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A profile is not a biography or autobiography. The profile is a biography sketch, providing details of the person’s character, an overview of the person’s life story, and highlights of the person’s achievements and accomplishments. When the writer crafts a profile, the writer makes “some person” the focus of the story. The writer can profile a stranger or someone he/she knows well. The writer can also profile someone ordinary, such as a teacher, or priest, or police officer, or someone extraordinary, like Margaret Atwood, David Hockney, or Steve Jobs. For instance, in the November 11, 2011 edition of The New Yorker magazine, writer Malcolm Gladwell wrote a profile on Steve Jobs called “The Tweaker: the real genius of Steve Jobs.”
Before writing a profile, the writer must answer the question “Who is this person?” If the writer knows the person, the writer will rely on memory and observation and personal experience to write the profile. For instance, Charles Simic wrote a profile about his uncle called “Dinner at Uncle Boris,” which is based on a dinner at his uncle’s home. If the writer doesn’t know the person, the writer will conduct research, interviewing the person, visiting various places where the person works, lives, socializes, observing the person in their daily life, reading books, articles, and other material on the person.
A good profile includes telling details, dialogue, and storytelling. The writer will also use scene, summary, and personal reflection. A good profile is also interesting, profiles someone new, encourages the reader to think more about the person. A good profile informs, educates, and entertains readers. Some profiles have a serious tone, and other have a humorous tone.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to write a profile or biography sketch. The following will be covered:
- Definition of a profile
- Types of profiles
- Gathering material to write the profile
- Writing the profile
- Additional resources to learn more about writing a profile
Definition of a Profile
A profile is not a book-length biography, which is an in-depth description of the life and times of another person. Nor is the profile a book-length autobiography, which involves writing about one’s own life. The profile is usually only a few pages and published in magazines or newspapers as an essay. The writer can profile someone he/she knows or a stranger. As well, the writer can profile someone ordinary or extraordinary. Sometimes the profile is about the good guy. The writer profiles a person who wants to achieve or accomplish something worthy. Perhaps the amateur athlete dreams about winning a gold medal at the Olympics, or the starving artist desires to achieve fame and fortune, or the writer aspires to write the next bestseller.
Some profiles are about “the villain.” In the September 24th, 2012 edition of the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell writes a profile about child molesters called “In Plain View: How Child Molesters Get Away with It.”” In the essay, Gladwell narrates two stories about pedophiles, to illustrate how the sexual predator uses “trust” to create the opportunity to abuse a child.
The writer will include details about the person’s private life, psyche, and public world. The inner world deals with the person’s thoughts, feelings, opinions, views of other people. In writing about the outer world, the writer identifies some of the important setbacks and obstacles, as well as the significant accomplishments and achievements.
The writer can profile someone he/she knows or a stranger. If the person knows the person he/she will profile, the writer can create the profile from memories, observations, and personal experience. To write a profile about a stranger, the writer must have access to the person. Having access allows the writer to interview and to observe the person at work and at play. The writer will also interview family, friends, and work associates.
Sometimes a portrait isn’t based on an interview but a conversation. For instance, Charles Simic wrote a profile called “Dinner at Uncle Boris,” which is based on a dinner and evening conversation with his uncle. He includes humour, telling details, dialogue, scene and summary, and personal reflection to construct the portrait of his uncle.
The good profile of a public person answer several questions, including:
- Why is the writer profiling the person?
- What is unique about the person?
- What is significant about the person?
- What are the person’s achievements or accomplishments?
- What obstacles or setbacks did the person have to overcome?
- Why is the person in the news or public consciousness?
- Does the writer likes the person? Dislike the person? Why?
The best profiles answer the question ” Who is this person? Unfortunately, people perform many roles, such as husband, breadwinner, parent, and so the writer will not be able to write a complete profile. No matter how much research the writer completes, the writer will never know the person completely, because people have darks sides they don’t share and personalities traits that aren’t always revealed.
Types of Profiles
In “Telling True Stories,” writer Jacqui Banaszynski, in his essay “Profile,” identifies three types of profiles:
- Cradle-to-Current Profile. It is a profile about the person’s entire life, up to the present. The writer invests a great deal of time in researching, writing, and fact checking.
- Niche Profile. It is a profile that is 1,000 words or less, and can be written in a short period of time. The writer composes a profile about someone in the news. This type of profile includes relevant background information. For instance, if the writer is crafting a profile about a person who won a Pulitzer for Literature, the writer would include education and previously published works. But biography details about place of birth and early education would not be relevant. Instead the writer focuses on “telling details.”
- Paragraph Profile. This type of profile is brief, providing essential details about accomplishments or achievements, and the person’s significance to the story. It is a paragraph or two, and part of a larger story.
Gathering Material for the Profile
Before writing the profile, you must gather material about the person. Your goal is to answer the question “Who is this person?” Here are a few ways to answer the question:
Begin by searching the Internet to find out what else has been written about the person. Start by completing a Google search. By reading what other writers have written, you can obtain a general sense of the person, such as their level of education, work accomplishments, interests, tastes, reason for being in the news.
Interview the person you are profiling and other people who know the person, such as friends and family. As well, interview subject matter experts. For instance, to get related information about being a stunt pilot, writer Annie Dillard collected quotes from a pilot who as a crop duster
In the interview, what sorts of questions should you ask? Here are a few suggestions:
- What are the events or moments that shaped your life?
- What are your biggest accomplishments and achievements?
- What are you afraid of?
- What is your biggest regret?
- What setbacks or obstacles have you faced?
- What motivates you?
- What are your fears and worries?
- What do you value?
