Improving your approach to creative writing
A blank white page. A blank white canvas. Writers and painters have a common starting point, and some of the principles that produce a beautiful piece of visual art apply to the creation of excellent written work.
Most writers feel ownership over their creative process. There is no single correct way to arrive at a finished written product, but I advise writers to develop a custom blueprint. Creating an outline is perhaps the most tried and true planning method, but its rigidity makes it unsuited for many types of projects. And let’s face it, Roman numerals are so MCMLXXXVI.
Instead, approach your plan as you would a sketch. Imagine you are making light strokes on the canvas, just penciling in the general shape of your article, story, poem or book. Get a sense of size and proportion. Shade in some key features, the elements you expect will become points of emphasis or will advance the action of your story. Remember, it’s in pencil; you can always erase and revise.
Using your sketch as your guide, begin painting the broad strokes of your story. Artists paint in layers, overlapping images and colors to create depth. Similarly, you can build on the foundational layers of your story with added detail. You need to write in three dimensions. Give your characters, your settings and your situations complexity by layering aspects of history, relationship, emotion, and motive that you will reveal in time.
A great painting appears as a doorway into another world, a passage you can seemingly enter. That is a hallmark of great writing as well. Don’t write flat.
Shaping your writing into a finished project requires the addition of fine details and the refining of rough edges. These steps are like adding shadows and highlights to your painting. The contrast serves as context for your story, accentuating your message and amplifying your meaning. Painters must be mindful of their light source because its relationship to the subject determines which details are revealed and which are obscured. A writer’s light source is generated by voice and point of view. Your perspective, or that of your narrator, influences in large part which information and beliefs are illuminated and which remain in the dark.
Finally, you have to know when to put down the brush. Sometimes, the best sentence is the one you don’t write. That, however, shouldn’t be an excuse to write with restraint. You can proceed with creative abandon, since writers have one clear benefit over painters. We can edit. But that’s another art project.