Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Dawn Copeman
I home-educate my seven year old daughter. Last week I gave her a creative writing task to do. It was a national curriculum-approved task. She had to choose her characters from a set list and then make up a story, hopefully using some adjectives and adverbs to bring the story to life. I know that in real creative writing we are told not to do this, but to use strong verbs instead, but for some reason adjectives and adverbs are very important when teaching creative writing to the young. Personally, I cheat. I've taught her what adverbs and adjectives are - heck we're covering them in her French and Latin lessons, but for her creative writing I've just taught her to be specific - strong verbs and precise nouns. If more of us were taught like this in the first place we wouldn't have to undo years' of schooling to learn how to write like a professional. Sorry, that's my personal gripe out of the way.
So, back to the task. Now I must admit that I thought this task would be easy for her. She has already written and illustrated several of her own books ("Superbot," "The Adventures of Ellie and her Friends" and the unforgettable "Girl with a Parpy Bottom") as well as producing a monthly magazine she calls "Wii Try." This is a health and fitness magazine full of exercises, healthy tips and occasionally poems scrawled in pencil on my copy paper then stapled together, often with competitions in which you can win a copy of one of her books - she's already picked up some good PR skills!
I was somewhat amazed then, when after looking at her blank page for ten minutes she put down her pencil and said "I can't do this."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I can't think of anything to write."
Well, I don't know about you, but I recognise that feeling!
It's happened to us all at some point. We are given an article, or see a contest theme or a call for submission and when we try to write we find that the words won't come.
And nine times out of ten it's because really, in our heart of hearts, we don't want to do this particular sort of writing or know that we're not ready for it yet. Sometimes we can't find the words because we need to learn more about our craft before we attempt this type of writing. At other times, however, it's because we've already done this type of stuff hundreds of times before and quite frankly, we're getting sick and tired of it.
One time out of ten, however, it's simply a case of "we can't be bothered." That's easily fixed by applying butt to chair and staying there until the work is done. And admit it; we've all had those days too.
But whenever the words don't come it's a time of concern. When we are writing as we could and should be writing, it is enjoyable. Challenging, yes, but it feels so good that you just can't get enough. When writing isn't like that, when we can't think of anything to write, it means that something is wrong and we owe it to ourselves to take the time to find out why.
Ask yourself: Is it just lack of willing? If so, sit in chair and type until it's done.
Is it boredom? Finish this piece and start looking for ways to branch out into other areas.
Is it fear? If so, recognise the fear and work with it. Nothing is so scary or could be as scary as submitting that first-ever query. You were scared then, you got over it and now you're a writer. When we feel fear we can either acknowledge it and work with it or run away and try again another day. At some point, however, we need to take our writing to the next level. Yes, it's scary, but as I've said before, if we don't constantly stretch ourselves we will stagnate.
Finally it could be that this particular type of writing is not your cup of tea. In that case, walk away and write what you want to write. Some will argue that this is no way to become a professional writer. But if you are struggling to fill the page, then chances are what you are producing isn't that good. If, however, you enjoy what you are writing, then by a careful study of the markets you may find outlets for the writing you love and then gradually expand your writing topics. Remember, unlike creative writing tasks set for seven-year-olds, writing is not a source of income, but it's supposed to be fun!
And just like those creative writing tasks for school children, if you try and write something just because someone wants you to but your heart isn't in it, your words will sound flat and the reader will tell.
So what did I do with my daughter? I binned the task and told her to write what she wanted. The result? A good story in less than fifteen minutes - now if only I could write that fast!
Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).