In addition, you should try to observe the person at work or in their natural habitat. For instance, before Anne Dillard wrote, “Stunt Pilot,” a profile about a stunt pilot. She watched the, Dave Rahm, the pilot fly his plane. She writes:”Rahm did everything his plane could do: tailspins, four-point rolls, flat spins, figure eights, snap rolls, and hammerheads.” (You can read this profile in Creative Nonfiction: A Guide to Form, Content, and Style with Readings by Eileen Pollack)
If the person is deceased, you can sometimes uncover their inner world of the person by reading their diaries, journals, letters, Facebook profiles and other social media.
Immerse yourself in the experience. Before writing the sketch about Dave Rahm, the stunt pilot, Dillard immersed herself in the experience of flying by taking a seat in the plane and flying as Rahm’s passenger. She writes: “Later I flew with Dave Rahm; he took me up…We flew from a bumpy grass airstrip near the house…We were over the clouds at five hundred feet and inside them too…”
If the person is a well-known public figure, you can read a biography about the person. If the person has written their own autobiography, make sure you read it.
How do you know when to stop researching? You must continue to research until you have sufficient “telling details” to write a profile that’s compelling. Your goal is to create a revealing, interesting, and entertaining profile.
Writing the Profile
Many of the best profiles are written as narratives. The writer crafts true story involving a central character. For instance, Charles Simic, In “Dinner at Uncle Boris,” profiles his uncle, writing a story about a dinner conversation. Annie Dillard, in “The Stunt Pilot,” profiles a pilot flying a stunt plane.
To write a profile, follow these suggestions:
Structure the profile using the narrative arc. It includes:
- Inciting incident
- Conflict, such as setbacks or obstacles
- Turning point and climax
- Resolution or end of the story
To reveal character, use the fictional methods of characterization. These include:
- Dialogue. Use interviews or immersion to capture interesting quotes of the person you are profiling. Use these quotes in your profile.
- Description of Appearance. Observe the person you are writing about. Make note of their physical appearance, including hair style, clothing, gestures, hygiene, and so forth. Use concrete, particular, significant details to describe the person.
- Dramatic action. Show what the person does, their actions and reactions, in the narrative.
Point of View
Use both the first person POV(“I”) and third person (“he/she”). For instance, in the profile “The Stunt Pilot,” Dillard uses third-person POV to write the narrative of the pilot flying in the sky, performing his daredevil stunts, and to provide narrative summary. She begins: “Dave Rahm lived in Bellingham, Washington, north of Seattle…Dave Rahm was a stunt pilot.” She shifts to first person POV (“I”) to share personal reflections about the stunt pilot.
Scene, Summary, and Personal Reflection
Use a scene to recreate important events. A scene always includes setting details, dramatic action, vivid description, dialogue, and POV. Use summary to “tell” or explain. Use personal reflection to express your views about the person, sharing your own thoughts, feelings, opinion, emotional truth.
To reconstruct setting and events and people, use sensory details, writing descriptions of what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch.
Don’t include every detail. Instead use “telling details.” These are concrete, significant, particular details, which reveal deeper meaning than their descriptions.
Facts not Fiction
Don’t fabricate dialogue or events. This is writing fiction. As well, complete fact-checking.
Follow the advice in “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser and “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. As well, read “The Writer’s Portable Mentor” by Pricilla Long.
The first draft is never your best work. Always revise the draft, completing a macro-edit (structure, tone, elements of fiction, POV) and micro-edit (grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, sentence patterns).
A Few Tips for Writing a Profile
Here are a few tips for writing a profile or biography sketch:
- Select a person to profile, and then begin with an interesting question you want to answer. If you are going to profile someone you know, mine your memory, observe the person in real life, and write about some significant event. (In Dillard’s profile, she answers “what it is like to be a stunt pilot?”) If the person is unknown, collect your material by researching the person.
- Before interviewing, have a list of open-ended questions you want to ask. These require the person being interviewed to respond with more than just “yes” or “no.”
- After doing the research, decide on an approach. How are you going to begin? With a scene? With a quotation? With a question? Before writing, outline your story. making a list of all the important points you want to write about.
- Always focus on what is significant or compelling. What is surprising? What is important? Any secrets? Oddities? Peculiarities? Contributions to society? What is their legacy?
- Show and tell your reader. You tell the reader by explaining and summarizing. You show the reader by writing in scenes. For any significant event, write a scene.
- Include dialogue. A good profile includes dialogue, revealing some personality trait.
- Include telling details. A good profile includes vivid description, revealing some personality trait.
- Don’t create one-dimensional portraits or profiles. Every person has a dark side. Every person has attributes you don’t admire. Share these telling details with the reader.
- Your subject is living an epic. In other words, the profile fits into a larger story about life. Consider the larger story as you write.
- Every story has a theme, a universal truth, shared meaning. For instance, Steve Jobs was one of the great inventors and innovators. He was a visionary who reshaped communication, use of leisure time, and everyday life with digital technologies.
For more information on writing a profile or biography sketch, read the following:
- Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction, (2nd Edition) by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
- Writing True by Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwartz
- Creative Nonfiction : A Guide to Form, Content, and Style with Readings by Eileen Pollack
- To Tell the Truth: Practise and Craft in Narrative Nonfiction by Connie D. Griffin
- You Can’t Make This Stuff: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative nonfiction from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything In Between Up by Lee Gutkind
- Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writer’ Guide, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- The Writer’s Personal Mentor by Priscilla Long
“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
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.
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.
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:
- Plot Development
- Character and characterization
- 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:
- Sound devices of assonance, alliteration, rhyme, onomatopoeia
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:
- If you are just getting started, purchase a few writing tools: a notebook, pen, laptop, dictionary, and thesaurus.
