Writing From the Inside Out

image from pixaby

The internet brims with advice on how to write (this little blog included). I most enjoy reading the ponderings of those of us who are still exploring the mystery of this craft, this art. So few absolutes exist in the realm of creativity. How wondrous that we all possess distinctive voices, styles and stories to tell. To me, writing is organic, personal. I believe we need to discover, encourage, and play with our inner muses.

I’ve read a number of blogs and how-to narratives that outline the steps for developing character and plot. Some offer great wisdom, while others (often those written by the “experts”) strike me as somewhat formulaic. And I don’t mean general guidelines with a few obvious rules. I mean fill in the blanks! To me, these strictures feel deadening, and I worry that new writers in particular will unwittingly lose the opportunity to discover the unique storyteller within.

creativity pixabyI wrote my first book without a clue as to what I was doing. And despite the painful drudgery of endless editing to address my ignorance and learn the craft, I’m glad I did it that way. Because I loved the creative process. I love writing from the inside out. I’m not sure if I would have come to the same conclusion writing a fill-in-the-blank book with fill-in-the-blank characters.

I’m close to finishing the Raven’s Shadow fantasy trilogy by Anthony Ryan. He breaks so many rules it’s exhilarating. Someday I’ll make a list and we can all celebrate. The first book in the trilogy, Blood Song, has 2, 124 reviews. I loved the series. Did I mention he breaks rules?

As I finish final edits on my current project, I’ve begun to stir the cauldron and will soon enter the contemplative process of conjuring up the next story. That’s what it feels like to me…magic. That spark of inspiration bubbles up from inside me, not from a formula, and when it arrives, it’s mine.

creativity pixaby4In his book, Eternal Echoes, John O’Donohue, the Irish poet and author, writes: “The natural and ancient creativity of soul is being replaced by the miserable little arithmetic of know-how.”

I would second this bit of wisdom and the attendant advice. As artists, we may relish our rules-of-writing consciousness, but inspired writing rarely springs from a formula. Writing is alive with subtlety, impression and intent. Listen, learn, revisit, and then find your own way. You are the artist.

image flickr

All images from pixabay.com

119 thoughts on “Writing From the Inside Out

  1. I like what you said about no absolutes. Some do teach creative writing as if anything is written in stone. Heavens no, otherwise there would be nothing new to write.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A great point! My husband and I just watched the new Jurassic Park movie, which was the same exact formula as the first two. I have to say it didn’t do much for me third time around. An opportunity was missed. We’ll see how San Andreas does! 😀

      Like

  2. So true, Diana…not all the teachings in the world will bring that story out from within you! Have a great day 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. reocochran says:

    So, it is okay to unleash my inner child and babble? I am having some fun with a new direction on my blog, taking photos and saying a few words. Some people think it poetic, but me self doubt thinks they are just “babbles.” 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post. I have read many books about writing. Characters need to be written from inside. You need to feel the blood and flesh of your character for them to be life like. And isn’t that the goal of every fiction writer? Create characters that people want to follow. I am happy I found your page.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Cat says:

    This is an amazing post and touches on something I’ve been pondering lately. I love to write, but know absolutely nothing of “the rules.” I guess it’s something I need to do if I want t progress to writing a book level, but I certainly pick up a lot of tips from you, D.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You’re a natural, Cat. My advice to you is, don’t worry too much about it. Write the story you need to tell in your unique voice. If you read a lot, pay attention to what your favorite authors do (whether fiction or nonfiction). Then, when you feel ready, be brave and find some supportive but honest writer friends to give you feedback on what you’ve written. That will start you on the editing path. Perhaps other writers will give you different advice, but there’s my two cents. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. hsampson says:

    Hello there D! I just wanted to let you know I have nominated you for the Onle Lovely Blog Award. As usual, you don´t have to do anything, I am just letting you know I love and appreciate your blog. Thanks you always! https://hsampson.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/apology-and-award-nomination/

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Sacha Black says:

    Interesting, hadn’t thought that learning the tips and tricks might deaden the creativity. I wonder where that line is – where you cross from studying the craft so you can actually write over to being restricted by rules….would love to know what rules that author broke though!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for the comment, Sacha. I’m all for tricks and tips, learning and honing our craft. You are so right that it’s a critical part of preparing a book for an audience. I was thinking more about the “experts” who dictate structure according to their own preferences, including the types of characters, and on what pages certain events should take place. All the “nevers” and “always” that don’t leave room for nuance.

