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Zen and the Art of Blogging

Earlier this week, my friend Christine tweeted:

Creative writing is initially hard when all you know is journalism and research papers. Thoughts, @ryssiebee?

I absolutely agree! Creative writing demands a different frame of mind than article writing, research paper drafting, and blogging do. But that doesn’t mean someone who does one can’t do the other!

The first difference between creative writing and more journalistic/research-based writing is that, while doing the latter, you usually know where they want to end. You almost always have a goal in mind.

Of course, the point of writing a newspaper article or research paper is to uncover something new or to synthesize information in a unique way, but you usually has an agenda before he/she starts writing.

While you may discover something new along the way, you are, for the most part, driving a car to a specific destination. You are either vaguely familiar with the route, or you have a GPS with you.

When I’m writing a story or poem, I almost never know where I want to end. In fact, if I know the end before I start to write, I can guarantee that whatever I write will be total crap because it lacks imagination and possibility.

To extend the car metaphor with creative writing, you decide to get in your car (the car of your dreams), you turn the ignition, and you sit there until you’re ready to go. You have no destination, and you drive until you run out of gas. Creative writing is a joy ride.

Breaking a bout of creative writer’s block is not about knowing WHAT you want to write. It’s about knowing where you want to start. You have to start somewhere, and the place you start probably won’t be the beginning, at least not when you get to the end (is that too confusing?).

The place where you start is just a place to start, and then you work out from that point. The process is not necessarily linear; you can go in circles, you can overwrite. Creative writing is a discovery process in more ways than one.

The mental preparation required for creative writing is much different from that when writing a journalistic piece or research paper. With an article or research paper, the collecting of sources is a meditative process. The writers forms the paper in his/her head while gathering sources and then strings them together to create a story.

For creative writing, I have to be in a very specific frame of mind. Nothing else can be bothering me. It’s very much like trying to go to sleep. If I have a lot of things on my mind, I will not be able to start writing, the same way I will not be able to sleep. I usually find myself writing new fiction on the weekends or when I’m on vacation because my mind is clear.

After a long day at work, it’s almost impossible for me to switch from work brain to creative brain.

Which is why I blog. Blogging is as close to my work mindset as I can get, and doing it means I’m still writing everyday, which is so important to me.

My creative writing blog is kind of an illusion. Yes, I’m offering new short story excerpts every day, but what most readers don’t know is that I started writing my collection in the summer of 2007. The stories that I casually post every day are the result of many hours of staring at blank screens, writing, rewriting, deleting, changing narrators, living and breathing my characters, rearranging, copying, pasting, hating, and loving.

I’m at the best part, the part where all I have to do is perfect the prose. This part of the creative writing process is more akin to blogging because I’m not actually creating anything earth-shatteringly new.

To be honest, I haven’t written a new story or poem in months. My mind is not in the right place.

That meditative state that’s perfect for creative writing comes and goes. It’s not even worthwhile trying to pursue it until you feel you are so full of thoughts and emotions that, if you don’t write them, you are going to explode.

(Photo by mattimattila)


  1. I see various points you are making here. I write mostly journalistic writing. (Not to say objective, as I write opinion and advice columns as well.) There is a different mindset between fiction and non-fiction, no doubt about it.

    Every little kid write some kind of fiction. For class. For friends. I was no different. But I didn’t get into really trying with fiction until the last few years. Even so it is in the extreme minority of what i write at this point. Mostly in fact, it is limited to the first draft of the novel I am working on. (I had written one first draft of a novel previously, and various short stories. Nothing published, or even submitted anywhere.)

    I am not as spontaneous as you, though. Even when I write fiction, I kind of have to know where I am going, to an extent. In fact not knowing where I was going for at least part of a project has let to more abandoned manuscripts for me than I care to remember.

    With this recent novel, I was suddenly struck with the idea to write very broad outlines of scenes for a few chapters. That way each day when i sit down to write, I know at least the general direction of where that day’s session should be going. I am free to change it of course, but that has helped tremendously. It helps inject the fiction writing with some of the structure of non-fiction.

    One further comment. I know many people do start writing stories in the middle, at the end, and complete everything out of order. They write the parts that speak to them. That fascinates me, but I have never been able to do it. I see in my mind where I want a story, novel, move, etc to go, and then have to slog through weeks or months of background writing in order to GET the story there.

    Needless to say, more often than not the writing stops BEFORE I get there. Maybe I am too linear to write fiction that way. But then again, maybe I should try it with my next manuscript. (I always have great endings, but unclear middles.)

  2. For me, starting is the easy part. When I write fiction, I can generally get a great beginning – the first paragraph, or the first few pages – with a great hook that draws readers in. Then I sit and stare. I am absolutely AWFUL at creating a fictional story arc and almost never resolve the story in a way that is either satisfying to the reader or interesting and unique.

    So, for me, the beginnings are the easy part – and having some idea where to go with a store, how to ride it’s plot – that’s what I’m not so great at.

  3. Christine Barrett Christine Barrett

    After 4 high school years and 3.5 college years of research, research, research and journalism, journalism, journalism, taking an introductory level creative writing class in my last semester at college has so far proven to be insanely difficult for me. Everything you said makes so much sense to me. I had a fiction piece due Thursday and when I wrote the first draft, it was incomplete and terrible because I wasn’t 100% focused on it and I felt like I was trying to force a really great story to come out when I was not feeling it.

    It’s a difficult transition, from writing research papers to fiction. Breaking out of my “check and double check the information” way of writing was very hard when I attempted to write fiction for the first time because I’ve been so conditioned to write for accuracy.

    I’m also more self-conscious about the result of my creative writing. It’s more open to judgment and interpretation, whereas with journalism, etc, there’s really only one story to tell. I feel like my writing is more vulnerable in my creative writing class and that’s something I’m struggling with as well.

    Thanks for the story!

  4. christine's dad christine's dad

    Good advice, Laryssa. It’s just a different mindset, CK. You have the words. Show no fear. Let go and have fun. It’s different and you loke different stuff.

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