- 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.
- Find ideas to write about. An easy way is to read the newspaper, books, and magazines.
- 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.
- 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.
- Read poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction for pleasure. Reading will inspire you.
- Read as a writer. This involves reading and analyzing the writer’s style, tone, and voice.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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.
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:
- WordPress- http://www.wordpress.com
- Twitter- http://www.twitter.com (micro-blogging)
- 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:
Are you searching for a freelance writing job? Here are some good sites to find work:
- Freelance Writing Gigs – http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/
- Freelance Writing Organization–http://www.fwointl.com/ This site has job listings and 5,200 free writing resources and links.
- Media Bistro– http://www.mediabistro.com/
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:
- Continuing Education at the University of Toronto
- University of British Columbia
- Continuing Education at Stanford
- Online Writing Classes from Creative Nonfiction Magazine
- Gotham Writers Workshop
Resources for Writers
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.
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:
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:
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:
- 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….
- 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 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
- Google +
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
“When you write well, revision becomes not a chore, but the essence of the writing act itself.”(Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller)
Revision is part of the writing process. You revise your work after you have selected an idea to write about, completed necessary research, organized your information, decided on what to write about, and then written a first draft. The purpose of the first draft is not to write something complete–but to get your ideas on paper. Whether you write poetry, fiction, personal essays, you should revise your work.
Revision can transform an ordinary piece of poetry, short fiction, personal essay, or any form of writing into something memorable. Revision allows you to improve on an initial attempt. It gives you the opportunity to write the best possible poem, fiction, personal essay, and so forth.
Revision is often the most creative aspect of writing, providing you take a break after writing the first draft. The first draft is just a blueprint. Taking a break and then returning to revise your work gives your mind time to see and hear the writing from a fresh perspective. Brenda Miller, author of “Tell It Slant,” suggests that your first draft is just a “discovery draft.” You should write anything you desire. A first draft is never your best work.
The goal of revision is not to make your writing perfect, because you can always revise your work. (Many writers believe that writing is never finished.) The goal is to create something that is your best work. If you write sparse prose, you might have to add content. If you overwrite, you’ll have to delete the excess. Both the sparse writer and verbose writer will have to trim, alter, rearrange their content. They will also have to change language, phrases, sentence structure, paragraphs, and sections. The writer’s goal is always to improve on previous iteration.
When revising a piece of writing, don’t think of making it perfect, revise with the purpose of making it your best work.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to revise your creative writing. The following will be covered:
- Why you should revise your work
- Distancing yourself
- Reading your work aloud and making notes
- Revising your work by doing a macro-edit and micro-edit
The first draft is always a “shitty first draft.” This is what Anne Lamott tells us in the splendid book on the craft of writing called “Bird By Bird.” No writer gets it best the first time. Revision allows you the opportunity to improve. By revising your work after writing the initial draft, you can improve your writing, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, and usage. Revising your work also gives you the opportunity to improve the structure, plot, characterization, point of view, conflict, climax, resolution, theme and so forth of your story.
Some writers don’t include sufficient detail for a first draft; others include too much detail. Revising your work allows you to add, cut, rearrange, and expand the details of your poem, story, articles, essay.
Revising also enables you to see your writing from a fresh perspective–especially if you take a break from writing A break gives you a chance to add simile, metaphor, fresh language, new details, to tap into your imagination. Writer/instructor Jack Hodgins, author of A Passion for Narrative: A Guide for Writing Fiction, writes that: “The goal in revising is to achieve a more powerful whole.”
Distancing Yourself from Your Writing
What approach should you take to revising your work? Some writers write and edit as they go. But this approach blocks your imagination. It stifles creativity. It prevents the free flow of ideas from your mind to the page. Instead of writing what you are hearing in your mind, you are writing and then correcting.
Some writers reread as they go. But this approach slows down the flow of ideas from your mind to the page. It also interrupts the creative process and prevents the imagination from inventing.
Some writers craft their first draft with pen and a notebook, and then type the draft out on the computer. They write a first draft without revising or editing or rereading. It is a complete first draft. When they type out the draft on their computer, they reread and revise. I use this approach, and find it useful.
Author Susan Bell, in ” The Artful Edit,” suggests you distance yourself before revising. Here are a few recommendations she provides in her book:
- Don’t reread as you write. It slows down the writing process and creative thinking.
- Don’t revise as you write your first draft. It slows down the writing process and creative thinking.
- Write your complete first draft of a poem, chapter, section. And then take a break. The break of time allows you to approach your work from a new perspective. How long should you take? It all depends–at least one night. But many writers take a few days off, even a week, or longer, before starting the revision process.
- After the break, reread your work aloud to hear how it sounds.
- Once you have taken a break and reread your work, begin revising your work.
Many beginner writers believe that after writing their first draft they are finished. Furthermore, they believe the myth that the first draft must be perfect, and so they take forever to finish. Many writers become discouraged and abandon their writing. They find that the act of writing is like walking through the woods in the dark without a flashlight.
Writing is a process. It begins with an idea, followed by research or personal reflection. Next, the writer jots down a few points or makes a more formal plan of what he/she intends to write about. Then the writer crafts the initial draft. Once the draft is complete, the writer takes a break. The break allows the writer time to see his/her work from a fresh perspective. When the writer returns from the sojourn or hiatus, he/she begins revising the draft. The purpose of revision is to improve on the initial attempt, to make it better, to make it the best the writer can, to polish, to convert chaos to order, to make the piece of writing shine.
In “You Can’t Make this Stuff Up,” writer Lee Gutkind, states the following: “Writing is Revision. Almost every sentence, every paragraph, every page we write we will revise and rewrite a number of times.”
