The Forces of Creativity: Craft
by Karen L. Oberst

This is the first in a series of articles about creativity. They will follow the "forces of creativity" as outlined by Don Hahn in his book Dancing Corndogs in the Night: Reawakening Your Creative Spirit, and focus particularly on creativity in writing. These forces are Craft, Light, Chaos, Balance, Curiosity, Composition, Simplicity, Spectacle, Surprise, Memory, Symbol and Truth.

Why is craft one of the forces of creativity? You have to know the basics before you can be creative in any occupation or avocation. Think of cooking. How can you be creative until you learn to read a recipe, how to measure, and what the ingredients are, and where to find them? Think of painting. How can you be creative until you understand colors, lines, and techniques? Or building a house. Putting up a structure requires knowing about building materials, blueprints, regulations, walls, floors, etc. You may produce something beautiful (or delicious) without knowing the basics, but it cannot be creative within that occupation/avocation. In the same way, you have to understand the craft of writing before you can write creatively.

So what is the craft of writing? It consists of at least three areas: words and working with words, techniques, and what might be called tricks of the trade.

Words And Working With Words
This covers everything from the words themselves, to forming them into sentences, paragraphs, and chapters.

Writers need to know about words--obviously. You need to know how they sound, what they mean, what part of speech they are, whether nouns and verbs agree, how to use adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, etc. You need to know the structure of a paragraph, how to put together a chapter, and how to find and when to use synonyms and antonyms. This may sound simplistic, but it is good to step back once in a while to think about the simple things, the basics. The study of words--phonemics, morphology, syntax, and vocabulary--provides your tools, your foundation, and the "bricks" you use to build the structure of your story or article.

Be sure to keep Strunk's Elements of Style on your bookshelf beside your dictionary and thesaurus.

You must also master the techniques of writing. These are also familiar, including such things as outlining (or creating some sort of structure) before you write, and learning what belongs in beginnings, middles, and endings. You need to know how to edit your own work, how to end chapters in a way that keeps people reading, as well as writing beginnings that grab attention. There are the techniques for different kinds of writing, depending on the genre, length, whether fiction or non-fiction, etc. You learn how to write for your audience, how to find your angle. You figure out how to "show and not tell." You can easily fill in others. See the authorship section of your local or online bookstore for all sort of helpful titles.

Following the metaphor of house building, these might be considered the blueprints and framing of your structure, the parts that make a building a building instead of piles of building materials.

Tricks Of The Trade
Good writing also requires the extras, the trim and landscaping of a story. These may be skills you obtain as you go along. Some of them might be, writing with the senses, using color in your writing, acquiring skill with dialogue, learning to create believable characters, being able to develop a plot that draws readers in, and all the other finesse of an experienced, talented writer. It also covers areas like cover letters, selling your idea to an editor, and all the other business type information you need to know to be a professional writer. Again, there are plenty of books out there covering these topics.

Learning The Craft
Like all skills, learning to write well takes time. You started in elementary school, learning about words. This education continued up through high school, and perhaps college. There are all sorts of continuing education and graduate programs to teach writing--including classes at Novel Advice.

You also learn from peers. Writing groups are an invaluable way of getting feedback and you should belong to one, whether formal or informal, whether face to face or online.

You can learn by copying from your favorite authors and trying to write in their style. This does not hurt your own style, but rather gives you new tools in your writer's tool box as you master new ways of doing and saying things.

But above all, writers learn through practice. It's no fluke that most authors have been writing since they were children. It's that constant putting of words on paper, always trying to do it better, and incorporating the new thing that you are learning that makes you a better writer, that gives you a better handle on your craft. Instinct and talent play their parts but nothing can take the place of learning and practice. Going back to the construction metaphor, think of the time it took to learn how to draw up a blueprint, how to put down a perfect foundation, how to raise straight walls, how to put in windows, hang doors, etc. Like builders, authors need an apprenticeship. Probably many builders began in childhood with doghouses, birdhouses, tree houses; enthusiastically putting in the hours it takes to learn any profession.

The first force of creativity is Craft. Being a master of the craft of writing gives you the basics to be creative--to know what to change and how to change it, to know when and how to break the rules to get the effect you want. Keep learning your craft so you can become a more creative writer.

Copyright © 2001 by Karen L. Oberst

Back to: Quote of the Day Home Page