A few tips for those who are thinking of getting into creative writing. Read more about my creative writing workshops here.
Don’t get rich, get high instead.
For me, writing is a spiritual pursuit before it is a commercial or intellectual one. It’s how I keep myself going and growing in a constantly challenging world. If I don’t create, I’ll go under to apathy and hatred and a bitter, pointless rage. Creative writing is my way of saying that, no matter what, I’m not giving up on the part of me which desires to be independent, eternal and free. My creative work is where my soul is making it’s stand. So writing for me is about meaning and redemption on this earth, not my IQ or my pension scheme. I’d rather get high than rich from my creating.
If you have some other reason for writing, such as making a lot of money, or impressing people with how smart and enlightened you are, then you may ignore much of what I have to say. If I had to live off my writing earnings I’d be on half a bowl of porridge a day. And I’m with my favourite artist, Robert Smith, when he says ‘I’m not better than anybody else and nobody else is better than me’.
Don’t obsess about technique, start with the passions instead. Communicate.
Because we live in a world where we are so used to fooling and being fooled, too many people getting into writing seem to think it’s about learning off some trick or other. They think successful writers make it because they have mastered a certain set of tricks and illusions applicable to their genre. And in the case of many commercially successful writers they’d be right. So beginners can worry too much about getting ‘technical’ issues like ‘character’ and ‘plot’ correct straight away. But it’s far more important to start out from having something to say, something you passionately wish to express and to have heard, some silence that only you can cause to be broken. That igniting passion will drive you forward until you learn the nuts and bolts well enough down the line. If you’ve nothing to say in the first place there’s no point in learning how to say it. You’d just be adding to the junkpile of the mind.
In my writing I am also trying to reach out to others, to communicate with them and perhaps even to move them with the personal truth embodied in my writing.
If you also want to do this then you need to think about what and who you are writing for and how you are going to make reading or hearing your work as interesting and as powerful an experience as possible.
It doesn’t matter whether your intended audience is one or one million, whether it is your grandchildren or the mormons of Utah. The point is there has got to be someone you want your writing to communicate passionately with or it’s probably not worth the pixels it’s written on.
And please don’t be so coolheaded all the time. These days, only people with servants and private armies can afford to be coolheaded. Write angry, sad, ecstatic and mad if you’re able.
Don’t compare, don’t compete, create.
Learn from other writers but don’t obsess about how much better or worse you are at writing than they are. It’ll make you bitter and bitterness is really sad and boring.
Also the writing game can become exhaustingly competitive if you allow yourself to be drawn too far in to the dynamic of prizes, competitions, slams and so on. I’m not saying don’t take part and enter, just make sure that telling your own truth in your own way comes first. Competitions of any kind and in any sphere of life have a homogenizing logic- they force a sameness on everyone involved.
When I look at soccer I just see twenty three similarly dressed men running after the same ball and all with the same motions and ideas. I sometimes get a similiar sensation when I look at the bestseller lists, or pretty much any shelf in a mainstream book store. Remember that writing at its best is an art, not a sport, and art for me is at least partly about being gloriously different, and proud of it.
Make a time and a place for writing.
Obvious advice, but ignoring it is the most frequent reason why most beginners never truly get to begin. You need to make a regular time to write and to set up a writing corner at home. This may mean giving up some bad habit such as watching rubbish on television.
If you have young kids or a farm or any kind of busy life schedule it means getting up even earlier or staying up later for the peace and quiet of it a couple of times a week, or writing in the shed, or whatever.
Just do it and don’t make excuses, everyone has stuff in their lives that they can use as an excuse for not getting down to writing.
Read outside the box.
If you’re a voracious reader you’ll be more likely to have a chance at becoming a competent writer. But don’t just read your favourite genres or whatever is currently popular or ‘hot’. The more various the kinds, styles, and eras of writing you are exposed to the wider your imaginative horizons will become.
It’s especially important to read writers from different cultures, so make writing-in-translation a staple of your literary diet. You may discover that ‘english’ literature is only one small and relatively unimpressive island in the archipelago of literature.