All great writers revise their work over and over before publishing. Raymond Carver rewrote his short stories many times before publishing. D. H. Lawrence rewrote the novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover three times before it was published. Ernest Hemingway wrote the ending to Farewell to Arms 39 times.
All writers can learn how to revise their work. The first thing to remember is that the first draft is just an blue print. It is not your finished piece of work. By revising your work, you improve your first attempt. Often you’ll need to complete several revisions before you submit it for publishing.
How to Revise
Many writers revise as they write. They’ll write a sentence or paragraph or section, then reread it, then revise. But this is a slow and tedious process. And it prevents you from getting to the finishing line quickly. Moreover, it interrupts the free flow of ideas from the mind to the page. A better way to revise is to write the entire draft, take a break of a day or longer. Why take a break? It allows you to see your work from a fresh perspective or point of view. It’s like looking taking a photograph of a building from different perspectives. From each viewpoint, you’ll see something different. The goal of writing, like taking photographs, is to capture the best image. When you return to your writing, you’ll read it aloud and make notes of things you don’t like. Then you’ll conduct a macro-edit and micro-edit of the entire draft. Often you’ll need to revise your narrative several times before submitting it for publication. Your approach to writing and revising should be to get it down, and then work on getting your poem or story or essay or article right—making it the best you can.
Revision is about rereading your entire piece of writing, find errors, omissions, things that requirement improvement or deletion. Revision is about rewriting. You’ll approach the process of revising from a high level, which involves the entire document, poem, story, article. Editors call this a “macro-edit.” Once you have completed a macro edit of your piece of creative writing, then you’ll complete a line-by-line edit or copy edit. Editors and instructors call this a “micro-edit.”
What to Revise
After writing your complete draft, take a break for a day or more. The break from writing will enable you to see your work from a new perspective. Once you have taken the break, reread your work aloud, and make notes for improvement as you go. After reading your work aloud to yourself, you’ll complete a macro edit. All types of creative writing requires a macro edit, whether you write a short story, novel, personal essay, or literary journalistic article. Once you’ve finished the macro-edit, you’ll also complete a micro-edit, which is a line-by-line edit or copy edit. Not all of the items on this list will apply to every genre.
Macro-Editing. What does a macro-edit involve? For a macro-edit of a personal narrative essay or fictional story, you’ll do the following:
- Ensure that the beginning tells the reader what the story is about and why they should reader it. And also ensure that the beginning grabs the reader’s attention.
- Ensure that your story has a setting. It is shows the time and place of the story. It can be a backdrop, antagonist, or the mood of a story. Does your story, at the minimum, have take place at a particular time and place?
- Revise to enhance the central character. Does the central character have a motive? Character flaws? Have you develop the character with dialogue, behaviour, appearance?
- Revise to improve the structure. Is there a beginning, middle, and ending? Is there an inciting incident? Problem? Setbacks or obstacles? Climax or turning point? Resolution to the story?
- Revise for dialogue. Does the dialogue reveal character? Move the story forward? Sound like real people talking? Does each character speak differently? Is dialogue included in important events or scenes?
- Revise for style. Do you use a consistent voice? tone? diction? Sentence variety?
- Ensure that the story has a correct and consistent point of view. First person (I)?, Second person (you)? Third person (He/she)?
- Ensure that you have included concrete and specific and significant details and descriptions.
- Ensure that you have used imagery, language that appeals to the reader’s sense of sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch.
- Ensure that you have used figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, personification, symbolism.
- Ensure that you show the reader what happened with dialogue, action, setting, imagery when writing about important events, such as the inciting incident, crisis, climax, resolution.
- Ensue that the story has a theme. What is the implicit meaning of your work?
- Ensure that your story has an ending. And is the ending correct? Open? Closed?
If you are writing a piece of creative nonfiction, you’ll want to also ensure that you have written into a structure. For instance, if you are writing a theme-based personal essay, you’ll want to make sure that you have a variety of sections, which supports central idea.
If you are writing a collage essay, you’ll want to ensure that your “found objects,” such as a quotation, anecdote, vignette, poem, and so forth, support the central idea.
If you are writing a braided essay, you’ll want to be sure that your structure adequately reveals a comparison between two ideas or people or things. For more information, read “The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life” by Priscilla Long.
If you are writing a poem, your macro-edit will consider the following:
- Form–narrative, meditative, surreal, image, prose….
- Line break–for emphasis, enjambment, rhyme
- Diction or word choice
- Figurative or poetic language such as simile or metaphor or imagery
- Concrete and significant details
- Grammar and syntax and punctuation
- Right voice and style
- Sound, such as alliteration or assonance or rhyme
- Rhythm and meter
- Point of view-first, second, third person, invented persona
- Theme–meaning of the poem
Micro-editing. After completing a macro-edit, you’ll complete a micro-edit. Whether you write poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, you must complete a micro-edit. It is a line-by-line edit of the following:
- Grammar. Ensure that you are using correct grammar, such as Correct usage, such as subject verb agreement
- Spelling. Ensure that you are using correct spelling.
- Punctuation. Ensure that you are using correct punctuation-period, comma, dash, exclamation point, question mark, quotations
- Scenes. Ensure that you have shown and told your readers. You must write in scenes for all important events. Do you show your readers what happened? For things that are less important, do you tell your readers?
- Diction/word choice. Ensure that you have chosen the best language. What is the connotation and denotation of each word?
- Sentence variety. Ensure that you have used sentence variety, such as long and short sentence, fragments and climactic sentences, simple, compound, and complex sentences.
- Melody. Ensure that your prose have melody. Have you used alliteration? Assonance? Rhyme? Repetition?
