6 Tips for Creative Writers

Creative Writing

In honor of National Novel Writing November, here is an article by journalist and writer Justin McLachlan about the 6 common writing mistakes that can make you seem like an amateur. Now to go home and rewrite all of my work.

  1. It’s ok if characters just say things. They don’t have to grouse, whisper, bellow, and ejaculate their dialogue. Dialogue attributions are just markers to help orient the reader.
  2. You don’t need to use italics for emphasis. Put important words in important places rather than using italics to lend emphasis.
  3. Slow it down on the point of view switches. Stay with one character instead, and if you must change—save it for a scene break or other clear delineation.
  4. There is such a thing as too much description. Adjectives and adverbs are the death of good writing. Get rid of modifiers and replace them with strong and active verbs. For now, cut the italics and trust your reader.
  5. Complex writing does not equal complex thought. Instead of getting out of the reader’s way and letting the story envelop them, this kind of showy style puts a wall up and paints the author’s face across it. It also kills clarity, which is just another wall in and of itself. Aim for clear, simple writing.
  6. Characters and places with pretentious and unpronounceable names. A lot goes into a name, and getting them right in genre fiction can be hard. However, if the reader can’t pronounce what you’ve written it is highly likely that they will stop reading.

For more details on these six writing mistakes, check out McLachlan’s article.

Warror Writers Helping Vets Move Forward

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There are many reasons we write. We write to communicate, to share ideas. We write to entertain. And sometimes, we write to heal. Warrior Writers aims to do just that by inviting veterans from all around the country to come to their workshops. The workshops are led by Jan Barry, a Vietnam veteran. He provides the attendees with prompts, which they will respond to in a journal and then share with the group. Barry is also a poet and Ramapo College journalism lecturer.

Lorraine Ash, writer for The Daily Record and author of the article “Art and writing helping vets move forward,” asked one U.S. Army Somalia veteran, Sarah Mess, about how the program is helping Mess uncover and expel lingering feelings.

“I’m able to express and tap into things here that maybe I didn’t even know were still stirring, like I did today. I’m able to bring those things to the surface and share them in safe spaces with people who’ve experienced similar things,” Mess said.

While Mess uses the workshops for healing, a U.S. Army medic named Eli Wright, who served in Iraq, wanted to express that pain is not the only driving force to these workshops. Wright told Ash:

“We’re not all here because we are broken by the military and trying to heal. We have a lot of veterans involved in these projects who are not combat veterans. A lot served during peacetime, but they’re still artists and they still have plenty of things to say. It’s not all about war trauma.”

Whether the veteran needs the pen to heal, or merely as a way to express himself or herself, news of these workshops further proves the power of writing. Our words are an extension of ourselves, after all; they’re the parts of our soul we can actually see.

 

Get To Know: Red Cedar Review

Photo Credit: Abigail King

You have probably heard of Ing, Fourth Genre, and The Black Sheep. However, Red Cedar Review is another on on-campus publication that employs Professional Writing and English majors.

Currently, Chief Editor, Jordan Poll, and Professor Robin Silberglied run the Red Cedar Review with the help of their staff including Leslie Zimmerman, Katie Susko, Molly Janasik, Nicole Kaufman, Taylor Neverman, Connor Yeck, Lizzie Oderkirk, Katlyn Lindstrom, Alison Hamilton, Marta Werbanowska, Philip Russell, and Lindsy Sambaer.

Red Cedar Review is a journal of literature and art founded and run by undergraduate students at Michigan State University. Debuting in 1963, Red Cedar Review is the longest-running journal of its kind in the United States. They have even published renowned authors such as Margaret Atwood, Pablo Neruda, Tom Bissell, and Stuart Dybek. Today, Red Cedar Review is dedicated to the support of young literary and artistic talent through the exclusive publication of undergraduate students. Their mission is to provide undergraduates across the country with the opportunity to publish their own original works of prose, poetry, and visual art in this prestigious journal.

Unlike most on-campus publications, Red Cedar Review only takes work from undergrads outside of MSU. However, this year, they are hosting a contest for Michigan State undergrad writers and visuals artist. They are seeking submissions of written and visual art from MSU students to feature their 50th anniversary edition of Red Cedar Review that will be published digitally this spring. In addition, as a contributor, you will be given a special printed copy of the publication.

For more information on Red Cedar Review and contest submission guidelines, go to their website: http://www.redcedarreview.com/

All This Time I Was finding Myself, and I Didn’t Know I Was Lost

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I got off the plane in another country for the first time ever in my life. I was alone. I needed to get through customs, get my luggage for the next seven weeks, and get myself from the Heathrow International Airport to Regent’s University in London. I didn’t have a working phone, and the person I intended to meet in the terminal was nowhere to be found. Awesome. Luckily I had prepared for my classmates and my pre-arranged rendezvous to fail without the ability to communicate upon landing, and had instructions of how to get myself through London and to the university.