Everything they know is wrong.
Creative writing, like any other field of human endeavour involving intense activity and committment, is full of factions and dogmas vying for eternal victory over their rivals.
Although these disputes can be entertaining and even enlightening to read about, it’s best not to align oneself too closely or to take up too rigid a position.
No one theorist or movement has all, or most likely even some, of the truth. They are all superseded and outmoded in the end.
At the same time you shouldn’t be afraid of ideas and you should explore, at your own pace, areas like poetics and literary and cultural theory. However, you shouldn’t do this at the expense of either reading creative writing or writing it. You’ll learn most by practical involvement in the art and both reading and writing are forms of practical involvement.
You should be critical of even the most deep-rooted ideologies of contemporary literary culture. Take, for example, the idea that writers are naturally shy and solitary. Most writers I know are about as shy as a dog’s wotsit. Writers who like to snottily proclaim their glorious isolation from the species often don’t mind having their images and opinions continuously coming at us from all angles in book shop displays and colour supplements. The ‘ivory tower’ artistic personality is a curious combination of misanthropy and narcissism made possible by modern commerce and technology.
For most of human history a large proportion of writers have had community functions and an orientation on community, as do many contemporary writers all over the globe. Which isn’t to say that such things don’t have their own inherent problems. A writer should never serve as an unquestioning mouthpiece for any cause. ”Do not doubt him who tells you he is afraid, but be afraid of him who tells you he has no doubts” wrote the great german socialist poet Erich Fried.
Perhaps a writer should aim, like Erich Fried, to upset and challenge most of all the ones she feel’s a part of.
In the end a writer’s primary responsibility has got to be to expressing their own truth in their own words. Otherwise your writing will be cliched and numbing. But there’s nothing wrong with your’s being a personally expressed truth that others can emotionally, spiritually or politically identify with. Nor should there be any taboo against using your work to explore and express, in your own way, a shared perspective on political or social issues.
I think it’s best to combine a complete intellectual and artistic freedom with a willingness to be part of something bigger than yourself if and when required and if you’re comfortable with it.
As a writer you can be as involved as you choose to be with people and communities through performances, readings, teaching and taking up community functions such as writing pieces on request for protests, funerals and similiar collective events. You should also explore the option of collaborative writing projects, and working with other kinds of artists such as painters and musicians.
You must be teachable in order to learn.
You must learn the ability to listen to and carefully consider advice and to take constructive criticism about your writing. If you can’t you’ll go nowhere. But you should seek such feedback from the right quarters. Family and friends are important supports and can help you in many ways, but you need to go outside intimate circles for proper feedback on your writing. Join a class or, if this is not possible, contact one of the many professional writers and/or writing organizations who offer critical feedback at reasonable rates.
Sources on the inside and the out.
Memory and experience are the two inside sources every writer has and plenty of good use can be made of them.
Also, you know those seemingly illogical and out-of-nowhere sentences and phrases that fly through your mind when you’re falling asleep or have drank too much coffee? I have written many’s a poems and story by flying after them to see where they might be headed.
One should also look to pick up inspiration from outside sources- local history journals and tabloid newspapers are two outside sources I sometimes draw on for seed ideas. One of my best ever students collected ghost stories from all the old neighbours in her townland and made a little book out of them.
William Blake, among the greatest writers of all time, believed that every instant in every place held an opening into eternity and that it was the role of the poet to attempt to unveil that opening in their work by trying to connect the present moment to something godlike and forever. And I agree with him. Everything that exists, no matter how ugly or even mundane it might appear, is a possible source of inspiration for a creative writer.
Take your points and the goals will come.
It’s great to be impatient and driven and want to get the novel out and be on the booker shortlist within a fortnight, but if you are starting out it’s best to take things slowly, bit by bit. Write a few sketches of events or characters familiar to you or drawn from memory. Move on to a couple of short stories.
See this as necessary preparation for the magnum opus. We don’t jump in at the deep end when we are learning to bog snorkel.
Are you writing in the wrong genre?
