer might have a good idea, but he/she doesn’t know how to begin, to develop , or to end the piece of creative writing. Or the writer is stuck in the middle of a piece of writing. Or  the writer might not have any ideas. And so the well of creativity is empty.

How do you nurture creativity and prevent writer’s block? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Maintain a work-life balance. There must be time for work, time to socialize, time for fitness, time for solitude, and time for play. Often people who are burned-out have spent far too many hours writing—and forgotten to attend to other aspects of their life.
  2. Keep a writing journal or writing note book by writing in it each day.  What can you include? Anything related to the art and craft of writing. You can  freewrite, make a note about something eventful, write down the word and meaning of a new word. You can experiment with the techniques of fiction or poetry, such as simile or metaphor.  You can write about an overheard conversation, something on the news, a memory, your anxieties, a movie, song, poem, someone you loath, what happened in your day, a fleeting moment, something you’ve learned. You can add  photographs, news clippings, recipes, quotations, anything that is inspirational to your writing journal. Not only will the journal keep you in the habit of writing, it can also supply you with ideas to write about.
  3. Go on an artistic date every week or so. Author Julia Cameron, who wrote “The Artist’s Way,” suggests that you can find ideas to write about if you go on an artistic adventure by yourself each week or so. You might visit a bookstore, buy tickets to see a music concert, attend an art gallery, visit a craft show–do something new.
  4. Read widely and deeply for pleasure. Not only should you read books on the craft of writing, but you should also read the best poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction available.  Marvelous contemporary poets include Mary Oliver, Charles Simic, and Billy Collins.  For a list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century, see www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/100-best-novels . Or select and read a novel from Time’s 100 All-time novels. You can find countless other poems and poetry at The Poetry Foundation. You should also stay informed–by reading magazines and newspapers. All aspiring writer’s should read literary journals and The New Yorker magazine. Reading can be a pleasurable escape, an easy way to discover new ideas, a simply way to learn, and one of the best ways  to expand your vocabulary, providing you look up the meaning of a words you don’t understand in a dictionary.
  5. Make fitness part of your daily routine. Take vigorous walk or engage in some other aerobic exercise each day. Do yoga. Pump some weights. Join and attend a fitness club. Take a bike ride. Physical exercise, especially aerobic,  will build self-confidence,  clear your mind, and release tension from your body. It is one of the best ways to combat stress and refresh a tired mind.
  6. Find an hour each day for solitude or personal time–away from the solitude of writing. This quiet time can be used for personal reflection, to meditate, to take a walk in the woods, to rest, and so forth. The purpose of solitude is to provide you with a break from the stresses of life.
  7. If you are unable to write because of burn-out, you must take a break. When you’re burned-out, you won’t be able to give your best effort. The break will reenergize you. You might take a trip, go on a vacation, or just stop writing and use the time to in leisure activities you enjoy.  How long? It all depends. Once you’re feeling refreshed, you can begin writing again.
  8. If you don’t have anything to write about, do some freewriting. There are two types: Focused and unfocused. Unfocused freewriting is about sitting down with a pen and notebook, and then writing about anything that pops into your mind. Focused freewriting involves sitting down and writing about a particular topic. For instance, you might freewrite about why you cannot write. And when you are freewriting, answer the journalistic questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how.
  9. Find an outlet or enjoyable leisure activity. Play baseball, tennis, squash. Do some cooking. Socialize with a friend. Take up photography, learn how to play the piano, or some other musical instrument. What every you do, be sure that you are doing something enjoyable that is not about writing.
  10. Sometimes you must continue to write even when you don’t feel inspired to write, unless you are suffering from burnout. Why should you continue to write? The act of writing will  provide you with inspiration and content.  This material can always be revised or discarded. Writing each day will also keep you disciplined, and allow you to capture ideas or expand on them.