      We all need to learn the rules eventually, particularly if we want to break them. But I also think we have to honor the writer and the story, especially for new writers when the first-draft excitement is evolving into a lifelong love affair. All stories are different and many won’t fit the mold. Image what our writing would be if writers still followed the rules of the past and never tried something new. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. D.G.Kaye says:

    I love this post Diana, much truth. Many people like to share their methods and/or claim the best way to do things, but what’s right for some, doesn’t always work for others, especially when it comes to creativity. The way you talked about doing your first book was similar to mine, and we’re still here writing books. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  9. acflory says:

    I truly believe we can be taught how to use the tools of our trade, but no one can teach us how to create a thing of beauty with those tools; that has to come from within.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. How perfectly apt, Diana, considering Nano looming. It’s a timely reminder not to be threatened by protocol and procedure and to go with that initial flow. Fingers crossed.x

    Liked by 2 people

    • NaNo has brought up a couple personal reminders for me and I feel my excitement growing – that old creative energy starting to simmer. When I figure out how it all works, I’ll cheer you on 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • We can buddy up if you like. I was lost last year – a little lamb wandering through pastures new! Kept wondering what half of them were talking about and really didn’t get into the forums and suchlike all that much. One of the things they recommend is having a few buddies, principally to egg each other on, I guess, but it’s good to have another face in the crowd that’s known. My user name is Anne-Marie7. I’ll push you and you can push me back. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  11. You have to wonder, looking at some of the so-called rules, who would take them on board. Certain guidelines should be followed, yes, in order for the reader to be able to understand what’s going on – e.g. POV changes, etc. But there is no manual. It’s not a washing machine. Would one good rule for writers be to exercise some sort of common sense with regard to advice, surely?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the comment, Tara. I agree that most of us, over time and with experience, develop the common sense required to filter advice. We’re better able to make judgements about recommendations, and we’ve gained some confidence in our voice and style. I suck up writing tips and rules like a sponge and my writing is better because of it, but I also think hard about whether to take all advice as gospel. My hope is that new writers have the opportunity to go through the creative discovery process that is so addictive before they surrender to an experts’ rigid prescriptions on “how to write a book.” 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Loved this post and I agree with you. Formula stifle me. Your writing has such a lyrical tone, love it. Thank you for stopping by the Cow Pasture. I’m glad you liked it well enough to jump the fence, welcome.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Very inspiring.

    As I think of it, what holds us back from writing is not the dearth of ideas or creativity but the fear that we might fail, that we would be thought poorly of and so on. As soon as we shift that perspective to, ‘What matter is our own passion being unleashed and it really doesn’t matter what others say or think’, many of the blocks seem to disappear.

    Shakti

    Liked by 5 people

    • I agree, Shakti. My first forays into writing were filled with excitement and I fell in love with the whole experience. Later, I learned the rules and got the feedback I needed. It was a lot of work, but by then I was hooked. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  14. gina amos says:

    Thanks for the post, Diana. It seems to me there are 2 sets of rules. One for the emerging writer and one for established writers. An example of this is the rules for POV. I noticed after reading Stephen King and Tami Hoag recently, the character POV shifted a few times in one paragraph, no new lines. My editor would be down on me like a ton of bricks if I tried that lark! Also after I was criticised for having too many characters (11) for the sake of the exercise I went through and counted the characters in a Tess Gerritson novel. 64 characters!! I guess when you are an apprentice you have to follow the rules. It’s only when you learn the craft are you able to experiment and get away with it:)

    Liked by 4 people

    • Absolutely, Gina. Your examples are great, and the book I mentioned is another one that disregards norms. Ryan can get away with it because he has a huge following and it works for his story.

