Friday, August 21, 2009

Flex your creativity muscles

I’ve been a professional nonfiction writer and editor for about 20 years. So you’d think that I would know how to write pretty much anything. Yet I was one of those people who dreamed about writing fiction instead of actually doing it. Basically I was too scared to try, and reading those ever-present articles about the dedication of true writers didn’t help. You know, the ones that say: “A real writer has to write. It’s in our DNA. We find a way no matter what, or we’d go crazy.”

Meanwhile, I would come close to crying blood as I struggled to find both the time and the creative energy to write a few paragraphs of a short story over a period of months, if not years. So I was pretty sure I would never qualify as a “real” fiction writer.

But then last October, I lost my primary writing contract due to consolidation in the publishing industry, and I decided that my enforced sabbatical was a perfect time to put my vague dreams into more solid form. So I enrolled in a creative writing class at the Great Smokies Writing Program at the University of North Carolina-Asheville.

I’m now about to start my third straight semester, and I’ve already written more fiction than at any other time of my life. I’ll admit, I’m no _____ (fill in the blank with your favorite literary giant). In fact, I haven’t been able to get a short story published yet.

But even if I never manage to make anyone’s best seller list, I’m better off. Learning to access my creativity, to work with language, and to create a good story that can impact a reader has produced an unlooked-for side effect: All of my writing has improved.

Whether I am writing a blog, a corporate presentation, or a scintillating educational article about technology transfer, I can dip into the creative well to craft a stronger story. It’s also now easier for me to be creative in other areas, such as designing mosaics, because I’ve gotten used to letting my mind flow freely and allowing ideas and inspiration to pop into my consciousness.

The Great Smokies Writing Program has classes in fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry — any of which can help anyone channel their creativity and learn to use language in new and better ways. The fall semester may be the program’s strongest yet, according to Executive Director Tommy Hays.

If you live in WNC, take advantage of this great opportunity. If not, scour your area and find a good program. A lot of people have let their creativity atrophy. (I think the mere existence of Twitter brings that lesson home.) So flex your muscles.

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