The Nuts and Bolts of Writing

evite-ifoa-academy

Sometimes, as a creative writing instructor, I feel like the squisher of dreams. It’s nothing I’m doing intentionally, but as I lead students through the building blocks of good fiction writing, I can’t help but imagine what some of them might be thinking: “Dude is killing the magic.”

For many writers, part of the allure of our craft is its mystery. Who knows what compels us to sit at the keyboard and transform our thoughts and ideas into words? Who knows why we spend our subway rides thinking about scenes and plot twists and people who don’t exist in real life? Who knows why we tear things down only to build them up again and again and again?

That mystery is what draws many of us into writing. Speaking for myself, I have no idea what compels me to write, other than the need to do it. And, for many of us, this is why the magic of writing is so appealing. It’s as though the writing is in control of us, rather than the other way around.

Writing should feel intuitive and personal. It’s a room we inhabit even when we’re not sure why we’re there. It’s an obsession of finding precise language. It’s a mystical experience, especially when our writing takes flight and surprises us in the best kinds of ways.

And while that magic needs to inhabit your writing, there’s another, non-magical side that isn’t quite as fun. That’s what I call the nuts and bolts of writing. In other words, our conscious writing. Nuts and bolts are the practical tools of the trade that you need to factor into your writing. I’m talking good dialogue, evocative settings, believable plot points, compelling characters and more. The nuts and bolts side of writing isn’t glamourous. It involves a lot of tedious work. Nuts and bolts aren’t always in sync with our imaginations and can sometimes interrupt our creative flows. But without the nuts and bolts, the magical side of your writing can’t flourish.

© Paula Wilson

© Paula Wilson

In my course, Becoming a Better Writer and the two workshops I co-present, Improving Your Writing and Publishing 101, I try to help emerging writers understand the importance of being conscious of their writing. And while some writers are resistant to completely letting go of their magical, intuitive sides, embracing the conscious side of writing doesn’t kill the magic. In fact, the best writers are highly aware of every aspect of their writing, both the conscious and subconscious elements. It’s only when you understand the relationship between the magical and practical sides of your writing that you can achieve the heights that all writers strive for.

Giving Your Creativity a Chance

By Brian Francis

When I was 26, I signed up for my first creative writing class. By that point in my life, I’d grown frustrated with my lack of discipline when it came to my writing. I had a need to write, but it was too easy to let life get in the way. To talk myself out of it, especially since I was working full time. I was lacking an outlet. A space that encouraged and validated my creativity. I thought that a writing class might give me the structure and stamina I needed. shutterstock_272605952

I remember walking down the hallway towards the classroom. I heard the voices of other people coming from the room. And I did something I never expected myself to do.

I turned around and walked away.

Sure, I was nervous. Walking into a room full of strangers is never easy. And walking into a room full of strangers and sharing your writing adds a whole other layer to it. But I was more than nervous.

I was afraid.

Of what, I couldn’t say for certain. Maybe that the other people wouldn’t like my writing. Or that I wouldn’t connect with anyone in the class. Maybe I wasn’t that talented. Or that I’d come to the realization that, at the end of the day, writing was silly. Impractical. A waste of my time.

Looking back, all these years later, I think what really frightened me was that my writing, something that I clung to desperately to get me through the days, had no value.

We’re living in an age that puts a lot of emphasis on the rewards of publishing. There are more options available to aspiring writers than ever before. There’s nothing stopping anyone from going out and publishing their work and having the ego stroke of a book on the shelf.

But what often gets overlooked is the value of writing, regardless of whether the work ever gets published. We don’t always stop to consider the benefit of putting words on the page. How it’s intrinsically good for us to be creative. It takes a specific kind of bravery to take time out of our busy lives and give our creativity the chance to breathe. To allow our stories to take shape, even if those stories never make it past a few strangers gathered around a table.

Although I’ve moved from student to teacher, I still remember what it felt like to walk down that hallway. The vulnerability and uncertainty. And yes, the fear. And while I can’t promise students that they’ll get published after taking my course, what I can offer is a space where creativityand a writer’s need to writeis respected, encouraged and recognized.

I ended up turning back before I reached the end of the hallway. I took a deep breath and walked into that classroom. I never looked back. It was one of the smartestand most valuabledecisions I’ve made when it came to my writing. I gave myself the chance.

Whether it’s in my writing course or someone else’s, I hope you give yourself the same chance, too. Your creativity deserves it.

Brian Francis’ most recent novel, Natural Order, was selected by the Toronto Star, Kobo and Georgia Straight as a Best Book of 2011. His first novel, Fruit, was a 2009 Canada Reads finalist and was named one of Amazon’s “100 Canadian Books to Read in a Lifetime.” He is a regular contributor to CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter and writes a monthly advice column, The Agony Editor, for Quill & Quire magazine.

Join him for his upcoming six-week course, Becoming a Better Writer, which is designed for emerging and recreational writers who want to take their creative writing to the next level, or simply find the inspiration to get back to writing on a regular basis.