It's close to midnight on the day before a new CWD blog post is due; there's no-one rostered on for a Meet our Members interview today because the members of the CWD team have all been pushing the limits of their endurance fulfilling the requirements of their respective 'day job' responsibilities; we'd push the panic button but, frankly, none of us have the energy even for that!
Never fear. If they're not too tired to think, the others will share their favourite writing tips with me sometime before morning so I can share them with you, our wonderful readers. Meanwhile, I've been thinking about ...
You see, no matter how well you learn the art of crafting words to create an impact, writing begins with ...
But where do ideas come from?
In my 'day job' I work as a creative-and-academic-writing tutor and manager of our education consultancy. This evening, as one student arrived, I glimpsed a blaze of red as the sun departed over the horizon ... I stopped to take a photo.
My students often admit to having problems with punctuation, or sentence structure ... they need to improve their essay/feature article/narrative ... more often than not, in practice, this means they haven't a clue where to start, haven't done much research or gathered information, don't know how to develop a central idea and then develop that idea with evidence to support and explain it, let alone do so using persuasive speech, or applying appropriate genre techniques ... oh, and are they allowed to use 'I' in this situation?
Good writing requires a knowledge of writing techniques but ... is that all it requires?
Over the holiday break, I worked with a university student who is preparing to take the GAMSAT exam. The exam requires two responsive writing tasks - one persuasive, and one reflective - based on stimulus which may be visual, or something like a quote from a famous/successful person. There is an expectation that students will draw on their broader general knowledge and their personal experiences, responses and opinions to create a cohesive argument or contemplation, and that they'll write it spontaneously with some degree of fluency and competency.
At its fundamental heart, good writing starts with ... an idea. Or two. Or maybe three.
Despite the wealth of information available at the touch of a button, and the ease of access to opinion pieces (helpful and otherwise) on media and social media, if I were to pinpoint a common deficit I've observed which is hindering students in their development of effective responsive writing skills it would be this:
Many suffer from the habitual absence of 'thinking time' in their lives;
time to nurture inspiration;
time to contemplate, meditate, and follow a line of thought to its conclusion;
time to engage with a tangent and circle back;
time to explore themselves and their opinions;
time to develop and extend their thoughts and examine their patterns of thinking;
time to understand their positive and negative reactions to stimuli and, where appropriate, moderate or modify their responses by weighing up facts and ideas;
time to ask the big what ifs and contemplate the answers.
Ideas percolate when we take time to nurture inspiration.
Remember the photo at the top? I complained to the student about always having to dodge electric wires in the sunset photos I take from my front yard. She said, 'Sometimes you can make things like that work for you if you frame the photo right.' What a smart cookie! I thought about what she said, before I took that photo.
Then I repositioned myself ...
and took another photo, using the trees and the houses, and the cross-shaped aerial post to focus on the sky ... and wow! A stunning cloud formation emerged from its hiding place:
Afterwards, I looked at the photos I'd taken. The next one prompted further contemplation ..
Notice how the shape of the bushy black tree tops peeking over the rooftops seems to mirror the shape of the clouds behind them? Was God simply doing his own abstract cloud painting, or was he sketching a still life in the sky? How long had he been looking in my direction? Was he watching me watching his creation? Did it make him happy that I stopped to watch and think about ... him?
So now it is morning, and my wonderful admin compatriots, Jeanette O'Hagan, Sue Jeffery, and Kirsten Hart have thought about, and provided us with, their personal writing tips:
1. Make regular time to write that works for you (even if its only 100 words a day;
2. Listen to feedback without prejudice, but remember to follow your own intuition and find your own voice;
3. Understand and master rules, to understand when you can break them;
4. Don't be afraid to make mistakes.
1. Look after your health and fitness (especially your back and neck). Sitting takes a big toll on our bodies;
2. Mix deep work with timed breaks (eg the Pomodoro method);
3. Create strong characters. Your main protagonists need to have inner misbeliefs that drive the story. Lisa Cron's story genius is a good book to read on this.
1. Believe in yourself. Don't allow negative thoughts to keep you from writing;
2. Invest in learning new writing skills;
3. Allow yourself a break when you need it, but don't give up.
And, given today's contemplations, my (Mazzy's) writing tips would have to be:
1. Take time to think, and nurture inspiration;
2. Don't be afraid to reposition yourself occasionally; it might help you reframe a problem, or present a new vista to explore and enjoy;
3. Remember, God is always at hand, watching you, encouraging you, inspiring you, directing you, training you, and answering your questions as you seek to turn your creative ideas and hard-earned wisdom into effective, inspirational, functional, entertaining writing.
So, with God's help, think, thrive, develop your skills, practice, and write.