- Rhythm. Ensure that your prose have rhythm? It refers to the patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. It also refers to the use of repetition? And it refers to the use of parallel structure of your prose?
- Lyricism. Ensure that you your prose are lyrical? Have you used imagery? Metaphor? Simile?
- Usage. Ensure that you have used the active voice, concrete nouns, action verbs. Ensure that you have used adjectives and adverbs sparingly.
A few Suggestions about Revision
If you intend to revise and to publish, you must have a good understanding of grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, and writing style. If you are not sure about any of these topics, I strongly recommend you read and learn the suggestions, guidelines, and recommendations presented in the following:
- The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English by Patricia T. O’Connor
- The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magical and Mystery of Practical English by Roy Peter Clark
- Sin And Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale
Revision is part of writing. All great writers revise to improve their work. The best writers conduct a macro-edit and micro-edit (a line-by-line edit) of their work. Revising your work enables you to correct mistakes and oversights, to add, to delete, to alter, to move, to improve and polish a first attempt. Revising your work gives you the chance to create your best work, which improves your odds of publishing it.
Resources. For a more detailed explanation on revising a poem, short story, personal essay, and more, read the following:
- The Artful Edit: On the Practise of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell
- The Story Within: New Insights and Inspirations for Writers by Laura Oliver
- Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
- Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School
- Writing Your Way: Creating A Writing Process that Works for You by Don Fry
- The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla Long.
November 26, 2012
by Dave Hood
How do you end a poem, short story, novel, personal essay—or any other type of creative writing? Writing a good ending is as important as writing a compelling opening…You should give as much thought to your ending as your opening.” This is the advice William Zinsser shares in “On Writing Well.
There are many ways to end a piece of creative writing, such as with a relevant quotation, with a recommendation, with a call to action, by referring back to the beginning. Often the genre you are writing and the idea you are writing about will dictate how to end.
The ending should provide a sense of closure to your writing. To write an ending, you should know when to end and how to end a piece of writing. Different genres, such as a short story, personal essay, or poetry, have different suggestions for writing an ending.
In this article, I’ll explain what an ending must accomplish and provide some general suggestions on how to end a narrative or poem.
What Must Your Ending Accomplish
In the “Handbook of Magazine Article Writing,” it is suggested that the ending of an article should do one of the following:
- Leave readers with the idea that they have learned something.
- Leave readers with the idea that they have gained some insight.
- Show reader how the information in the article impacts or relates to their lives
- Encourage readers to conduct research or additional investigation.
In “On Writing Well,” William Zinsser makes a few suggestions about ending a piece of creative nonfiction:
- “When you are ready to stop, stop. In other words, don’t write too much.”
- “The positive reason for ending well is that a good last sentence–or last paragraph, is a joy in itself. It gives the reader a lift, and it lingers when the article is over.”
- “What usually works best is a quotation.”
Zinsser also tells readers not to end by summarizing. For instance: “In summary…or “To conclude…”
Why? A summary is repeating yourself by compressing details that were already shared with the reader. Instead, you ought to make one final point that resonates in the mind of the reader.
When you end, you must have answered all questions posed in the story or article or personal essay. Otherwise, the reader is left wondering, and feels your writing is incomplete. As well, the essay or narrative should be brought to a close. In other words, the reader knows that the narrative is complete. For instance, if you are writing about a journey, the end might be when the character reaches his/her destination. If you are writing a meditative essay, you might leave the reader with some final point to ponder. If you are writing an opinion essay, you might end with a final point. Writer Elizabeth Anderson, in her essay “IF God is Dead, Is Everything Permitted?” (The Portable Atheist, selected and introduced by the late Christopher Hitchens), ends her essay with the following judgement: “The moralist argument, far from threatening atheism, is a critical wedge that should open morally sensitive theists to the evidence against the existence of God.”
A great ending, in my view, leaves the reader with something to ponder or meditate about after he puts down the piece of writing. Sometimes the writer shares an epiphany or a lesson learned or words of wisdom.
There are no rules on how to end a piece of creative writing, only suggestions. It is up to the writer to decide how to begin and how best to end a piece of writing. Your end should make some important final point. A good final point is like a knockout punch.
How to Write An Ending
There are several ways to end. It all depends on the genre. A personal-narrative essay usually ends when the story ends, often with some epiphany. In a poem, the last line often makes some emphatic final point, some idea the writer can take away and ponder. In a short story or novel, the ending can be closed or open. In a closed ending, the story ends, and nothing else happens. In an open ending, the reader is left to imagine what might happen in the future. Trilogies end with an open ending. A popular technique for ending a story is to use a “cliff hanger.” Sometimes the writer ends a short story or novel ends with dialogue from the protagonist. Some writer’s end articles or personal essays or meditative essays by referring back to the beginning. Other writers begin with a question, explore the question, then you can end with one final answer. Many writer’s end with a final quotation.
Check out most literary journalism essays in the New Yorker, and you’ll discover that most writers end their writing with a final quotation from someone they’ve interviewed. In the essay, “Slackers” (July 30th, 2012), writer, Malcolm Gladwell, ends with the following quote: “None of the doctors who treated me, and none of the experts I’ve consulted since the day I collapsed, have ever heard of anybody being gone for than long and coming back to full health,” he writes.” He was back on the track nine days later.” Clearly, there are many methods you can use to end a piece of creative writing. The decision is yours to make. It is a creative choice of the writer.
David Remnick, author of “We Are Alive”, ends with the following quote: Springsteen glanced at the step and stepped into the spotlight. “Hola, Barcelona!” he cried out to a sea of forty-five thousand people. “Hola, Catalunya!”
