Posts Tagged ‘Writing Advice’

Generating Insight in Writing

Getting a new perspective starts with curiosity.

Quality writing depends on several key components such as surprise, beautiful language, sentence variety and distinct voice. Perhaps the most important ingredient in good writing, however, is insight. Insight is that intangible something that reveals a fresh perspective. Insight is the discovery of what you’ve always known for the first time.

The Power of Insight:

When we read a writer’s work and have that “Aha!” moment, we are experiencing the power of the writer’s insight. Insight is deeply rooted in experience and description (there are other features as well, but for this short blog post, let’s explore those two).

To get to a new perspective that resonates at a deep level, the writer has to start by telling the truth about his or her experience. This is a foreign experience for many people. We become so habituated to saying what is expected, to experiencing life through a set of preconceptions handed to us by family, culture, religion and national identity that the potential for truth-telling is blunted by expectation and conditioning. We are especially prone to unconsciously imposing those kinds of pressures on our kids so we have to explicitly give them permission to mess up our preconceptions as they explore topics for writing.

Brave Writers learn how to tell the truth of their new experiences.

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I remember reading in one writing check list for revision that the writer should check her piece to be sure that all of the descriptions were edifying. If the writer is forced to make all descriptions rosy so as not to reveal chinks or blemishes, then the writer will not be able to dig honestly into her experience and thus bring forth truth. The writing will suffer and there will be no insight.

The Power of Curiosity:

To access experience, it helps to divest oneself of prejudgments. Start with reading widely or observing keenly. Let yourself ask questions, ponder comparisons and open yourself to new interpretations of the old data. Let your experience of the topic, scene or person deepen before writing. Take notes and allow for contradictions. “The criminal exhibits a kind manner toward animals.”

The second important aspect of gaining insight is the ability to describe thoroughly. Brave Writer offers several tools for accessing the ability to describe deeply both concrete items and concepts/ideas. When describing, you want to pay attention to the small details. In a familiar object, it might be the way the light catches the item or the blemish that you overlook when merely glancing. In describing an idea, you’ll want to look for the way that idea illuminates another related idea or the way it exposes a myth or stereotype, or even the way it reinforces that stereotype. You might look at it through the opposing viewpoint or pretending to agree where you disagree.

As you give yourself to hidden details of thought and perspective, you allow yourself to generate new experiences. These experiences lead to questions which will inevitably lead you to a fresh perspective. It is that perspective that I like to call insight!

Insight takes time to birth, but the labor leading up to it need not be painful. You merely need to take the time to be open to new possibilities, to comparisons and hidden meanings. Let your mind percolate, examine the idea/item multiple times, take notes and ask good questions. Then apply yourself to accurate (not necessarily edifying) description. As you do, you’ll generate insight.


Brave Writer Online Class Writing the Short Story

Writing the Short Story: Brave Writer Online Class

Unlike our other fiction writing classes, the point of this one is to complete a story. You’ll take all that exploratory freewriting you’ve been doing and hone it until it reveals itself as a finished piece. If you have a long story or novel you’ve been developing, this is a great place to find its essence and travel a shorter narrative arc. Later, you can transfer what you’ve learned to your longer-form work.


Image by Chris, Flickr (cc Modified to add text.)

Mechanics for All Kinds of Writing

Mechanics in writing

Emails asking about Brave Writer share similar concerns. One of them is:

“I heard that you teach creative writing (or writing from the heart, or informal writing). But what about mechanics (or writing formats, or technical details)? Where should I go to get those?”

And for some reason, this question really makes me want to grab the microphone and shout, “Oy!”

::hoisting my five foot two inch frame up onto my soapbox::

::clearing throat:: Ahem.

I begin by saying…

All writing is creative.

Every kind of writing, be it technical writing, essay writing, fiction, reports, poetry… Each act of writing must come from the creative well within. I call this “generative writing.” That means that the writer is generating words from inside.

Each act of writing must come from the creative well within.

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Most schooled people elevate “technical” or “expository” or “academic” writing above merely creative writing. It’s the result of years of relentless conditioning in the school system that makes writing sound and feel like it happens “out there,” like it’s the act of “capturing someone else’s words” and organizing them into a rigid form to please a stern professor or newspaper editor.

What a travesty! (Yes, this topic deserves that level of rhetoric.)

Academic writing (my very favorite kind of writing, by the way) does depend on a knowledge of how to construct an argument, how to choose your details and support, on sound grammar and punctuation. But it is so much more than the sum of those parts. Quality academic writing comes from a dialog between self and the chosen material at a sophisticated level of composition.

Teaching composition will never cause that fusion of research and personal insight to occur. Teaching composition as it is traditionally taught causes students to lose their ability to trust their writing voices and in the end, usually results in stilted pomposity or lifeless and dry regurgitation of research.

To achieve that effortless blend of insight and argument, though, we must start by developing voice first. Writer’s voice takes years to develop. You will see flashes of brilliance and quirky insights combined with bad spelling, poor mechanics and lots of fragments and run-ons.

As we are developing voice, we are learning how to punctuate, we are reading and copying and writing out dictation. We are editing and revising our own writing. We are sharing our writing with readers and discovering what impact our writing has on readers (do they love my ideas but can’t recognize the words because of misspellings?)

This process takes about ten years (from 8-9 until about 18-19) and doesn’t stop even then. I do not recommend teaching academic format writing until a child is completely comfortable expressing him or herself on paper, free to be outrageous, funny, insightful, careful, introspective, careless… As the child grows as a writer, there will be natural points at which organization can be brought to bear on the raw writing (and we’ll work on some of that later this month to give you a feel for how it’s done).

But let’s not get the cart ahead of the horse. Writing is not about following rules, but learning how to express yourSELF in such a way that you communicate with the reader, that you register, you make contact, you connect!

It takes courage to go against the flow of the school culture. But that’s why I call you Brave Parents of Brave Writers.

::Stepping down::

I feel better. Thank you.


Writing is not about following rules

Curious about a natural approach to grammar? Click to read more!

Image of gears by Les Chatfield (cc cropped)