I decided the easiest method, with the fewest steps involved, was to take the Underground subway system into London. I was only required to buy one ticket, switch trains once, and walk a few blocks from that Underground stop to the university, where I’d meet my trip advisors and fellow travelers for an orientation. When I tried to pay for my ticket the Londoner in the booth replied with a look of annoyance, “Those are Euros.” I thought to myself, yeah, I am in Europe. He then informed me that they used pounds for currency. I couldn’t believe I was already contributing to the stereotype of “stupid American”, having pre-ordered Euros instead of pounds. Luckily I was able to use my debit card, and with the help of some kind locals, was able to make my way to the college. Without realizing it, I was already practicing what would become my most valuable take-away from my Study Abroad experience; that is, learning how I best learn.

I had no idea when I decided to study abroad that I would be changing the course of my life forever. It is a very different world when you’re in another country, in a culture outside of your own. Surrounding myself with good people in interesting spaces was a key component my London trip advisor, Jeff Grabill, stressed in terms of finding myself in a professional setting ideal for me. Managing work and school in this diverse environment was challenging, but extremely beneficial in being able to learn from those who are different from me, and also recognizing commonalities between us. The currency is different, people speak differently (language and dialogue), dress differently, have different tendencies, and behave in a way that is different from those of my own culture. I made sure I split off from our (American) group as much as I could to really immerse myself in these other cultures. I made several friends throughout the duration of our trip, and was very flattered when natives would complement me by saying things like, “You’ve changed our minds about Americans, guess you’re not all bad.” Again, from being made to feel uncomfortable, making me more alert, I was and able to learn about people and pick up on things from which I could establish with them a connection.

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 7.09.27 PMI was made aware of some interesting cultural differences right away in both London and Paris. In Paris the language barrier is an obvious difference that resulted in some serious culture shock, even for me, who’s studied French since the 8th grade. However, when you’re there, in the moment, and that’s all the person you’re trying to communicate with speaks, you freeze up, and forget everything. By the end of the trip, however, I was speaking French more fluently than I have ever previously, and had even more confidence in my newfound ability to do well in strange places. In London everyone asked, “You alright?” They do this as a way of saying, “How are you?” But before I realized this I’d think to myself, I’m fine! Why does everyone keep asking me that?! Do I not look okay?! These differences seem so minor, but when trying to get along in a new setting, these are huge differences, and it’s important you’re aware and alert and are able to pick up on and assimilate yourself into such practices and ways to living.

I found it was really good for me to be out of my element. I now understand the importance of being challenged to facilitate learning. I am so habitual; I realized this when I was in the car for the first time after being back home, and remembered nothing of my drive. I was already running on autopilot; it was so eye opening. I realized how much more aware, alert, and attentive I am when I’m in a new, unfamiliar setting; where I have to pay attention to details and my surroundings to get by. It’s very easy to get lazy and slack off when you’re constantly following a set routine. I now know that it is beneficial for me to move around and mix things up to keep me interested in, and dedicated to, my work. This is valuable realization to come to for someone who will soon be making a career selection.

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Another massive influence contributing to my discovery of how I best learn, was through an amazing opportunity to do research abroad for an organization I interned with called The Cube London. For the internship, I was to complete research and writing that was published in the organization’s white paper document and was intended to go out to members of the London community. I learned a great deal about using Theory of Mind, cognitive flexibility, the brain, and its processes from our neuroscientist supervisor at The Cube, Araceli. It was fascinating to learn about the brain and how its functions are carried out. It really improved my critical thinking skills to learn to think like they do, and produce work through understanding and harnessing these processes. I learned many valuable things from my supervisors at The Cube that I will use for the rest of my life, both personally and professionally.The research I did for The Cube was all about the relationship between people and spaces, and the resulting behavior of people in these spaces and places. Again, at this time I had not yet realized I was learning about my own experience, as I was having it. I loved this research, and it was through this process that I was able to pinpoint the type of work I was really interested in doing in my professional career. This internship allowed me to discover that I need to be doing innovative work that serves to better the community.

On this trip I was able to discover some more about how I best learn through museum layout and setup. My two favorite museums in London were the Churchill War Rooms and the Queen Victoria Revealed section of Kensington Palace. You really begin to understand and feel as if you’re getting to know the people you’re studying when you’re able to feel what they felt; this makes them feel more like real people than historical figures who died years before I was born. Through museum tours and the study of participatory memory, I was able to obtain a better understanding of people in a context unlike any I’d been in previously.

I am so grateful I was given such a brilliant opportunity to better myself through an experience like PW14 Study Abroad. I got to go to three different countries; saw countless museums, galleries, and other cool spaces, contributed to an awesome team through my internship at The Cube where I was able to better my critical thinking and problem solving skills; made a ton of friends – both foreign and Spartan, saw Black Sabbath in Hyde Park, ate awesome food, witnessed the most epic firework show I’ve ever seen at the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day, and learned a massive amount about myself and the world.