“Writing can be difficult, but sometimes it feels like a kind of magic.” David Almond
I didn’t study writing until my senior year of college. For the first time in my life I was writing creatively not for the pure love of it, but for class requirements. Sharing my writing to be critiqued and graded was a new and strange experience. It was like arranging my imagination on a plate and going before the likes of Gordon Ramsay, fearing I had overdone a character, underdeveloped a scene, made the ending too sweet.
Writing is often categorized as a skill that, much like any other undertaking, can be improved with study and practice. While there’s nothing wrong with studying writing (heck, I got my MA in it!) I think writing courses should come with a warning label—proceed at the risk of your own creativity. What’s the danger in studying something you love? Your work becomes just that—work. While you’re busy worrying about deadlines and studying things like focalization, structure, and register it’s easy to forget why you fell in love with words in the first place.
Maybe writing has always felt “like a kind of magic” to you. If that’s the case, you’re incredibly lucky (and you can stop reading at any time)! If you’re anything like me though, inspiration can at times be as elusive as the willpower to face a blank page. I’ve wrestled with doubt more times than I can count, but ultimately I’ve come to realize the problem isn’t due to a lack of ability or talent. The problem lies in losing sight of what drew me to writing in the first place—that magical quality of writing that Almond describes; the thing that literally produces goose bumps and butterflies in the stomach.
Think about the first time you sat down to write a story or a poem. I guarantee you weren’t thinking about focalization. Not even close. You probably weren’t worried about what people would think of the writing either (because you had no intention of sharing it). Remember what it felt like—writing for the pure joy of it? Writing for yourself? If not, you my friend need to plan a second honeymoon. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Dig out some really old writing. Once you’ve blown away the cobwebs and gotten past the initial horror of re-reading something you never wanted to see again, try to remember what prompted you to write the piece. How did you feel when you were writing it? How does it differ from your writing now? Appreciate each piece’s strength and effort.
Be a child again—play in the rain/snow, pack a picnic and go exploring, ride your bike farther than you’ve ever gone before, swing on a swing set, catch butterflies, fly a kite, finger paint, build a fort (outside or inside!)…anything that frees your mind and lets your imagination soar.
Read a picture book.
Draw/color/paint illustrations to go along with a piece of your own writing or your favorite book.
Read a beginners guide to writing—not only will it prove how much you’ve learned over the years, it will remind you what it felt like when you first started out on the writing path.
Buy a writing prompt book (I recommend Room to Write by Bonni Goldberg). Set aside time each day or week to focus on one prompt. Forget about the rules—write whatever comes to mind!
Change your writing atmosphere/location. Take your computer (or pen and paper if you want to be more conspicuous) to your favorite restaurant or café to write. Or if the weather is nice, why not a trip to the park!
Share a piece of writing you’ve kept to yourself. This is a great way to get fresh perspective as well as advise.
Choose your favorite fairytale/nursery rhyme and adapt the characters to people you know in real life. Retell the story.
Go to the library and explore the local history section. Have a look at the archived newspapers on microfilm if your library has them. Some libraries also keep pictures on file. Find a story or picture that holds your fascination. Write about it.
Attend a book signing or authors lecture. It’s usually free and a great way to learn about what keeps other writers inspired. It’s also fun to watch authors at events and realize you could be at your own book signing one day!
Join a writing group. It’s obvious for anyone in search of creative support, but it really does make a huge difference! You’ll be amazed at the inspiration you gain by being in the company of fellow writers.
How do you keep the “magic” in your writing experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!