      I do worry that new writers can be stifled by formulaic writing – “You should have four main characters: hero, love interest, sidekick, villain. You should have your first major setback between pages 20 and 30. For this audience, you should use first person.” That may be good advice for certain books and writers do learn (have to learn) what works. At the same time, I think the writing addiction arises from an experience of sheer creativity. It’s a great way to start because its all about the love. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      • gina amos says:

        Yes, Diana it’s all about what works!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Erik says:

        This discourse makes me think of the (dreaded) “five-paragraph essay” taught invariably by elementary schools (and, frighteningly so, carried over even into college courses). It’s useful as a standard measurement and as a starting point where necessary – an example of logic and flow. But anyone who uses a five-paragraph essay format in real life … well, they won’t be winning any Pulitzers. In fact, they’d be fired from most businesses even.

        Rules are a starting point, or a “net” of sorts for writers who don’t have “it.” They allow uncreative writers to write something with a semblance of order and thought progression. But even Shakespeare made rules only to break them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Perfect example. The “well known and popular author” who inspired me to write this post is a novelist who follows a rigid formula. He was quite adamant that his formula was the key to success. To me, it felt stifling. If I hadn’t already acquired a bit of experience, I might have taken his word as fact and tried to stuff my stories into his mold, unsuccessfully.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Erik says:

            Few things are sadder to me than seeing students try to stuff their own creativity into a five-paragraph essay format: “This is what I’m going to write about. Here’s more about A, B and C. Oh, and here’s a recap of what I just said.” Crimmeny!

            Liked by 1 person

  15. Ah, I’m always grateful to meet a soul tribe. Writing from the inside is my way too, a joy when words play in a current, and frustrating when the myth hides, and a character gets stranded in an oxbow. We have bad days together, me and my characters. They challenge me to listen deeper. It took me a while to value this process.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. This is such wise and liberating advice, D. I’m grateful I never really studied writing – experts in other fields have indoctrinated me with enough rules I still need to become aware of and overcome. I do prefer learning to write by doing, too. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • I never studied writing either (though I took a couple classes in college that didn’t count). Rules are all good and necessary, but rarely are rules a source of inspiration. For me, that’s where it all starts. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      • Erik says:

        I must add here that I have a better grasp of grammar, usage and mechanics than the vast majority of people. But it’s sort of like my degrees – I’ve actually never gotten a job on account of my degrees (or missed out on one because I didn’t have a certain degree). I know the rules, and I know them well. But where the rules cause intention, mood or story to suffer, they simply have to be abandoned.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. Jed Jurchenko says:

    “I wrote my first book without a clue as to what I was doing.”–Me too 🙂

    I wrote my first book on a borrowed lap-top, at our kitchen table. Parts of it were completed between 2-5 am, while holding my newborn daughter in one arm, and pecking away at the keyboard with my free hand.

    This is a great reminder that there are no hard and fast rules for writing. Sometimes, it’s perfectly OK to let the creativity, and the passion for the craft, take over.

    Liked by 4 people

    • What a dedicated writer! You paint an adorable picture of you and your daughter writing your first book. I’m not an advocate for ignoring the rules at all, but I do believe that creative drive for our stories has to be organic. I think readers can feel the difference when a story originates inside us versus being stuffed into a prescribed structure because that’s the way it’s supposed to be done. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Erik says:

        I mentioned above that where rules inhibit mood, intention or story, they should be abandoned. But I am with you, Diana, in not shunning rules! The opposite can also be true: that ignorance of the rules can equally kill mood, intention or story. The balance between use of rules and skirting them must be intentional, not haphazard – always supported with the writer’s thought that “I am writing this way because it best suits my goal here.”

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, absolutely. I think about the young writers I mentor in the local high school. I want their love of writing to blossom, so I never give them a list of 40 rules to follow as they write their first stories. The passion comes first, in my mind, and I nurture that by honoring their voice and story. The rest comes later.

          Liked by 1 person

  18. Every time I try to play by the rules I lose steam. I think writing needs to be messy and unstructured because that’s when creativity flows. The problem is, that I am a perfectionist and the fill-in-the-blank stuff seems like a good thing at first. Then I try it and disaster strikes! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  19. tric says:

    I wrote with gay abandon before I began to read advice on writing or even imagining anyone might read a story I’ve written. It made me wonder, overthink and doubt myself. Then I took an online course and with encouragement I began to believe I could write and finally I would write.
    My greatest foe is still self doubt and criticism. When I write a story I really enjoy it and become absorbed by it. Then I edit and leave it a while so I can get perspective. On re reading I am filled with doubt and in truth I have a lot of finished stories gathering cobwebs.
    This was an encouraging post. Thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’m so glad you took a course that encouraged you, Tric. We all learn the rules and skills of the craft over time, but that freedom of uninhibited creativity is such an important place to start (and routinely return to). I think few of us ever feel that our work is perfect, and how can it be with readers’ tastes so subjective. We just have to love what we do and trust.

