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Six Lies About Creative Writing You Should Never Believe

Six Lies About Creative Writing You Should Never Believe
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Creative writing is not an easy task. Everybody has a great opinion about how it should be done. Most of these opinions are untested. Figuring out just what makes fiction good, let alone great, is a puzzle that takes decades to figure out.

Coming up with the right answers isn’t always easy. If you’re a fairly new writer, however, avoiding the wrong answers can sometimes be just as beneficial. There are a hundred ways to do things wrong; here are seven of the more common pitfalls for you to take note of.

Adjectives will always help your work stay more creative. This is something that nearly every sixth-grader gets told, way back when everybody is learning the basics of sentence structure. Adjectives = description, and description = creativity; therefore, adjectives = creativity. The only problem is, description really doesn’t create on its own. Knowing how to describe is what really matters, and that can be done using nearly any word out there. Adjectives are fine, of course, but sentences like “The tall, Olympian, bronzed man strode through the wide marble corridor” aren’t creative. They’re descriptive, but they aren’t creative.

In A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes describes his mind as a room, and tells Watson that his ignoring entire fields of learning isn’t stupidity: it’s taste. By focusing only on what he needs to detect and observe, he becomes an unsurpassed detective. Think of your writing that way: you can put whatever you want to in it. You could cram it full of everything you find, or you could prune out the objects that aren’t necessary.

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You need a great plot/character to tell a great story. Everybody loves a good “Da Vinci Codesque” thriller, just like everybody enjoys a character as charming as Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas. But in the end, what matters about your writing isn’t your characters or your plot. It’s your theme: what you tell with your story and how you tell it.

Themes in stories tend to get bad reputations, as obtuse analytical devices that nobody cares about. Really, though, a theme is anything in a story that conveys a message of any kind. Harry Potter tells us of the value of friendship and openmindedness. The Notebook reminds us that it is never too late for love. These aren’t heavy-handed themes: they’re just the morals to the story.

Ulysses, considered by many to be the greatest novel of the 20th century, has a winding, simplistic, monotonous plot, and manages a stupendously complex and interweaving story. (It’s why, for instance, Wikipedia doesn’t offer a quick plot summary for the novel – but I digress.) Meanwhile, a novel like like The Once And Future King takes old, flat characters, and portrays them in an utterly charming, addictive, hilarious manner. They end up becoming characters in their own right not through character development, but through narrative.

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The longer what you write is, the better it is. This is another of those old myths from childhood, back when every big book was an “adult book” by default. Many of the books considered to be revolutionary and groundbreaking are in fact extremely long and winding. While long stories have more potential due to their length, writing long just to be long doesn’t make any sense. Depending on the story idea, certain ideas just tend to last longer than others.

Take a book like Lolita, one of the most stunning books of all time and still one of the most controversial. It packs a truly harrowing story and a delightfully twisted narrative that travels across several nations, yet manages to be only about three hundred pages long. And people who think that three hundred pages is in fact long should read “The Vane Sisters,” by the same author, a short story that manages to be far cleverer than books a hundred times longer. Size shouldn’t be pushed for the sake of size; if it is, it’s usually immediately noticeable.

The shorter what you write is… And so on. Some people think that because shorter stories are easier to pack content into, shorter becomes better. While this idea is tempting, it’s just as realistic as the claim that long stories are always better by default. While short stories are easier to work with, they can’t be nearly as expansive as longer pieces of work are: there just isn’t enough room.

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Case in point: Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, a book that has attracted a fanatical following in the last few decades. At the heart of Atlas is a fourty-page philosophical treatise that essentially summarizes the themes behind the entire book. Without the rest of the novel, though, that treatise would mean nothing: Rand uses well over a thousand pages to display her philosophy at work, to attempt to clarify her philosophical position further. More space to write means more chances to really create a literary world

In the end, there’s no such thing as the “perfect size” for writing. Short isn’t bad, and neither is long. That is, unless either size is forced.

