Sometimes writing just flows and at other times it can be useful to return to basics. Here are some reminders and tips to help you on your way!
On your marks, get set…
Want to avoid staring at a blank page, pen poised, unsure what to write? Then give yourself some material to work with by collecting ideas before you start writing in earnest.
I suggest using a ‘free flow’ approach. You could go for a stream of consciousness approach, a mind map or a bullet point list. The aim is to get your first thoughts and impressions about your chosen writing prompt down on the page. The key is that you don’t limit yourself. Anything goes. Ask yourself: what sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures do I associate with my writing prompt? What emotions can I include? What ideas and thoughts might be relevant?
The more you can get down on paper the better. This preparation stage is about giving yourself choices.
Fishing for words
When I was in primary school, my English teacher told us we weren’t allowed to use the word ‘nice’ in our creative writing. She wanted us to find other, more creative words. She had a point. An unusual, quirky or ‘juicy’ word can be a great source of inspiration. So when I’m editing a piece of writing I often find myself doing one or more of the following:
- Searching for synonyms using a thesaurus (online or hard copy)
- Playing with words that share letters or sounds
- Playing with rhyme in the middle of lines as well as at the end
- Creating a simple ‘mind map’ to help me explore the ideas that lie at the heart of my writing
Next time you browse through a newspaper article, pick up a novel or read a poem think about how it sounds as you say the words out loud. Is the rhythm regular? Are the sentences all the same length or do they vary? What effect does this have?
Finding rhythm and flow
I find it so helpful to consciously consider the role of rhythm and pace when I’m writing. I like to try both of these exercises:
- Reading aloud: How does it sound? Does it flow? Is there a sentence or line that jars and doesn’t feel quite right? You might need to add, remove or substitute some words in order to adjust the flow.
- Feeling the mood: What would I like a reader to feel if they were to read my writing? What mood is my writing giving off? It can be useful to experiment with sentence length. Short sentences can help to create a sense of excitement, urgency or drama. Longer sentences can help to create a mood of contemplation or sadness.
Playing with metaphors
A metaphor is likening one thing to another without actually telling the reader you are doing it. Metaphors can bring a whole new dimension to a piece of writing. They can provide richness, taking an ordinary idea and making it fresh and vibrant. They can also take big, hard to explain ideas and translate them into something tangible for the reader to grasp and explore.
Metaphors can be used within a single sentence to get across an individual idea:
- Describing emotions: ‘You make my heart sing’, ‘It’s not healthy to keep anger bottled up inside.’
- Describing relationships: ‘Such a stormy relationship will be in trouble soon’, ‘Our love is a garden.’
- Describing a character’s personality: ‘Stop being such a couch potato’, ‘She is a little ray of sunshine.’
- Describing big concepts: ‘Eyes are the windows to the soul’, ‘The world is a stage.’
Alternatively, they can be the basis of an entire creative piece, as in the following poem:
Playing with metaphors can be a writing activity in its own right. Pick a metaphor at random and see where it takes you. Use any number of common metaphors as your starting point (watch as your character becomes a couch potato or goes green with envy). Alternatively, let your imagination create one for you.
Moving beyond clichés
At the end of the day, when all’s said and done, it’s not always easy to think outside the box. It can be tempting to rely on clichés and, in my opinion, there’s no harm in that when you’re writing just for fun. If you want to push beyond them, though, it can be done quite easily with just a little extra time and effort. Here’s an activity that I find can be helpful:
- Pick out a cliché you would like to change. What idea is it actually getting across?
- Describe that idea in simple terms.
- Now spend time thinking about different ways to present that core idea. Use your senses. Try word association. Brain dump all your thoughts onto the page and see if one of them might fit in place of the original cliché.
When is a piece complete?
I enjoy playing around with a piece after it is written – adding ideas, substituting words, changing the rhythm and flow… For me, editing my writing is part of the fun.
Sometimes, though, this can feel like a never-ending task. How do you know when a piece of writing is actually finished? I’d argue that there is no definitive end. But when writing for relaxation, all you need to do is get to the point where your piece of writing feels ‘good enough’. After all, no one else has to read it. You only need to please yourself. Allow yourself to feel proud of what you write. The pure act of creating a unique piece of writing is something to be proud of in itself. If a piece doesn’t quite feel right you can always return to it another day. Or you can accept that you have gone as far as you are willing to, put it to one side and start a whole new piece of writing.
In case of emergency…
On days when the words won’t flow easily or when I suddenly realise that I’m running out of time, it’s nice have a back up plan. So when I want to come away from a writing session having still created something, then I write a poem using the ‘cut & paste’ approach. I’ve included a step-by-step guide to this approach as part of my Quick Fix Series.
Time to get writing! If you haven’t found a writing prompt to work with yet, then take a look at the various writing prompts and ideas in my Write to Relax series.