      Liked by 3 people

  20. I found this post of yours out of proportion inspiring. It just really spoke to me at this time on this day 🙂 Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

  21. I have never written a book, but I would think that in order to do so, you need to have the freedom to write what comes out from inside, getting everything down as you see it unfolding. Then doing all the other bits that knock it into shape. Actually when i looked at what it takes to write a book, it frightened me silly, with all the apps and outlines, character sketches and everything. It shows how ignorant I am of the actual writing process!

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Annika Perry says:

    This is inspired in itself! To dare utter what I believe so many are thinking. Courses, advice and help is all positive and good as long as you don’t lose that inate creatively that we are all born with. Sometimes it’s easy to lose you own confidence. I’ve often wondered at what stage and why children lose their artistic self and learn to say ‘I can’t’. Good question from Picasso and one I’ve never come across.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks, Annika. It’s not my intention to imply that advice, tips, classes, and feedback are unwanted or unwarranted. It’s all incredibly helpful and I’m still learning! To me, art/writing also encompasses the pure love for the creative process. After all is said and done, I think we still need to honor our muses and our unique voices. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      • Erik says:

        This all reminds me of the anecdote in which a little girl is asked by her kindergarten teacher, along with the rest of the class, to color a simple picture of grass, sky and sun. However, upon seeing that the little girl had colored the sun pink, the sky red and the grass purple, the teacher put an “X” on the paper and sent it home with the distraught girl, along with another blank coloring sheet and a note to her mother: “Please help your daughter to color this correctly tonight.” The mother comforted her sobbing daughter and, once calmed, brought out her original drawing. “Why did you color the sun pink, the sky red and grass purple?” she asked. Her daughter sniffled and, clearly confused as to the problem, said, “That’s how it looks when I wake up early in the morning.”

        The girl was correct – just not by the teacher’s set of hard-and-fast rules. In fact, the girl had paid more attention to the way life really is in all it’s variety than the average student, showing advanced creativity and intelligence.

        I think writing is much like this. The girl in the anecdote was fully aware of the expected colors; but she also saw where variation from “the expected” was more beautiful or showed another side of reality.

        Liked by 2 people

        • When doing art therapy with kids the big rule was ZERO judgment, because it shuts kids down. In therapy, even remarking, “I like your picture” sets the kid up to please the adult versus to creatively express. Too bad the teacher didn’t say, “My, your sun is pink. Tell me about that!” 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • Erik says:

            I have found that more than 80% of the time in teaching situations, inviting students to “tell me more” about their thought process is not only hugely helpful diagnostically, but often turns up really SOLID thought processes. I wish this were a teacher more people IN LIFE asked more often, rather than jumping to conclusions.

            I recall being in Kindergarten myself and getting my first “X” on a paper. It was a phonics paper. The instructions were to write the letter that matched the first sound in each word. There were eight pictures with a blank below each one. One of the eight boxes had a picture of something like THIS (http://www.clipartbest.com/cliparts/RTd/4Lz/RTd4LzxT9.png), and I wrote the letter “H” in the blank. I’ll never forget how upsetting that red “X” was! When I got home, my mother instantly knew I’d called it a “hat.” She went in with me the next day and explained this to the teacher. The teacher simply said, “The word was ‘cap.’ It was supposed to be a ‘C.’ ” My mother told her we never use the word “cap” at home for that object, that we called it a “hat.” The teacher just stared back and said, “Well, the right answer was ‘C’ for ‘cap.’ ”

            My mother withdrew me from the school and I began attending a private school.

