A blog where families who love and live the Catholic Faith can share, encourage and support each other.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Buttons for Dummies

I have been busy working on some posts about writing for the Bush Boys Online blog. This reminded me that when my daughter Felicity was a teenager, she wrote her own article about creative writing. Felicity wanted to write an article for the KIT newsletter but she had no idea what to write about. A helpful friend (who might be called Anthony) gave her the title "Buttons for Dummies" as a starter. Felicity's imagination got to work and she came up with this offering: some suggestions about creative writing for other young writers. I hope you enjoy it. Sue

In the dark of the early morning, summoned by your alarm clock, parent, child or annoyingly pious sibling, you crawl into consciousness. You reel to your wardrobe, clutch a fistful of clothes from a shelf and stagger to the bathroom. Fifteen minutes and one hot (or hot-cold-hot, or lukewarm, or, worst, cold) shower later, you attempt to clothe yourself. Zips are zipped, drawstrings are tied, hooks and eyes inserted, and snappers are snapped. And generally, you manage, even with your mental-processes turned off, to complete these actions. That’s all the skill you need to finish dressing and go on to more important matters, such as food, hair, morning jobs or work. Well, nearly. There is still one more terror to be navigated.


Who has not experienced the horrors of desperately fumbling with these annoying round objects while the clock ticks and other, pressing jobs beckon? No other fastening needs half so much time or attention that buttons require. And unless you are one of those ebullient morning people who love nothing better then 5.30 a.m. rises, and bracing cold showers, no-one has the ability to concentrate hard enough in the mornings to do up more than the smoothest and most easily grasped button. And so, we lurch drowsily into battle every morning with one of mankind’s most terrible inventions.

How does one, weak, befuddled, and totally unprepared as we are in the mornings cope? Sadly, there are few hard answers. One could try asking your pious sibling to rouse you ten minutes earlier (if you could bear it), or splashing your face with cold water to shock your brain into gear. Or you could step out of the shower five minutes earlier. Or run a cold shower. But I have found that all these measures require more self-control than I possess, at least at the beginning of the day. If you find yourself in my position, follow the instructions below…

Do not wear buttons. Ever. With the multitudes of clothes available in the Western world, one is not required to. Even shirts can be fastened with snappers! So, that’s one problem of mornings sorted. Now, if we could just find a way to wake up cheerful

That was an example of my creative writing. I love creative writing more than any other type of writing. For me, it is the most enjoyable type of writing, because it offers the most scope for personal opinions, invention and experimentation. When I have to write creatively, say for my English course, I might get a subject (the title Buttons for Dummies was all the guidance I was given for the above piece) and some broad outlines (it may be a short story, or have to be written in the first person) and from then on I can do what I like. I’m on my own and can have my say. I am not regurgitating someone else’s writing or facts. I can express my own feelings and opinions.

This freedom is only one reason why I enjoy creative writing. I love the feeling of writing something of my very own and making other people feel the same way (I hope you remembered horror mornings of your own when you read Buttons for Dummies). I like developing my own style (do you notice how much I love adjectives, or strings of possibilities so I can cover all bases and find an answering chord in a reader?) I like bringing scenes so alive and real that I can live there.

In fact, I am so fixated on creative writing, I try to put a little bit into every piece of writing I do. I used to get stuck opening essays on historical figures. I found out several years ago if I picked a crucial and dramatic scene in the life of the figure I was writing about and described that in a paragraph first, as creatively as I could, the rest of the essay just flowed. I made that person interesting to myself by dramatising him, and because I was interested in him, I had to write the rest of his life down. I still do that to open pieces of writing (this article is no exception!) I also like to dress up otherwise plain and boring writing by picking exciting adjectives or using more dramatic sentence structures.

That doesn’t mean that I always find writing interesting and easy. But sometimes it can become exciting and absorbing. I find this happens most often when I am doing creative writing. Even so, I can sit down to write creatively, and nothing can happen. I have found that sometimes I need to think and structure before I write. Sometimes everything is there and all you have to do is sit down and write, but most of the time you have to plan it out, if only in your own head.