You often read true and fictional stories about a calamity or disaster. The writer opens the story by describing a setting of normalcy. And then, the bomb is dropped, or the hurricane destroys the quiet life of the living, or the earthquake obliterates a town. The writer describes the cause and effects, and the struggles to survive and cleanup. In this sort of narrative, writers often end by “returning to the state of normalcy.”
Some writers end with a telling anecdote, or by pointing to what will happen next in the story, or tell readers where to find additional information. Other writers end with an epilogue, which tells what happens to the characters later and how their stories continue.
Other ways to end a piece of creative writing include:
- With a judgement
- With recommendation
- With a prediction
- With an insight
- With a hope or wish
There are no rules for ending a piece of writing, only suggestions. And every form of writing–whether a personal essay, poem, short story, article—has its own suggestions for ending. The final decision about how to end a piece of writing is the writer’s. It is one of the creative decisions of writing. Often the writer relies on a “gut feeling” or “intuition” or “sixth sense.” The worst thing a writer can do is overwrite or write a double ending. The best way to end is to leave your reader satisfied while giving the reader a sense of closure. William Zinsser writes, “The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and seem exactly right.”
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- The Story Within: New Insights and Inspirations for Writers by Laura Oliver
- The Elements of Story: Field Notes on Nonfiction by Francis Flaherty
- Handbook of Magazine Article Writing, edited by Michelle Ruberg and Ben Yagoda
- The New Yorker, “Slackers: Alberto Salazar and the Art of Exhaustion” by Malcolm Gladwell (July 30, 2012)
Friday, November 16, 2012
Writing is a process, and yet many beginning writers ignore the process of writing, preferring to dive into the art and craft of writing without much preparation. And when they finish their first draft, they believe that it is the final version. I have done this–and it is a waste of time and results in chaos.
The best way to write is to follow the process of writing. Whether you write poetry, short stories, personal essays, articles, you first begin with an idea. Next, complete your research by gathering relevant material, information that allows you to understand your idea. (Different forms of writing require different types of research.)This might involve an interview, taking a trip to the library, doing research on the Internet, checking your writing journal, and so forth.
Next, organize your material and read through it. Your purpose is to understand the research you ‘ve collected. You’ll also answer two questions: 1) What are you going to write about? In other words, what is your topic. 2) What points do you want to make about your topic? You can use this approach to write a poem, short story, personal essay, article, and more. You can list them or create an outline or make a mental note.
After organizing your work, begin writing the first draft. The first draft is just a blue print, the scaffolding, the foundation for the finished piece of writing. The first draft is never your best work. It is an initial attempt.
Once you write the draft, set it aside for a day or more, then take a break from the work of writing. When you return, begin to revise your draft. You are revising to improve on your first attempt at writing something memorable and superb. All great writers write and revise their work many times—to make it the best they can.
In this article, I discuss how to write a first draft. The final decision on how to write a draft is yours. Some writers follow the process; other writers just begin–without much planning or organization or research.
Organizing Your Material
Let’s assume you have selected your idea to write about and completed your research. What’s next? Many writers start writing. But this results in unfocused writing, and so you’re wasting time. Unfocused writing at the draft stage can lead to mental confusion, which can stress you out.
A better way to write a first draft is to organize your material, determine what you want to say, and then write the draft. Organizing your material enables you to create a structure. How do you do this?
At the organization stage, do the following:
- Learn your research material by reviewing your notes
- Decide what you want to write about
- Decide what points you want to make
- Decide on a possible beginning and ending
The best way to organize your work is to have a map of how to proceed or to begin the journey of writing the draft. Essential your map is a plan for writing the draft.
Types of Writing Plans
I have learned that there are four types of plans to write the draft. In school, you are were taught to write a formal outline. It included various sections and points to make. Each section was identified with a roman numeral or number. Each roman numeral identified a first paragraph or section. Under each section heading, you identified the important points. I don’t know anyone who uses this formal outline. I never did. It is like wearing a straight jacket and trying to write. It stifles creativity and the discovery through writing.
Some writers begin with a list of important points to make, and then start writing. I’d call this a impromptu or scratch outline. It is informal. You can use this approach to compose a poem, short story, personal essay. I have used this approach many times. (It also works for writing letters, emails, poetry, personal essays.) The scratch outline allows you to put your thoughts on paper and allow you to remember important points to make.
Some writers use an organic approach to organizing material. The structure is unknown. It will be discovered by writing. You can use this method of organizing for writing a poem, short story, essay, novel. Essential, writers who use this approach rely on trial and error, because they don’t know how the story, the poem, the essay begins, develops, and ends until they start to write. Writing is an act of discovery. The details are revealed to the writer by writing.
Many writers, especially those who write poetry and fiction begin a story without knowing how it will begin or end. They write a section, and then another, and another. They might begin in the middle, with a character, conflict, setting, and so forth. Or, they freewrite or write to discover. Afterwards they cut and paste the various sections or parts together. Many writers use this organic approach. It is essentially writing to discover. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with this approach. However, it is time consuming.
Many writers prefer to create an informal plan. It provides a structure. It includes the following:
- Beginning-Introduces what you are writing about and why it is important
- Section–related points
- Section–related points
- Section-related points
- Ending-Give the reader a sense of closure.
If you are going to write an article, opinion essay, segmented essay, lyrical essay, I should consider using this approach.
Another approach is to create a narrative arc. If you are writing a personal-narrative essay or short story, you’d use the narrative arc as your plan. It includes:
- Inciting incident
- Rising action-Setbacks and obstacles
- Crisis–conflict intensifies
A simpler way is to identify the conflict, climax, and resolution.
