Here are some useful in-the-trenches tips from Carleton instructors and local writers too:
Award-winning novelist and poet teaches poetry and fiction-writing within the Carleton Creative Writing Concentration.
1) With fiction, become a devil’s advocate for the whole – be brave enough to take out what doesn’t add to the final work, even if you believe it’s your best line, paragraph, character.
2) In terms of poetry, the most helpful suggestion I’ve ever encountered (don’t ask me where) was the idea that the last line of your first draft is almost always too far. Look at the second last line of the poem, the third last, the fourth last. Quite often, one of those will be a better ending than the one you’ve chosen. Why? Because so often we want to make sure the reader ‘gets it’ and so overstate things. The essence of poetry is to leave that bit of live wire hanging at the end, to have the courage and wisdom to let it be ambiguous, to allow readers to come to their own conclusions (or non-conclusions). It works quite often with fiction, as well.
Nduka Otiono is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University. He is also a published author of fiction and poetry. When you read Nduka’s tip, the poetry in his blood certainly shows:
Balancing inspiration and perspiration remains an everyday challenge. Staying faithful to the art and keeping the creative forge busy, whether inspired or not, may be the best way not to resign to a season of creative drought. As the Nike slogan goes, “just do it,” and keep doing it like the African blacksmith hammering hot, malleable metal into functional tools with aesthetic appeal.
Amatoritsero Ede is a peripatetic, internationally award-winning poet and ex-Hindu monk born in Nigeria. He has been a Book Editor, was Editor-in-Chief of Sentinel Online Poetry Journal from 2005-2007, and Writer-in-Residence at Carleton University’s English Department from 2005-2006, where he received his PHD. He is the publisher and managing editor of Maple Leaf Literary Supplement.
Here is Amatoritsero’s tip:
“A writer who waits for inspiration won’t produce much; choose a topic or idea and work at it, then inspiration will come visiting. ”
Explore more tips below to kick-start your writing, reflect on the craft, or motivate you to polish on-going projects.
Movies are great models in how to tell succinct, compelling stories. For example, Martin Scorsese explains how to differentiate “plot” and “story.”
2. “Leave out all the stuff readers tend to skip.”
This is Elmore Leonard’s most infamous – and helpful – writing tip. Here is the crime writer’s full list of ten tips.
In other words, keep your writing lean. Those paragraphs of description might be interesting to you, but is it to your audience? I just cut a story from 10,000 word to 5,000: that is, I liberated it from a heap of unneeded clutter.
3. Don’t be afraid to fail. It will make you a stronger person and writer.
Margaret Atwood notes in The Guardian: “Get back on the horse that threw you, as they used to say. They also used to say: you learn as much from failure as you learn from success.”
4. Listen to people, “real” people telling stories.
The best storytellers are often undisciplined naturals: those people at the bus stop or coffee shop.
The Moth: True Stories Told Live has become a phenomenon. Based in New York, but now with global reaches, The Moth hosts story-telling events where “regular” people as well as celebrities stand up in front an audience and tell an unscripted “confessional” story for five minutes.
5. Look outward. Let your ego disappear.
Richard Wagamese states: “Work for the story’s sake” was the best advice he’s received as a writer. But it can be hard to release your ego and surrender to what is best for the story you are trying to tell.