Your Creative Writing Toolkit
The exercises described so far have assumed that you were writing with pen and paper, as opposed to typing on a keyboard. Any pen will do. You may develop a preference for a certain brand, or a certain color of ink. You may even like to use several colors of ink on a single page. Try different sizes and shapes of pens. Make buying a new pen a reward you give yourself after achieving a goal, such as filling a journal, or freewriting every day for a week. There are ergonomic pens that may be more comfortable to use. There are pens marketed to children, filled with sparkling gel, or sporting feathers and other adornments. There are pens built into mechanical characters that wave their arms or deliver plastic punches at the touch of a lever. Choose a pen that you will enjoy using, a pen that you can't wait to pick up and write with.
Paper, too, can be any shape and flavor you want. Spiral notebook, composition book, lined, unlined, college, or wide-ruled. You will develop a preference, or you may have something on hand you would like to use. You can't go wrong, but your creativity may benefit from experimenting. There are only two types of paper you may want to avoid. One is small paper. Unless you are jotting down a note in the portable notebook we discussed earlier, writing on small paper can cramp you. You may find yourself struggling to write smaller, or having to constantly turn pages as you fill up the space you have too quickly. Standard 8 ½" by 11" paper or larger, will give your ideas more room to be born. The world is so big. Don't let your paper be too small.
Another kind of paper that can adversely affect you is paper that is too nice. If it is handmade, or expensive, or fancy 80 pound stock from the stationery store, you may begin to feel your writing must be perfect so as not to waste it. Use cheap paper you are not afraid to fill with words. Do not use paper that will intimidate you or cause you to judge yourself while you're working. When the time comes to produce a copy of your work for others to see, you may decide to splurge on the fancy paper. For your working drafts, however, you'll need paper you can afford to use up and recycle.
You most likely have a laptop or desktop computer with word processing software. If you type fluently, this may be the best tool you can use. Words typed into a computer can be edited and revised far more efficiently than words written on paper.
If you're a beginning, or "two finger," typist, continue to do your exercises longhand, but practice your typing. Get yourself a tutorial program that will help you use all ten fingers. Practice by typing things you have already written. Your speed and accuracy will improve to the point where you will eventually be able to type your work as you create it.
Since the writer's primary tool is the word, an ever-broadening vocabulary should be every writer's goal. As you read, get in the habit of looking up words you don't know in the dictionary. Increasing your vocabulary, will increase the richness of your reading experience, and will help ensure that, as a writer, you will always have the right word at hand when you need it. Use large or obscure words with restraint, though, and keep your audience in mind as you write. Very often, the plain, simple word is superior to the fancy one, but knowing a lot of fancy ones will give you more choices as you go to create universes with your words.
Your hands, fingers, paper, pen, keyboard -- these are all conduits between your mind and the mind of your reader. Your goal is to make the world as you experience or imagine it, flow through your hands, onto the page, and subsequently into someone else's mind. To make your experience come alive, be aware of all five senses. Very often when we describe a place to someone, we simply tell what it looks like. But the writer transports her reader to a place not only with visual description, but by employing all five senses. Imagine some place you've been before, a crowded public fish market in the Caribbean, maybe. What do you see there? Rows of stalls right on the docks, dark-skinned men with long knives, hoisting huge fish from iced troughs behind their tables, the floor littered with shining scales. What do you hear? Gulls overhead, the lilt of Island dialects, the rhythmic chopping of sharp knives on wood, the waves lapping against the docks, the put-put of a fishing boat passing by. What do you smell? Fish, of course, and the salty smell of the ocean, the cigarette smoke of the fishermen who gather to talk weather, or trade, around a flask of Jamaican rum, the pungent aroma of jerk sauce from where a street vendor is grilling fish fresh off the boat. What do you feel? The floor slippery with scales, cool breezes off the water, the gentle rocking of the floating docks, a slight bounce as someone walks on them, approaching you from behind, the sticky surface of the table where the fisherman guts his catch for you, while you count out strange foreign money and struggle to understand his speech over the thwack of his knife.
As a writer, you use any, or all, of the details of an experience, so that when a reader reads your words, she goes in her mind to the place you have been (or imagined). Giving your reader the experience through all of her senses helps you take her more completely to the place you want her to go.
It can be fun, and often very useful, to introduce props or rituals into your writing life. Wearing a certain hat, listening to a certain kind of music, having a special pen to write with, all of these can be useful props to get you in the writing mood. A mystery writer, for instance, could wear a Sherlock Holmes hat and lay Holmes' signature pipe on his desk. Donning a particular hat or other garment can help trigger your creativity. If you always write with a certain hat on, placing that hat on your head will help you shift your consciousness from the everyday to the writer's mindset. The feel of the hat on your head, or the cape around your shoulders, or the fingerless gloves on your hands, or whatever, will be one you associate strongly with your writing.
Having a designated space in your home where you will do your writing can be very useful. Like the props and rituals described above, sitting down each day in the same space, where you always do your writing, will prompt your mind into writing mode. You will come to associate this chair, this desk, the level of lighting, etc., with writing, and you will find that the writing flows as you come to the space. A writing space can also serve as a place to keep things associated with your writing, such as your dictionary, any research materials you're using, filed copies of past work, etc.
Being dependent on a single place, however, can also work against you. It is useful to have a certain degree of mobility in your writing, especially if you travel frequently. If you feel you can only write at your desk, then when you are away from home, you will be away from writing, and the shift in perspective that traveling often bestows on the traveler will be lost on you by the time you get home. With the advent of laptop computers, it is now possible to take a writing project with you when you travel. Of course, the old fashioned pen and paper can go anywhere, even camping, and other places where the batteries of a laptop would quickly be drained.
Try to do at least some of your writing in places other than your home. Take your work with you when you travel. If you find that props are important to you, take your hat along, or adopt a small statue or figure you can install next to your laptop or notebook to remind you that your office is anywhere you want it to be. You will be more creative if you write nearly every day, so if you can't be at home, train yourself to write where you are.
The idea of writing in a public place, such as the local coffeehouse, can seem enticing. Nearly everyone in your local Starbucks may be sporting a laptop at any given time, and at least a few of these patrons are probably would-be writers. You can take your work to a park, the beach, anywhere you like. It is certainly useful to be able to spin words no matter where you find yourself.
The drawback, though, is that in a public location, there are many distractions. Can you tune out the speech around you, the hiss of the espresso machine, the music over the stereo system? What about the temptation to engage in social activities? You will be amazed at how many people think a computer in front of you is not a sign that you are working and need to be left alone, but an invitation to ask what you are doing. People who are not writers are fascinated by people who are, and many will feel no qualms about interrupting you. You may find that the other "writers" around you in the Starbucks are doing anything but writing. They may actually have come to this public place to avoid their work, or to appear to be working while actually procrastinating. Just as there are people at the fitness center who seem never to actually work out, there are writers at Starbucks who hope that being around other writers will help them to write. Writing, however, is a solitary act. You need to do it alone. If you are not alone, you need to shut out much of the world so you can hear your own thoughts.
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