For more information on preventing writer’s block or finding ideas to write about, read:

  • The Writer’s Idea Book: How to Develop Great Ideas for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Screenplays b y Jack Heffron
  • A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion & Lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judy Reeves
  • Where Do You Get Your Ideas: The Writer’s Guide To Transforming Notions into Narratives by Fred White.
  • The Right to Write by Julia Cameron
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • The Artist’s Way By Julia Cameron

The Writing Life: Myths About Writing

Dave Hood

Have you always desired to become a writer? A writer is a person who writes either as a commercial   writer, which is a writer for hire. Or the writer is a literary writer– inspired to share something important with society, or add something to literature or culture. The literary writer is not a writer for higher, nor does this type of writer earn a salary. The literary writer is often a starving artist until he/she becomes recognized by the establishment. The literary writer frequently toils at a job to pay the bills, so that he/she can write in the evening or on weekends.  Writing is a labour of love.

To call yourself a writer, you must write on a regular basis. Ideally, you must write each day. Writing must become a habit, a daily ritual, work you do to achieve some purpose–such as publishing a book of poems, short fiction, memoir, or personal essay. Despite good intentions, many aspiring writers never embrace the writing life.  Just ask  a few MFA graduates if they are writing. You’ll be shocked to learn that less than 50% are still writing anything five years after they’ve graduated. Why is this so?

Self-doubt, procrastination , “the internal critic” usually prevent the aspiring writer from writing anything meaningful.  These obstacles are usually rooted in false belief or myth.  These myths prevent the writer from remaining dedicated to the writing life. Writer Valerie O. Patterson has identified several of these myths in her article “10 Myths about the Writing Life,” published in the November/December 2012 of The Writer Magazine. I have expanded on her seven reasons with explanation and three additional reasons why people fail to write and fail to embrace the writing life.  Here are ten myths of writing and the writing life:

 

  1. A writing room is required to write. This is just not true. While it would be nice to have a writing room, many people just starting out don’t have the space to write. Perhaps, you live in a small one bedroom apartment, or share a house with many other people. All you really require to write is a private space, such as a coffee shop, park bench, bedroom, your car, any space free of noise and distraction. Any quiet place where there is inspiration is acceptable.
  2. You require the tool of  computer to begin writing. This is also not true. Hemingway, Wolfe, Carver, Faulkner, T.S. Eliot—and many, many other writers never had the luxury of crafting their fiction, personal essays, or poetry with a computer. To write, all you require is a pen and pad of notepaper. As well, you should own a thesaurus and dictionary.
  3. Writing requires inspiration. Many aspiring writers believe they have nothing to write about, and so they wait for inspiration to motivate them to write something memorable.  To become a writer, you must get into the habit of writing each day. If you wait for inspiration, you might never write. And so, you must seek out inspiration—tapping into memories; reading a wide range of books and magazines; embracing popular culture; taking an artistic date; doing some freewriting; keeping a journal.
  4. The lack of time prevents you from embracing the habit of writing. This is just an excuse. Each day, you must find time, or make time. That means you must make writing a high priority. It should be at the top of daily to-do list.  Either you schedule time, or you find a few minutes each day to write. For instance, you might write for 15 minutes while drinking your morning cup of coffee, or  for 15 minutes while you are computing on the subway, or for 15 minutes before you drift off to sleep in the evening. Suppose you write for 15 minutes each day. This works out to 2 hours and 15 minutes each week. This collection of time provides you with more opportunity to write than if you don’t write at all.
  5. Your first draft must be your best draft. Writing is a process. First, you discover an idea. Then you write down the points you wish to make. Then you write an opening, write the content, and end with an important point. Many aspiring writers believe that this first attempt is all that is required. Read any profiles or biographies of published authors of poetry, fiction, or personal essays—you’ll quickly discover that  Most writers revise their work many times over before they create a memorable piece of writing, something that is worthy of publication.
  6. A Master’s in Fine Arts with a specialty in Creative Writing (MFA) is required to become a writer. Read the biographies of many great writers, and you’ll learn that many of them never graduated with a MFA. In fact, most writers are self-taught. They’ve learned the art and craft of writing on their own. And then acquired additional knowledge, skill, expertise by enrolling in a few courses, workshops, writing retreats, or by joining a writing group.
  7. You must be a published author to call yourself a writer. This is just not true. Many aspiring writers who craft memorable work have not been published–but this doesn’t mean they never will publish. The act of writing makes you a writer. The habit of writing each day means that you are a writer.  And with the birth of digital publishing, you always have the opportunity to self-publish. Many great writers have self-published their work , including Walt Whitman.

