This book is dedicated to G and Z, who inspire me daily, to Wendy who inspires from afar, and to my creative writing students, past and present.
Heather L. Hirschi has an M.F. A. in Creative Writing from the University of Utah, where she is currently an instructor in the university's writing program. She has published short stories in a number of literary publications and is the editor of What There Is: The Crossroads Anthology.
© Copyright 2004 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 2003063770
ISBN-13: 978-0-7641-2579-9 ISBN-10: 0-7641-2579-6
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hirschi, Heather L.
Creative writing the easy way / Heather L. Hirschi.
p. cm. Includes index.
ISBN 0-7641-2579-6 (alk. paper)
1. Authorship—Marketing. 2. Authorship. 3. Creative writing. I. Title. PN161.H57 2004
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 98765432
Is Creative Writing "Easy"? v
PART ONE: GET STARTED 1
Chapter 1 Court Your Muse 3
Show Up 3
Chapter 2 Write Before You Think 10
Writing Basics 10
Intuition and Logic 11
Chapter 3 Write Your Story 15
Finding the Truth 15
Breaking Silence 16
The Truth of Lying 17
Writing from Borrowed Experience 18
PART TWO: ELEMENTS 21
Chapter 4 Twisted Characters 23
Characters in Narrative 23
Chapter 5 "Would You Please Be Quiet, Please?" 28
Chapter 6 Time and Space: Setting and Perspective 34
Physical Space 35
Backstory and Subtext 35
Flashback and Foreshadowing 35
Perspective, or Whose Story Is This Anyway? 37
PART THREE: FORM AND GENRE 41
Chapter 7 The Short Story 43
The Value of Storytelling 43
Short Story Form: A Brief History 47
Chapter 8 The Novel 50
The Novel: A Brief History 54
Chapter 9 Creative Nonfiction 59
Chapter 10 Genre Fiction 68
Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction 68
Fantasy and Horror 69
Hate and Love: Mystery and Romance 73
PART FOUR: IT'S NOT OVER 81
Chapter 11 Look Again: Revision 83
Chapter 12 Some Words on Writer's Block 90
Chapter 13 Get Out There: Publish 96
Get Ready: Wander the Internet 97
Literary Magazines/Journals 97
Novel Publication: Agents 100
Follow Through 102
Appendix A: Sample Narratives from Famous Authors 103
Appendix B: Sample Student Narratives 134
Glossary of Terms 153
Suggested Reading and Resources for Writers 159
They're fancy talkers about themselves, writers. If I had to give young writers advice, I'd say don't listen to writers talking about writing.
Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.
Writing is not a function of intelligence or application. It is a function of gift—that which is given and not acquired. All any teacher can do is work with what is given.
Is Creative Writing "Easy"?
Creative writing is as easy as picking up your pen and writing a sentence. It's as easy as rolling a page into your typewriter or turning on your computer. But that, dear writer, is the "easy" part. In many ways, creative writing is a difficult and laborious process. So, is the title Creative Writing: The Easy Way misleading? Not if we understand that the easy way identifies a writing process. It also identifies an attitude toward that process.
Webster's defines easy as "causing or involving little difficulty or discomfort" and "requiring or indicating little effort, thought, or reflection." If you have any experience with writing, you can recognize the problem with this definition. Creative writing requires discomfort, at times, and it certainly requires effort, thought, and reflection. Let's consider some other definitions for our easy. "Not hurried or strenuous"; "fitting comfortably: allowing freedom of movement"; and "felt or attained to readily, naturally, and spontaneously." My intention for this guide is to provide you with an approach to creative writing that is not hurried and that can fit comfortably into your lifestyle. Clearly, creative writing offers you a freedom of movement, at least in your own mind. And the best writing is attained readily, naturally, and spontaneously when you have established a writing practice. If you establish a writing practice, you engage in the process of being a writer. You create an easy way into your writing.
To write creatively requires some mastery of basic writing skills, of course. More importantly, creative writing requires an artistic impulse. That impulse cannot be taught. Fortunately, since you opened this book, you most likely possess that impulse. Trust it.
When I started studying writing in college, I discovered Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town. A collection of teaching essays about poetry, it remains essential to my list of books on writing. Hugo begins his essay, "Writing Off the Subject," with the following statement.
I often make these remarks to a beginning poetry writing class. You'll never be a poet until you realize that everything I say today and this quarter is wrong. It may be right for me, but it is wrong for you. Every moment, I am, without wanting or trying to, telling you to write like me. But I hope you learn to write like you. In a sense, I hope I don't teach you how to write but how to teach yourself how to write. At all times keep your [garbage] detector on. If I say something that helps, good. If what I say is of no help, let it go. Don't start arguments. They are futile and take us away from our purpose. As Yeats noted, your important arguments are with yourself. If you don't agree with me, don't listen. Think about something else.
Please approach this guide in a similar manner. Your goal is to "learn to write like you." I will offer you steps to take and insights into the writing process. Keep your "garbage detector" on but stay open to ideas that might help you. Use what you need and leave the rest. Recognize that creative writing is writing and writing is practice. That practice is driven by artistic impulse. The novelist, William Faulkner, when asked if creative writing can be taught, responded, "I don't think anybody can teach anybody anything. I think that you learn it, but the young writer that is as I say demon-driven and wants to learn and has got to write he don't know why, he will learn from any source that he finds."
Of course, it may seem somewhat disingenuous to start a creative writing guide with the suggestion that creative writing cannot be taught. Essentially, Creative Writing: The Easy Way is an introduction to the practice of writing narrative. It can teach you ways to think about writing, but it cannot give you the "gift" of writing. However, it can guide you to your gift. Avoid the distraction of wondering whether or not you have a "gift." The desire to write is enough. It is your gift and your best guide. Nurture your desire by reading hungrily, anything that interests you. Realize it by writing daily.
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