Most people start out with the idea of writing a novel. But they may discover as they go along that they have a greater inclination and talent for plays or short stories or even poems.
Be open to changing what you write as well as the way you write.
It will take years to be published, if you are lucky.
A lot of people I teach aren’t in it for publication, but are looking for a bit of stimulating fun, a bit of self-exploration, a bit of self-development. Everyone has their own good reasons. Besides, obsession about getting published is dangerous territory for a beginner and can lead to a lot of disappointment. If your aim is to get published you’d be far more likely to succeed writing current affairs, sports, cookery or history than with creative writing. For every creative writer who succeeds in being published dozens do not.
This is to say two things: first, have at least one other reason beside publication to continue writing. Secondly, to get published you will need -as well as talent- patience, stamina, determination, and luck.
Don’t torture yourself if it doesn’t work out.
Writing might be for you and congratulations if it is. But so what if it isn’t?
Finally and most sincerely of all the best advice on writing I have ever read comes from Baudelaire in the form of the poem Get Drunk.
Follow it to the absolute letter and you are sure to make it as a writer.
Starting from 4th Oct 2012 (Thu) at 11:00
ALL IRELAND POETRY DAY with DAVE LORDAN
The Courthouse Education /Outreach Programme
Workshops will be held in Tinahely N.S and Kilcommon N.S
All Ireland Poetry Day – Outreach Programme @ the Schools– Thursday 04 October – 11am – 2pm
Cracking Poetry with Dave Lordan
This year we are working with the local schools to help celebrate All Ireland Poetry Day. Dave Lordan will hold fun and inclusive workshop in which students will be encouraged to freely explore the alternative worlds of their imaginations through poetry and storytelling games and techniques.
Guided by an expert tutor and award-winning poet, students will draw on their own natural skills and talents while learning how to create their own rhythms, rhymes, characters and storylines.
Workshop: All Ireland Poetry Day @ the Courthouse –Page to Stage Thursday 04 October 7pm – 8.30pm
Dave Lordan facilitates a fun, high-energy workshop in performance poetry styles and techniques. Participants will learn how to shape their work for performance and for maximum impact on a live audience. No previous experience necessary. Dave Lordan is as accomplished on the page as on the stage and is the first Irish writer to win the countries three major prizes for young poets, the Kavanagh, Strong and Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary Awards. He is currently poetry consultant at Mater Dei College of Dublin City University where he teaches creative writing and lectures in Contemporary Poetry on the MA in Poetry Studies
COST €5 ALL WELCOME.. PLACES LINITED / BOOKING ESSENTIAL
Performance: All Ireland Poetry Day @ the Courthouse –Invisible Horses Thursday 04 October @ 9.30pm
Dave Lordan’s performance poetry show. ‘Dave Lordan gives electrifying performances of his poetry from memory. His poems are engaging and can be both hard-hitting and humorous: audiences love them.’ Neil Astley, Editor of Bloodaxe Books.
COST €5 ALL WELCOME.. BOOKING ESSENTIAL
Just walking back there from tesco and noticed again, but noticed that I noticed it this time,
This year as part of Culture Night, Dublin, Poetry Ireland presents an open mic reading with featured guests, headed up by Dave Lordan.
Taking place in the elegant ambience of The Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland on Merrion Square participants are invited to book a reading slot on the night, once doors open at 6pm.
Featuring Eva Bourke, Dermot Bolger, Colm Keegan, Paul Lenehan, MÃ¡ghread Medbh, Geraldine Mitchell and David Mohon alongside the Imagining a Just and Free World TrocÃ¡ie Poetry Competition Finalists.
I am grateful to editors of the online Penduline Press who have chosen my story ‘A Bone’ to be one of their six Pushcart Prize nominees.
Based in the USA , The Pushcart Prize honors the best “poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot” published in the small presses over the previous year. Magazine and small book press editors are invited to nominate up to six works they have featured. Anthologies of the selected works have been published annually since 1976.
It will be published in my next book, a book of short, experimental fiction due out shortly from Wurmpress.