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Where is the Creative Bit?

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It might not be where you think. A lot of people feel that writing is the act of putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard. That’s both the part that makes writing seem so accessible and easy, and the part that makes it so intimidating. It seems easy because anyone can write words on the page. But we’ve all sat down in front of a blank page and stared at it with creeping terror. But is that really the creative part to writing? Is that really writing at all?

A lecturer at uni once put it to me that the actual act of writing, of fashioning something creative with words, was done after some words have actually been put to the page. I’d like to add something to that as well – the part that comes before you write an actual paragraph.

To clarify, the bit before is the note-taking; the bit after is the editing.


Note-taking is really free and empowering. Try it – take a pen and piece of paper and scribble down some sentences or single words that begin to outline what you want to write about. As long as you don’t fall into the trap of spending too much time on each point and fleshing it out, you should find that the ideas flow quite freely.

And it feels creative, largely because it is so quick, and ideas are allowed to come thick and fast – not like the drudgery of churning out pages of text. And this is of course where a lot of the background to your story, as well as character profiles and important plot points might emerge.

And once you’ve done enough planning, you might feel you are ready to start ‘writing’. But the argument here is that you shouldn’t think of it as writing. You shouldn’t expect to have the finished article ready first time through, and very likely you know that. So don’t feel guilty if all you do is churn something out that follows your notes. Don’t worry if it’s rubbish. After all, that’s what editing’s for!


And here’s the last creative bit. You’ve got your raw material, and now you can start shaping it. This bit feels limp and lifeless, so jazz it up; the dialogue in this section doesn’t distinguish between each of the characters enough; do I even need this paragraph?

Reshuffling bits, redoing sentences, cutting (and more cutting) is actually a far more creative experience than simply putting words on a page. Thinking of editing as the important, creative part of the work that will get you your masterpiece means you are less afraid of that blank page.

Or that’s the theory anyway. It’s certainly an approach that I’m going to try and apply in my work, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet. It’s quite a shift in attitude and will take some training.

Time for a clumsy metaphor…

Okay, think of it this way. You’re a sculptor, and you’ve been commissioned to create a masterpeice.

First you prospect, looking for your subject, getting the pose right in your head, and looking for the material you’re going to use. That’s your note-taking.

Then comes the drudging, back-breaking work of digging out that piece of marble you’re going to use and dragging it back to your studio, or whatever. that’s your pen-to-paper stuff.

Then you get to chip away at your marble, and before your eyes carve your masterpiece from the unsightly block. Editing.

Okay, so it’s not the most poetic of metaphors, but you get the picture.

What do you think? What stage of the writing process do you find the most creative?