 

Other Myths of Writing

Other myths that prevent people from writing include:

  1. Great writers are born, not made. In other words, the ability to learn the art and craft of writing poetry, fiction, personal essay  is genetically determined–and cannot be learned.  You can learn the craft of writing by learning the rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation; by expanding your vocabulary; by learning the variety of sentence structures; by learning the different types of paragraphs; by learning how to write into a structure. You can learn the art of creative writing by learning some creative thinking skills, such as brainstorming, asking what if, and shifting your perspective. Two important cognitive tools to help you: Learn how to tap into your memories and  develop your imagination. You can also learn how to write creatively by learning the technique of showing and telling a story;  by learning how to write similes and metaphors; by learning how to write concrete, vivid, significant descriptions; by learning how to write sensory imagery, using language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. You can also learn the craft of writing by teaching yourself or by enrolling in writing courses. A few good books to help you learn the craft of writing: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale, The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long, Woe is I by Patricia O’Connor.
  2. You cannot write because of writer’s block. Many established writers and instructors of writing claim that writer’s block is just procrastination, self doubt, or burn out. If you are procrastinating, create a schedule and make writing a high-priority. If you have self-doubt, learn to ignore it, and write. Or, if you don’t feel confident enough to write, learn the craft and practise your writing.  If you are burned-out, take a break for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. Then get back to the habit of writing. Other ways to prevent writer’s block include yoga, walking, jogging. These activities, if done regularly, will clear your mind and help you relax. Another good way to clear your mind is to mediate. A few other great ways to prevent writer’s block are to take the artistic date. Read for pleasure and to relax. Stay informed by watching the news on television, by listening to it on the radio, by reading the newspaper, or by reading the interesting content online. Embrace popular culture, photography,  music, film, art, sports…
  3. There aren’t publishers who will publish your work. With the dawn of the Internet, you can create your own blog and self-publish your writing. You can also self-publish your collection of poetry, short fiction, or personal essays by using software tools offered by Amazon or Apple, which will allow you  create and sell a digital e-book. These books can be read on a tablet or smartphone.

 

Books that Address the Myths or False Beliefs of Writing

In addition, many writers have addressed the myths of writing in their books on how to become a writer. Here are a few books you ought to purchase, read, learn from,  and keep on your writing bookshelf:

  • The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla Long
  • Sin And Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale
  • Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus
  • Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
  • Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor
  • The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: The Ultimate Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
  • Escape into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg
  • The Story Within: New Insights and Inspiration  for Writers by Laura Oliver
  • Imaginative Writing by Janet Burroway
  • How to Become a Writer: Building Your Creative Skills Through Practise and Play by Barbara Baig
  • The  Right to Write by Julia Cameron
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

 

You can become a creative writer by learning the art and craft of creative writing. You must also embrace the writing life. To do this, you must make writing be a high priority, like someone training to run a marathon or practising to win a gold medal at the Olympics. You might also have to overcome false beliefs, which are usually rooted in myth. To become a writer,  you must get into the habit of writing each day. And you must read poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction on a regular basis. This sort of writing material will inspire and illustrate the art and craft of creative writing.  And then you must practise your writing and attempt to publish. At the very least, you must write in a journal each day–with the hope of publishing something meaningful at some point in the future. To help you learn the art and craft of writing, you might consider enrolling in a few writing courses or joining a writing group or attending a conference or taking a journey to a writing retreat. These tasks and habits won’t guarantee you’ll publish, but you can certainly call yourself a writer.