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Lesson 2: Common Creative Writing Problems


  • To enumerate common problems creative writers encounter
  • To list down ways in which these problems can be resolved
  • To explain how these problems can be avoided

Quick Navigation through the Lesson 2:

Common problems when writing come about as a result of three primary factors: environmental stress, personal stress and stress as a byproduct of the work. Regardless of their cause, all of these dilemmas are discouraging—however, that doesn’t mean that aspiring writers should give up just because they’re in a rut. Here, we outline the usual suspects which disrupt the creative process and how to deal with them.

Writer Vs. The World

In this section, we learn to deal with problems that occur as a result of our environments—things which interrupt the writing process literally, like being distracted or not having time.

a.) Time

It is a common complaint among people who write that they don’t have enough time to sit down and focus solely on their literary work. But don’t fret—there are definitely ways around this.

Set a schedule. It might sound cliché but the truth is that we can make time for most things that we don’t have time for. Keeping a planner or updating the calendar on your mobile device is always helpful when looking for time to write. Set aside small increments of time for your work—if you can’t afford an hour, then 10 minutes peppered throughout the day will do as long as you make sure to follow the schedule you’ve set.Write in transit. You can do this on your mobile device or on a notepad on the way to school or to a meeting—small progress is still better than no progress.

Write while waiting. If your day consists of a lot of waiting in line, then scribble things down during those intervals: while waiting for the train or for your coffee at Starbucks or for the kids to get out of school.

b.) Distraction

A lot of people have trouble focusing— this is one of the biggest roadblocks to writing productivity. You could be sitting in your room, staring at the screen and still your mind could be on the Play Station in your periphery. Below are some tips to help you concentrate on what you’re writing.

Think of it as work. If you treat your writing as something extra-curricular then you will always find ways to set it aside or to do other things. But if you think of it as a project that you must complete, then you will be forced to bump it up on your priority list.

The Egg Timer Method. This method consists of timing yourself for short amounts of time during which all you do is write. If for example, you set the time for 5 minutes then you should write for five minutes straight. When the time is up, you do something else for another set period of time (i.e. eat for 15 minutes or play video games for half an hour).

Remove the stimuli. If you are easily distracted, then isolate yourself when you want to write. Lock the door to your room, turn the TV off, keep away from your mobile device(s).

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 Writer Vs. Himself

“Writer’s Block” is one of the most commonly complained about problems when writing—the lack of ideas or a feeling of inability to go on writing a certain piece. Below are a couple of ways to get you un-stuck.

Find prompts online. There are several websites (WordPress, Tumblr) which provide prompts for aspiring writers. The prompts don’t necessarily have to connect to your current piece directly but might be able to help refresh your mind and subsequently figure out how you want to continue.

Get inspired. Read work that is similar to yours or that you admire. This will help you form a concrete idea as to how to go about writing your poem or story.

Flesh it out. If you’re experiencing trouble re: what your character would do or say in a certain situation, try making a character sketch or jotting down a conversation between your characters. If necessary, you can set guidelines for this exercise such as a situational prompt (e.g. “at their mother’s funeral” or “at a friend’s 18th birthday party”).

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 Writer Vs. The Work

A poem or narrative can have several things wrong with it that the writer will need to correct—plot holes, redundancy errors, mistakes in grammar and spelling. In the case of the first two, it may take more time and effort to resolve than simply correcting grammar, spelling or fixing punctuation. Below are a couple of points which might help.

a.) Plot Holes

Plot holes arise as a result of carelessness. This usually happens with longer narratives because the author gets confused or carried away with the plot to pay attention to details—for example, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, he sets the premise that Gotham City is impenetrable and that the citizens have to find a way out of it. And yet Bruce Wayne, who has just recovered from a spinal injury and climbed out of a supposedly insurmountable hole using nothing but his upper-body strength, a sandwich and some cloth, is able to find his way into the city. This tells us a) that the city is not impenetrable and b) that he was able to find a way in but didn’t use that way to try and get people out of the city. (This is later attempted via bus instead.)

Plot holes are the number one way to fail at suspending the audience’s disbelief. Below are a number of tips which will help either avoid or resolve this kind of mistake.

Create a timeline. This is best for long, narrative work (as with novels or epics) because they help you keep track of general happenings and (regardless of linearity of the story itself) what can or cannot happen before or after certain events. Take for example, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife: the story is not told in a linear fashion but the segments are written clearly and should you try and line up the events in a chronological fashion, it still makes sense.

Concept mapping. For stories which are plot-driven, this will work really well because it allows you to build upon a specific context such as conflict or mystery. This gives you a specific starting point: if you are writing a detective novel, you could begin with the scene of the crime and branch out from there or you could go in reverse and start with who did it, spelling out possible motives and methods as you go progress.

b.) Redundancy

A lot of writers (especially when they’re just starting out) feel the pressure to be wordy. This often results in long but redundant sentences which make the same statements over and over again. Keep in mind that it is always better to write something short but sweet.
Be mindful of Point of View. The nuances of language in your work are mostly dictated by the point of view that you choose. For example, if you write the sentence “I knew that I ate the cookie.” in a story that utilizes the first person point of view, then it comes off very odd because of course  you would know if you ate a cookie. It is unnecessary to include the “I knew”. You could simply say, “I ate the cookie.”

Think about necessity. Think about the message you want to get across and try to say it in as few words as possible. Don’t be scared of brevity. Ernest Hemingway, for example wrote a short story in six words—For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.

c.) Technical Problems

Grammar, punctuation and spelling errors can happen as a result of either ignorance or carelessness. Either way, there are lots of things you can do to avoid them.

When it doubt, check. One big mistake that people make when writing is to rely solely on common sense—when in doubt, always check your references. There is absolutely no shame in checking a dictionary (online or otherwise) re: your spelling, grammar or punctuation.

Practice. Remember those grammar books you had in High School? They might come in handy more than you think: try and read some of the examples or answer some of the exercises
Write in a language you’re comfortable in. Context is a big part of mastering language. For work that is creative, it is recommended that you write in a language you’re comfortable in so that you are less prone to error.

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In conclusion, it can be said that problems and productivity two sides of the same coin—one is never without the other. However, for something to be considered a problem (as in Mathematics), there must be a solution. If you’re feeling creatively stuck, there are always ways to get going again.

Now that you’ve learned how to deal with the common problems you might encounter as a writer, we’ll be delving deeper into the creative writing process. Here we’ll be studying how to condition your mind to be able to write well and you will be one step closer to becoming a great writer.



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