For me, the hardest thing about creative writing is finding a subject. My mum (she’s my editor and critic) and I must have spent twice as much time brainstorming ideas for essays and articles than I have spent actually writing. We go through all sorts of ideas (this article could have been How To Decorate Fish Tanks or I Am A Troubled Teenager With No Friends – truly!) until I hear one which appeals to me. We can refine it, add to it and change it. I’ve gone to the computer lots of times clutching an old envelope covered with felt-tip scribbles of ideas. The idea can change totally as I write and think more deeply. It becomes further changed as Mum and I (and sometimes, other critics) reread and revise.

I find that the two most important things to know before you begin writing are exactly what your writing is about and who it is intended for. With my creative writing, I generally find that it turns out to be about me – even it is meant to be about someone else. I can’t decide if I am just very selfish or I just know myself much better than anything else! Mostly I think that, just like some actors declare that they only play themselves on screen, most writers write about themselves because it’s simply the easiest thing to do. Why write about characters and experiences that you have no knowledge of? Why not write about things that you very familiar with and will therefore be able to describe well? I think another reason to write about yourself is because you are far more likely to write better and stay interested in subjects you know and understand. And if you like what you are writing about, it’s more likely that readers will like what you have written too!

The second thing to remember before writing is to define who you are writing for. Whodunit writers and romance writers have it easy – they are writing for crime addicts and sentimental romantics. Because they know who they are writing for, they can plan their stories to please their audiences. When you have to do some creative writing, think about who will read it. Has your mum told you to write her a piece of creative writing? Aim it at her. That doesn’t mean writing about the Super Mum of the Year, but simply means to write it at her level of understanding. For example, your mum might not appreciate a story full of silly humour. Your younger brother might, but you are not meant to be writing for your younger brother. You mother might like reading stories with an omnipresent narrator (a narrator who can go into the minds of all the characters and narrate their thoughts). Why not try that approach for your mum? I know right now, as I’m writing this article, that it will be read by people of all ages, but mostly mums looking for homeschooling ideas and children who are (possibly) looking for creative writing help. Therefore, I have to aim at two sorts of people – those who are doing the creative writing and those who are trying to teach the creative writing.

Things I never really decide about until I begin writing are things like layout, persons, tenses and style. I’ve used all sorts of approaches depending on the subject I’m writing about. I’m not particularly adventurous, in my opinion. I just keep going until my writing seems to suit my subject. With articles like this, I simply write the same way I would speak, keeping my voice natural. Other types of writing may need other types of voices (could you hear my voice change as I switched from discussing buttons to discussing writing?) When my writing voice fits my subject (and my subject fits my writing voice) I can begin to put it all down and review, revise, rewrite, redo…

Something I’ve learnt to live with, if not like, is rewriting. I know that sometimes I have to keep hacking and adding and polishing my draft until its just right. Still, finishing writing and feeling that I have done my best to say what I want to say in the words can be satisfying. Perhaps some creative writing is begun by unbalanced geniuses madly scrawling burning ideas down, but I bet most creative writing is finished with methodical revising.

Mum taught me most of what I know about the technical side of creative writing. Mum used to gather myself and my two younger brothers, sit us down, discuss techniques of creative writing together, such as original metaphors, personification, points of view, active verbs, humour and putting yourself there, and then send us off to describe an object (it could be a friend, a cushion, a bushfire, or a person making a cake!) When we had finished, we would come back and read our pieces aloud. We always enjoyed this, because we got to point out our use of techniques. We were always surprised at our different styles and methods we used. Afterwards, we’d discuss our work again and file our writing away until next time.

If I were to summarise what I considered important for writing creatively, I’d say:

q       Have a subject that interests you and that you know well. The never-fail subject is yourself!

q       Know who you are talking to.

q       Be aware that there are techniques to creative writing. Use them if they fit, but if they don’t suit you and what you’re talking about, don’t.

q       Be descriptive. Be there. Bring your readers there.

q       Show emotion. Show what you feel, not what someone else feels. If you do not show real emotion, readers will feel nothing except boredom as they read. Show real emotion, and your readers will feel the same thing.

q       Have a sense of humour. To write honestly about yourself, you will have to have a sense of humour. Otherwise, you will never survive other people’s comments!

q       Enjoy it all! Creative writing must be enjoyable, or we would never have any novels or literature.

Now write something. Can you write the article that tells me how to awake cheerfully?

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