Q. Can I be an accomplished creative writer if I don’t have that elusive quality called talent?
A. People often have the romantic view of writers as chaotic people who dash off great finished works in a frenzy of creativity when the inspiration hits them. The opposite is far more realistic. Writers are hard workers who have developed discipline. But yes, they love to write. Your creativity is always there–sometimes revved up and other times lurking and shy. Practice and tolerance of all your writing efforts are good ways to encourage your creative side.
Q. I worry I’m not a creative person. What if I’m not?
A. In my opinion, everyone is creative. My experience has been that creativity has a lot to do with eliminating self-doubt and encouraging self-trust. I believe everyone is filled with a surprising number of ideas banging around in their heads daily. Most of the time, we ignore them or decide they’re silly. Imagine the opposite. Imagine copying them all down for months on end. Imagine saying “yes” to them instead of “that’s no good” or “people will think I’m dumb.” The word to remember is “yes.” Creativity is in there. Yes, it is.
Q. How did you learn to write?
A. Ha! Good question. I studied literature in college. I was even a humanities tutor. But I knew nothing about good writing until I started to write. At one point in my life I found myself out of work and began writing a novel, just to see if I could do it. I decided I wouldn’t worry if it was any good. By the time I had finished, I realized that I had no idea if it was any good. What was good writing? I didn’t know. Did I know good writing when I saw it? I wasn’t really sure. How was I to tell if my own stuff was any good? Hmmm.
My next step was to read every book I could on writing from Natalie Goldberg to Anne LaMott to Brenda Ueland to John Gardner to Annie Dillard and many, many more. While all of them inspired me, it was John Gardner who taught me the guts of writing. I used to read his three books on writing every year for a while since they taught me more with each reading. I went back and rewrote my novel about ten times. Each time it was better. Each time the rewriting taught me so much that by the time I was done, I knew it still wasn’t good enough. I was starting to learn what good writing was.
What kept me going? Naivete. The fun of wrestling with a plot. The onion-like revelation of my characters’ personalities as they revealed themselves to me. The fact that my book was in my mind all the time, giving me lots to think about and figure out. I finally learned what all those fancy literary terms meant by discovering that I was indeed using them and that—wonder of wonders—they actually helped me communicate.
Q. How can a six week long online class teach me to write well? That sounds impossible.
A. Excellent question. Here’s my guarantee. I can give you tools, strategies, and concepts that you can use to improve the effectiveness of your writing each time you tackle a new document, whether it’s something for work or for yourself. Once you take my classes, you’ll know what to do. Your practice will make the difference. Sign up at http://www.ed2go.com or your local college.