If you are writing a personal essay or short story, I find that an informal plan or outline is a good way to create structure for your writing. It provides a map on how to begin the journey of writing the first draft. It is a way to evoke the creative muse–and find other material in your mind to write about. You won’t become lost or forget to write about an important point.
Required Tools for Writing the Draft
What do you require to write a draft? Ideally, you need a computer to type the draft. It should include word-processing software, such as MS Word. You’ll be able to add, delete, copy, cut and paste, do spell-check, and so forth. Having access to a computer also enables you to link to the Internet, where you can conduct research, send e-mail, post to a blog or online website.
You’ll also require a notebook and one or more pens. Use the notebook to make notes on your draft. Perhaps an idea pops into your head as you write the draft. Perhaps, while writing the draft you discover that you’ll need to do more research, and make note of it in your notebook.
You should also own a dictionary and thesaurus. Refer to your dictionary to check the spelling of words and look up their meaning. Use a thesaurus to find a word with the right shade of meaning. I suggest you also have a book of quotations. A quote can add depth and a new perspective to a piece of writing, especially when it is a quote from a sage, philosopher, great writer.
Once you have a notebook, pen, dictionary, thesaurus, and computer, you are ready to write the draft.
Writing the Draft
For years, I’d write a first draft by writing and revising as I wrote. I’d write a sentence, or a paragraph or a section, then reread what I wrote. Then I’d edit and revise before moving on. But I have learned that this approach slows down the writing process and blocks creative thinking.
A better approach is to write the entire draft without editing or revising. For instance, write the complete poem, short story, essay–without revising. Why? You are creating flow and tapping into your memories and inventing by using your imagination–writing what you hear in your head. As you write, refer to your plan. This plan guides your writing process. You might begin in the middle, at the end, or at the start. It doesn’t matter. The important point is to get the draft down on paper.
Here are a few things to consider as you write the draft:
Beginning the Draft. Your beginning should tell the reader what you are writing about and why your piece of writing is important to read. The beginning should also grab the reader’s attention, compelling them to read on. A few ways you can begin: with a quote, with a question, with a fascinating fact, with an anecdote, with a list, in the middle of the action.
Writing the content. Your content will depend on the form and genre you are writing. For instance, if you are writing an opinion essay, the middle should identify your argument, share important points. In a more formal literary journalistic essay, the middle might include several sections and points for each section.
If you are writing a collage essay or lyrical essay, you’ll create subsections with asterisks or roman numerals. For each section, you’ll might write a quote, anecdote, description, and so forth.
If you are writing a meditative essay, you’ll write about your main points, those that investigate your question you are pondering.
If you are writing an opinion essay, you’ll share your argument with the reader.
If you are writing a short story or personal essay, you’d tell the story by using a narrative arc. The middle will include conflict, setbacks and obstacles, climax, and falling action. You might end with an open ending, closed ending, lesson learned, epiphany.
Writing Creatively. When writing the first draft, you want to make an attempt at writing creatively. You’ll make a first attempt at:
- Showing and telling your reader
- Writing vivid descriptions
- Writing significant details or telling details
- Writing imagery that evoke the senses.
- Use literary devices of simile and metaphor
As well, write in scenes. You write in scenes when writing a poem, fiction, and creative nonfiction. A scene includes:
- Setting details
- Action. Something happens
- Vivid Descriptions
Writing the ending. You end by creating a sense of closure. Before ending, you make sure you’ve answered all questions raised in the writing. The best ending is memorable. The writer makes one final point that the reader can take away and ponder. For instance, many writers of creative nonfiction end with a final quote from someone they’ve interviewed.
Revising Your Draft
Once you have written the draft, what happens? You’ll put the piece of writing away for a night, a day, few days, or longer. Essentially, you’re take a break from writing. Taking a break enables you to see your work from a fresh perspective. It is like relaxing after a long day at work. Taking a break will refresh your creative spirit. When you return from your sojourn, you’ll begin revising your draft. The purpose is to make it better–to transform your draft into a splendid piece of writing.
Revision is about doing a macro-edit and micro-edit. A macro-edit involves revising “the big picture.” You’ll focus on setting, characterization, plot, theme, point of view, and so forth. You might add, delete, change the form and content of your work. If you are writing a personal essay, you might add a scene or details or imagery. If you are writing a short story, a macro-revision involves looking at setting, plot, character, POV, theme, and so forth.
Revision also involves a micro-editing or copyediting. It is a line-to-line edit, and involves checking grammar, spelling, and punctuation, active or passive voice, sentence variety, word choice. To learn more about editing, read “The Artful Edit: On the Practise of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell.
A good writer writes and revises. Read the biography of any great writing, and you’ll discover that they created a memorable poem, short story, personal essay by relying on writing as a process. Writing the first draft is part of the process. Good writers know that the initial draft is never their best work. It is just a blueprint. Ernest Hemingway revised the ending to “Farewell to Arms” 39 times. You’ll need to revise your work to make it the best you can. Drafting and revising creates order from chaos. It improves on a first attempt. It polishes your work until it shines.
To learn more about the writing process and drafting, read the following:
- Writing Your Way: Creating a Writing Process that Works for You by Don Fry
- Where Do You Get Your Ideas: A Writer’s Guide to Transforming Notions Into Narratives by Fred White
- The Artful Edit: On the Practise of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell
- Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose, edited by Constance Hale
- Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway
- Stein On Writing by Sol Stein
- The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio
By Dave Hood
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
― Pablo Picasso
Often, the writer must sit some place with a blank page and pen or a white screen staring back, and attempt to find something interesting, compelling, illuminating, entertaining to write on the page or type on the screen. It can be a daunting experience. The esteemed Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood, writes in her introduction,” Negotiating with the Dead”, that writing is too often like “walking into the labyrinth….like groping through a tunnel..like being in a cave…like wading through a deep river at dawn or twilight.” She goes on to write: “Virginia Woolf said that writing a novel is like walking through a dark room, holding a lantern which lights up what is already in the room. “Given the obstacles in unearthing a story or the difficulty dusting off an inspiring idea that can be expanded into a poem, short story, personal essay, article…why would anyone desire or aspire to write?