If you don’t know what to write about, write fantasy: it’s the easiest to work with. Since fantasy really has no rules regarding what’s real and what’s not, the argument goes, there really isn’t any challenge involved in writing it. This argument, mind you, is usually stated by somebody who doesn’t read fantasy often.

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Take even a preliminary glance at any good fantasy world, and you will realize just how involved any form of fantasy is. Anything is possible, yes, but that just makes the process of logically defining a world that much harder. Fantasy writers can’t start off from the real world that every other writer gets to pluck from: they need to define their world before anybody can understand it. Fantasy goes even beyond just writing: oftentimes it takes careful planning before the writing even begins.

If there’s a lesson that can be taken from fantasy assumptions, it would be this: just because something looks easy doesn’t mean it is. No matter what you plan on writing, nothing will come that easy. Everything takes work.

Everything has already been done before. This is perhaps the most obnoxious claim that can be made about writing: oddly, it also tends to be the most believed. There really can’t be much of an argument about this one, though: critics have written many papers explaining just why there is no more for literature to truly achieve.

While their arguments make sense, given enough arguing back and forth, never assume that everything has been done. There is always some sort of new grounds to explore. Take the experimental novel House of Leaves, written in 2000, which features telling a story through the positioning of words on a page rather than the content of the words themselves. If you ever start believing that there is nothing else to do, you’ll never get anything truly new done. And if somebody else comes out with the next big new thing, you’ll be pretty upset if you didn’t get there first.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

When I wrote my book Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide, I was surprised at the various layers of review and editing necessary to get the book to publication. Before I ever submitted the manuscript, I enlisted a former colleague to read and copy edit my work. Then, I submitted my work to an editor at the publisher’s house, and once she approved it, she sent it to her colleagues and then her company’s editorial board.

Upon editorial board approval of my book, my editor sent my work to reviewers in my field, then a developmental editor, then a designer and layout team and, finally, another copy editor. There were a host of personalities with whom I needed to interact along the way.

It turns out that getting a publishing contract was just the beginning – a lot happens between developing a concept, writing the book, finding an agent and publisher, and getting the book on bookshelves or on Audible or Kindle. Through every milestone of the publishing process, my ability to interact with others was crucial. This underscored for me that no matter what or how much a person accomplishes, you never do it alone – everyone needs assistance from others.

While I conceived of the book and wrote the manuscript, there is no way my book could have hit booksellers’ shelves without the dozens of people who were involved in the publishing process. Further, interpersonal skills can propel or stonewall success.

Even as someone who has written hundreds of essays, press releases, pitch notes and other correspondence, writing itself is not a solitary endeavor. Sure, I may write in solitude, but the moment I am finished writing, there are always clients, colleagues, partners, peers and others who review my content.

What is more, even as a published author and contributor for this platform, I try to never submit final copy (content) that has not been copy edited. I send everything to my copy editor, whom I pay out of my own pocket, for her review, edits and approval. Once she has reviewed my work, caught unbeknownst-to-me errors, I am much more confident putting my work out in the world.

How Interpersonal Skills Affect Relationships

It is clearer to me now more than ever before that interpersonal skills are needed in every profession and every trade.

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People don’t elect leaders because the leaders are smart. Individuals are motivated to vote when they have a hero and when they feel they have something to lose. If they seriously dislike the other candidate, they are much more likely vote according to a 2000 Ohio State University study:

“A disliked candidate is seen as a threat, and that will be motivation to go to the polls. But a threat alone isn’t enough – people need to have a hero to vote for, too, in order to inspire them to turn out on Election Day.”

In a work setting, interpersonal skills impact every facet of your development and success. Trainers must collaborate with a design team or the company hiring them to facilitate the training. During the training itself, the facilitators must connect with the audience and establish a rapport that supports vulnerability and openness. If the trainers interact poorly with the trainees, they are unlikely to be invited back. If they are invited back, they may be unlikely to inspire cooperation or growth in their trainees.