            Liked by 2 people

  23. Mira Prabhu says:

    Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    “…inspired writing rarely springs from a formula. Writing is alive with subtlety, impression and intent. Listen, learn, revisit, and then find your own way. You are the artist.” Now go on, read D. Wallace Peach’s heartfelt message on ‘writing from the inside out’…

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Good piece, Diana. I personally agree with the statement, “The biggest mistake an author can make is to ‘bore’ the reader.” People hung on the words of the old storytellers from the beginning, “Once upon a time…” to the words, “The end.” None of us wants to continue reading a boring book or story. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  25. orangepondconnects says:

    I’m trying to write more from the inside (and gearing up for NaNoWriMo!). I’ll read a lot of those How-To posts on writing, and though they offer up great advice I do fear that when I apply it all to my writing that it strips my words of all emotion. Great post! You now have me very curious about that book Raven’s Shadow. I may have to look it up!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I read all those how-to posts too and I really do learn a lot of valuable and valid tips. Learning is an extremely important part of what we do as we also discover our own voices.

      I’m not quite at the end of the Raven’s Shadow trilogy. It’s a long long story. 120 pages left in the last book and I do love it. It’s validating to read because Ryan’s style is so natural to me and he does things that I’ve been told NOT to do (adverbs, telling words, participle phrases and 50+ word sentences all over the place). Now I feel as if I can let some of those elements slide back into my work occasionally without be hyper-vigilant. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  26. Amen. I completed my first middle grade novel over the summer, and, my God, for much of the writing process I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

    Through trial and error, however, I figured it out. And this figuring was more fun than I could’ve ever imagined.

    Liked by 3 people

  27. Carrie Rubin says:

    I agree that universally formulaic writing would quickly get old. Of course, some genres–like thrillers–require some rules and adherence to expected structure, but I think a creative writer can mask the rules and structures with passages of the unexpected and characters who jump off the page. It’s the bursts of rule-breaking creativity that elevate a book beyond a routine formula. And thank heavens for that. That’s what makes reading fun!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I agree, Carrie. There are plenty of guidelines that are necessary to keep a reader engaged and certain genres have more requirements than others. I recently read something from an expert on story structure that was detailing what had to happen between specific page numbers, how many main characters the writer should include and what their relationships should be. It was write-by-numbers. It felt creatively numbing to me just to read it. 🙂

      Like

  28. Ocean Bream says:

    Such a relatable post! I find the rules so hard to follow, and am constantly learning through my mistakes! Such a beautifully written piece on the art of writing.

    Liked by 3 people

  29. Great post, and so relatable! I sometimes find when I try to follow the “rules” too stringently, I feel like I lose some of the magic that comes with the creative process.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. The editor for the first magazine that published a story of mine once told me, after talking with her about my thoughts on taking creative writing classes, was “Don’t you dare! It’ll kill you’re writing!” I think there is something to learning the how-to rules from time to time (they do help sharpen our abilities), but you are right in that you can’t limit creativity and bound it in rules. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  31. This is great! I know nothing about writing and quite honestly it seems very intimidating! I agree with the approach that is is unique and maybe a specific formula isn’t the best approach. You make writing sound magical!! thanks for the advice

    Liked by 3 people

  32. Couldn’t agree more 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  33. A diamond is pretty rough coming out of the ground – but with a little work, a jewel. Writing the same – you discovered it in the best way.

    Liked by 4 people

  34. ‘That’s what it feels like to me…magic’ I couldn’t agree more 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  35. The V-Pub says:

    Loved this post! I recall reading something Keith Richards once said, but I’ll have to paraphrase. “Songs write themselves, you only have to be ready to write them down.” I find that I can’t force myself to write a song, but sometimes, like when your stories emerge from within, the just bubble forth.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I was hoping that the post extended beyond just writing into music and fine arts and all the rest of the ways we are creative. I suppose formulaic fill-in-the-blank stuff can be popular, but is it art? 🙂 Thanks so much for commenting!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Erik says:

        Sometimes, following the formula is art (for instance, those who strictly adhered to the form of the Shakespearean or Petrarchan sonnets). It’s amazing, really, when someone can stay “within the lines” of the rules and yet have enough creativity to make those colors beautiful and new. But just as Handel was considered a heretic for “breaking the rules” with The Messiah, new forms and genres and possibilities are only possible when someone who knows the rules … dares to break them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ah, yes. Poetry is a great example of playing with form. The masters make it seamless, and I’ve seen some amazingly hard forms come to life. However, just imagine if a renowned poet said that the only valid poems had to rhyme? That’s how I felt about the “expert” who said books need to be THIS way.

          Liked by 1 person

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