There are many reasons why people desire to write. Some want to express their creative spirit. Some believe it is the ideal career. Others want to write in a particular field, such as journalism, technical writing, medical writing. Many writers who take up creative writing–crafting poetry, fiction, short stories, novels—combine writing with teaching. I would guess that all teachers of creative writing in MBA programs are published writers. And most could not survive without teaching. In other words, they’d be starving artists, like most of you reading this article/blog post. You will not make a living writing poetry. And if you read the biographies of any poet, most had day jobs. Popular American poet, Wallace Stevens, who crafted many memorable poems, worked by day in the insurance industry. When Stevens died, many of his work colleagues didn’t know that he was a poet in his leisure time. Here’s a favorite poem of his:
The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
I write to express my creative spirit, to share something important, to fulfill my need to create, to express, to illuminate others with universal truths about life, to be recognized, to be published. This is why I write. And you will have your own reasons why you write or desire to write. There is no right or wrong reason. Writing creatively—using metaphor, simile, alliteration, symbolism, showing people what happened, not telling them, vivid details, imagery, and other literary devices— elevates good writing into an “art form.” A memorable poem, compelling short story, personal essay that illuminates a truth about the human condition is art.
by Dave Hood
Most great writer’s have a routine. That is what I’ve learned by reading Margaret Atwood’s “Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing,” Steven King’s “On Writing: A Memoir on Craft,” and Elizabeth Berg’s “Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.”
Writer Elizabeth Berg suggests that your writing routine should be “as personal and as varied” as your routines for anything else.
If your lifestyle changes, so will your writing routine. If you are a student at university, taking courses in creative writing, you’ll probably have lots of time to read and write. But, if you are working full-time, and attempting to write a novel, or short story, you’ll have to do it in your leisure time, perhaps at night or on the weekend.
Berg suggests that you begin your writing day by reading the writing you completed yesterday, and then edit it before writing something new. Why? The break from writing will provide you with fresh insight and a new perspective, perhaps even some new material.
Other writers suggest that you complete the first draft before beginning any sort of editing. Why? Editing can slow down the process of putting words from your mind on the page. Editing can also stifle the creative spirit. I always write the first draft before editing. And I always take a break for a few days before revising my work. The break allows me to discover new material and see my work from a fresh perspective.
Berg also suggests that when you are completing a writing project, continue to read unrelated material, such as other books, magazines, poetry, newspapers, to help you continually fill your creative spirit with new ideas.
How long should you write for? Berg writes for three or four hours in the morning, and then stops. Other writer’s do the same. Most writers don’t write for long stretches of time, such as 9,10,11 hours. Why? Their mind gets tired, they are unable to think clearly, they are unable to dust off authentic and original ideas from memory or their imagination. They are unable to write at their best with specific details, fresh similes, surprising metaphors.
As part of the routine, you should also write in a quiet and inspirational place, some location that allows you to think. Some writers set up a writing room. In their writing room, there is a desk, chair, bookcase of favorite books, a dictionary, thesaurus, perhaps some quiet music on the stereo, art on the walls, and photographs perched on the desk. Other writes craft a piece of writing in their bedroom, lying in bed. Many writers carve out something in a quiet cafe, where there’s the hustle and bustle of people, and soothing music.
Part of your routine also requires that you choose the “writing tools” that inspire you and allow you to quickly express your thoughts on the page, including a pen or coloured pens. A notebook. A writing Journal. A computer, such as tablet or laptop. Most creative writing instructors tell you to keep a writing journal, and write in it each day with a pen or a set of coloured pens. Most writers will also tell you to carry a notebook, so that when an interesting idea pops into your mind, you can capture it.
To write a poem, short story, novel, article, anything well, you require discipline. To be disciplined, you need a routine. Some writers like to write in the morning, other writers like to write at night when it’s dark. Many writers are only able to write in their leisure time, such as on the weekend, when they don’t have to work at their 9 to 5 day job.
If you truly want to become a good writer and publish, you must have discipline. Discipline requires that you make writing a high priority. And so, if you are a person who writes a “To-do-list” each day, you should make writing your number 1 priority, or very close to the top of your list of things to do. As well, instead of writing when you feel like it, you must establish a schedule and write at specific time of day. This helps to establish a routine. If you do not have time to write, you must find time. For instance, you could write for 15 minutes on your lunch, write for 15 minutes on your coffee break, writer while you ride the bus home from work… Discipline as a writer requires that you organize your life around your writing.
The act of writing makes you a writer. Writing requires that you do it regularly. Establishing a routine is the best way to write each day or on some schedule. Establishing a routine enables you to learn to write, to experiment with your writing, to become a writer, to write creatively like Hemingway, Alice Munro, Stephen King. Establishing a writing routine allows you to complete projects and to publish your writing dreams, rather than leave your writing aspirations to chance.
If you’d like to learn more about the writing life, I recommend that you read:
- Margaret Atwood’s “Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing”
- Steven King’s “On Writing: A Memoir on Craft”
- Elizabeth Berg’s “Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True.”
Each of these books is an entertaining read and provides insight into the writing life, as well as great advice on the art and craft of writing.