Writing, despite being an art and a creative endeavour, is most definitely a craft. Like any crafts, the skills and the rules needed to be able to construct successful, enjoyable writing are ones that must be practised and honed. By reading fiction we familiarise ourselves with the right (and wrong) ways that language can be used, by reading articles such as this we remind ourselves of the skills we need, and discover ways in which we can improve them, and by simply writing we can discover what works, and what doesn’t.
Making Things Easy
Like any craft, writing blog articles and stories isn’t just reliant on the core, hard skills that we learn, such as grammar, dialogue, structure, punctuation etc. It is also made easier when there is a raft of supporting structures put in place in order to make the process easier, or more enjoyable. I would like to share some of the practical, physical tools that can be used in order to make the writing process easier, by facilitating inspiration and creativity, and by aiding in the actual writing process.
We often think of creativity and inspiration as being opposite to the craft of our writing. The rules and skills, grammar and punctuation, are the craft, and the flashes of inspiration, the whimsical musings and the creative process are the art. However, we need to view the art and the craft as being together. By doing this, and by using practical tools to turn our creativity into actual writing, we can avoid getting lost in thoughts and ideas and actually get them down onto paper and turn them into stories and articles.
Capture Your Ideas
Sometimes we struggle for inspiration, and sometimes they just come to us, prompted by something unexpected. It’s true; we can find inspiration anywhere. The key to successfully creating something from this inspiration is to have the tools to hand to capture those ideas when they come to you. Get that idea out of your head and down on paper, then forget about it until you can come back to it later, write the story, or file it away for a future dry spell.
Scratchpad – I keep a A4 pad on my desk, next to my laptop. Any time something pops into my head (ideas for stories or blog posts, but also things I need to do, reminders for stuff, things I need to buy) I pick up a pen and write it quickly down on the paper, and continue what I was doing. At the end of the day, process these ideas.
Notepad/document - I prefer to use pen and paper, but I know a lot of people (especially those of us who are at our laptops for long periods of time) like to keep a simple Notepad document or similar on their desktop, as a place to capture ideas for future filing and reference, in a similar way to the physical Scratchpad.
Notebooks – I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this advice for writers, and you are also probably sick of hearing it, but – carry a notebook wherever you go! Inspiration can strike at any time, so be ready to get it down, otherwise you’ll forget it. Plus, having a pocket notebook on you at all times can be really useful if you have a spare moment while you’re out – chance to brainstorm one of those ideas you’ve had, or write a few paragraphs of that story you’re working on. Make the notebook one that you enjoy using, and you’ll use it more often. I use a Pocket Moleskine (currently Lined, but sometimes I use Plain, which can be very useful for free-form ideas and brainstorming)
Structure Your Ideas
Some of us plan, some of us don’t. For me, a brainstorm is usually enough to get me started, even when starting longer pieces of work that may or may not become novels. But for those of you who do like to plan (and even for those of us who don’t) index cards and Post It notes can be very useful. Using either of these things can be brilliant for writing on individual characters, places and events in a novel, and as they are physical and moveable they can be shifted around, shuffled and arranged, in order to work out and visualise the relationships between them. Even with non-fiction writing, this technique can be very helpful in structuring your articles and blog posts, by rearranging key points. Combine these with either a Whiteboard or a Cork board. These can also be very useful for sticking up ideas and prompts, as well as inspirational pictures or cards or nice things people have got you.
How do you write? Writing longhand can be great for unlocking creativity, but in terms of pratical writing and editing, be it of an entire novel or a relatively short blog post or article, some sort of writing software is usually required. I myself use OpenOffice.org Writer, the free, open-source version of Microsoft Word. It does everything that I want, and I’m comfortable using it.
The key word here is comfortable. You need to feel comfortable when you write (including the need for a comfy chair and writing area) but you need to be mentally comfortable as well. No use using a program that you find difficult and unintuitive to use. Most people just use Word, because it is the default program for most of you (I’m sure many of you use Macs, same applies for your default writing program) but here are some alternatives you might like to try, that will make getting down to writing as easy as possible.
Darkroom (Windows) or Writeroom (Mac) – these two downloads take away toolbars, menus and other such clutter so you can focus on what is important – the writing. Just being able to see the text can be a real help for clearing your mind, concentrating on writing and freeing your imagination. Because these programs fill the screen they can also filter out other distractions such as email, Twitter, FB etc. Plus, these programs can be fun to use, and the more fun our writing is, the easier it will be and the more we will want to sit down and do it, even if it’s to churn out copy or freelance filler articles. Darkroom looks especially cool, with its bright green Courier text set on a black background. Makes you feel like you’re writing in the Matrix…
Writer (online) – this online version of the above programs can also be very useful. You can still save your work, once you’ve set up an account, and then access it again when you want to continue writing. This can be especially useful if you frequently travel and want to be able to work on your article or story wherever you might be, on any computer. Of course, you can do this with other suites such as GoogleDocs, but this is a great way to do it in a distraction-free environment, especially when you utilise Writer’s full-screen mode.
Text editors – one really good is to use whichever text editor comes with your OS. Notepad on Windows or TextEdit on Macs are very simple programs, and while most people just use them for jotting down notes when at their computer, others swear by using them for writing entire pieces of writing.
Sometimes we can take our writing too seriously. But, on the other hand, we sometimes don’t take our creativity seriously enough. We think of creativity as something passive, that comes to us in flashes of inspiration, or just as something to do (or that just happens) while we are writing. But, by looking at the creative process as something that you can work on, like the writing process, we can use it (yes, at our beck and call!) to inspire us when we need inspiring, or to just give us that mental boost when we get stuck, or even just as a break! Learning to use creativity in a practical way like this can be very useful.
Lego – This is perfect tool for unlocking your creativity when you need it. It doesn’t really matter what you make, and whether it’s anything particularly good or even recognisable! The idea is to play. The simple fact of making something, anything, creating something, that is the important thing. By making ourselves be creative in this way we can unlock areas of the brain which might otherwise lay dormant, opening up, engaging in play, and allowing our brain to think creatively – can lead to increased inspiration, motivation and creative thought.
What tools do you use to make your writing (and creating!) easier? Please share in the comment below.