Solopreneurs interactions with clients and subcontractors, and those interactions will, in part, support or adversely impact their business. If you enjoy a career as an acclaimed surgeon or respected lawyer, your interactions with patients, clients, health insurance agencies and a team of other practitioners – many of whom are shielded from public view – will improve or decimate your practice.

As a hiring manager, one of the things I consider when interviewing candidates is their interpersonal skills. I assess the interpersonal skills they display in their content and face-to-face presentation. I ask probing questions to learn how they interact with others, manage conflict and contribute to a team atmosphere.

When candidates say things like, “I prefer to work alone” or “I can hit the ground running without assistance,” I bristle. When candidates appear to know everything and everyone, I wonder if they will be receptive to learning or open to feedback. Could these statements be indications that these individuals lack interpersonal skills?

It stands to reason, then, that interpersonal skills are among the most valuable and the bedrock of all talents and skills.

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What are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills range from emotional intelligence, empathy, oral and written communication to leadership to collaboration and teamwork.

In sum, interpersonal skills are skills that enable you to interact well with others. They include teachability and receptiveness to feedback, active or mindful listening, self-confidence and conflict resolution.

From a communications standpoint, interpersonal skills are about understanding how colleagues prefer to communicate and then using the appropriate mediums to meet respective needs. It is about understanding how to communicate in a way to get the most out of different people.

For instance, in my career as a public relations practitioner, part of what I am constantly evaluating is which colleagues, clients and members of the media prefer email, text or phone calls. I am assessing how much frill to use with each person depending on what has worked in the past and depending on what I know about the person with whom I am interacting.

Making these decisions and being disciplined enough to follow each person’s known preferences helps me better connect with the various individuals in my orbit. Is this tiring at times? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

How to Improve Interpersonal Skills

There are tons of resources to teach interpersonal skills. I love books such as Leadership Presence by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, and The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

There are also a host of books and articles on emotional intelligence, which is the ability to manage one’s emotions and perceive and adapt to others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence is likewise a critical component of positive interpersonal relations. You can learn more about it in this article: What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why It Is Important

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Active and mindful listening also support improved interpersonal skills. I recommend you take a look at this piece: Active Listening – A Skill That Everyone Should Master

I have further found that humility helps a ton with interpersonal skills. It takes humility to admit you have more to learn and that you can learn from the people around you. In fact, everyone with whom you interact has a lesson to teach you. And employers are increasingly looking for team members who are lifelong learners, meaning they believe there is always room for growth and professional and personal development.

Forbes contributor Kevin H. Johnson noted in a July 2018 article,

“That’s why, when anyone asks what the next ‘hot’ skill will be, I say it’s the same skill that will serve people today, tomorrow, and far into the future—the ability to learn.”

Don’t overlook introspection.

While interpersonal skills may seem simple enough, introspection is critical to learning where and in what ways you need to grow.

Through introspection and observation, I have learned that my interpersonal skills suffer when I am sleep deprived, because then I am short-tempered and irritable. I’ve observed this connection over a significant period in my life. Unsurprisingly, it is also true of others. Fellow LifeHack contributor, health coach and personal trainer Jamie Logie noted:

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When you are chronically sleep deprived, it really does a number on you. A lack of sleep can keep your body in a constant state of stress and over time this can get pretty ugly. Elevated stress hormones can be involved in creating a bunch of pretty nasty conditions including anxiety, headaches and dizziness, weight gain, depression, stroke, hypertension, digestive disorders, immune system dysfunction, irritability.

Additionally, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported,

“Sleep deprivation can noticeably affect people’s performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly, and form memories. Sleep deprivation also affects mood, leading to irritability; problems with relationships, especially for children and teenagers; and depression. Sleep deprivation can also increase anxiety.”

The point is, even as you are identifying ways to improve interpersonal skills, think about what is getting in the way. While sleep deprivation is a trigger for me, your stumbling block may be different.

The Bottom Line

You cannot fix what you do not know is broken. Even as you work to understand and apply interpersonal skills, spend some time in mindful meditation to get clear on what is holding you back from developing solid relationships.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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