Tag Archives: writing

Writing Through Life: Genius

24 Mar

Many people (writers and non-writers alike) believe writers are born not made, that only those with innate and uncommon talent — the geniuses —  have the right to become writers. Sadly, this has kept many would-be writers from putting pen to page or fingers to keyboard. I can’t count the number of students who tell me they’re not creative enough or smart enough to write their stories and thoughts. (Often, these are students that our educational system has failed –those who have learned that their voices don’t matter.) It kills me to hear students say this — so, to encourage new writers, I often recommend this video, a TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert. In it, Gilbert unpacks the strange idea of creative genius that many of us have come to believe — and proposes what I think might be a better alternative.


Writing Through Life: Scrivener (like Bartleby, only different)

31 Jan


In December, I wrote about a great web app that can help writers beat procrastination and get writing. There’s another program I use to help keep the chaos in some kind of contained space as I write — especially while working on long, intricate, or complicated projects. Scrivener is a word processing program that, until very recently, was only available for mac users. I discovered it in November, after getting a netbook that didn’t come bundled with Microsoft Word. As I was tooling around looking for open source alternatives, I ran across the new Windows version of Scrivener (still in beta, available for free). Scrivener, I believe, is a game changer for writers.

There’s an assumption that novelists and other big-project writers should start at the beginning of whatever it is they’re writing and write, straight and steady, to the end. Not everyone thinks and works this way, though. When I write, I’ve got to make a big, old mess. I start in the middle or off to one side, and I jump around. If you write like this, it can be tough to keep all the scraps and thoughts in a place where you can find them. It’s clunky to copy and paste chapters or sections or to try to wrangle all the pieces into some folder somewhere, with ten different Word files. And when you want to see all the pieces at once, it can be hard to get a look at what you’ve got. Scrivener works with that kind of craziness, rather than against it.

S0 Scrivener is to word processing what gmail (especially gmail’s invention of “conversations”) was to email. Rather than giving you a document that can be filled in, linear-like, Scrivener gives you a “project.” The project can have sections, bits, bobbles, and pieces that you can move around at will, see on a corkboard as little index cards, and work on in or out of order. In short, Scrivener gives writers a way to work outside the box of beginning, middle, and end — and start anywhere.

I know. I sound like a commercial here. I really don’t know any of the awesome people who created this software (if I did, I’d send flowers).

Writing Through Life – Community

9 Nov

For some reason, Virginia Woolf’s connection with the infamous Bloomsbury Set — and the creation of her independent publishing venture, Hogarth Press, always inspired me to no end. It’s not just that Woolf and many in the group dared to create what was then considered edgy work (although that’s pretty awesome), and it wasn’t just that she was publishing the innovative writing of others (including, surprisingly, Freud). It was that she and others in the group formed a community of creative types who supported and challenged one another as writers and artists.

Writing is an introverted business. To get the words on the page, we have to sit in a room, usually alone, usually for a good while, and we have to do this regularly. Writing works best when we ignore the world, when we close doors, pop in earplugs, say no even to those we love. At the same time, we need people who inspire and challenge us. We need folks who can help us see when the writing works, when the sentences fall flat and when the story falters. And sometimes we need people who can help us engage in life and (as Proust says) see our world with new eyes.

So I think a community of creative people is where it’s at. It’s not easy, of course, to form a Bloomsbury group. Despite all our 21st Century communication devices, it’s tough to find and gather a group of like-minded creatives together, and it’s tough to collect the time to read and comment, gather, and play with the work. I’ve got to believe, though, that the pursuit is worth the undertaking.