8 Skills Creative Writers Develop

Excerpt from the 2018 Young Authors Recepetion Address

by Lilace Mellin Guignard

When I’m reading or writing creative work, I am never alone. When I was your age I read and wrote to find out who I was. Later I did so to find out more about the world and how I fit into it. Creative writing develops skills in you that are beneficial far beyond writing tasks.

1.      Listening: do you listen to conversations strangers have around you, in the store or park? In order to write dialogue you need to spend a lot of time listening. And in order to get inside characters who have different lives than you do, you need to listen to friends and family about their hopes and fears. Listen to what they say, what they don’t say, and how they say what they say. This builds empathy, the capacity to care for others. It also makes you a really good friend.

2.     Control of Tone: tone is how we say what we say. It carries more meaning than any other tool in our communication toolbox. [example] Writers need to be able to change their voice and tone. If you can control your tone in your writing, you can do so in face to face communication with people you don’t agree with or who frustrate you, or whom you love but are having trouble understanding.

3.     Observing: In order to describe something you must be a meticulous observer. Watching closely leads to deeper understanding of people, animals, places, weather, even objects. With this skill, things will be revealed to you that others miss.

4.     Patience: Whether listening, observing, or choosing your words (aloud and on paper), patience is a key skill writers develop. I am not a particularly patient person, but writing has taught me not to rush. The time I take revising and rethinking makes a big difference in the written product, but it also gives me a better, more fulfilling experience writing. It’s never just about the finished piece. Sometimes writing has taught me to be patient with myself, to be gentle when I don’t get something right away or am not always the person I want to be. As long as I’m still revising—personally and on paper—there is every possibility that I’ll meet my goals someday.

5.     Persistence: Writers are persistent people. Writers create goals for themselves and work on them for fun or other reasons even when no one is telling them to. We may put something we are working on, an unfinished novel maybe, in a drawer for a year or two (meanwhile we are writing other things), but we come back to it. This is the mix of patience and persistence. And it makes us unstoppable in art and life.

6.     Imagination: This is something writers start out with, I think, but if we keep writing our capacity for imagination will grow. For a lot of people, this skill (yes, daydreaming can be a skill) this skill fades as they grow up. And that’s sad to me because I’ve found that imagination is directly linked with happiness and hope.

7.      Risk-taking: learning how and why to take risks is super important. There is no such thing as 100% safety in the world. On the page, stories and poems that don’t push the writer to new or scary or vulnerable places, that don’t take imaginative risks with form or plot, are dull. If everything was completely safe we’d be bored out of our minds, and art that plays it safe doesn’t hold our interest.  In life you will be presented with choices that involve emotional and physical risk. Best to learn about risk this way first. Learning to take chances and trust your gut will pay off big time even if you never sell a word you write.

8.     Ability to Face Criticism: Anyone who wants to get better at something, or make something as good as it can be, will need to learn how to deal with criticism. That ranges from hearing people who love your writing suggest ways it can be better, clearer, to people who do not appreciate you and/or your work telling you why they don’t like it. Writers need to become colanders—those things we drain our pasta in. Over time we must learn what type of criticism is helpful and save that, letting the other drain through. Sometimes the most useful feedback I get is from someone who doesn’t appreciate what I wrote, and sometimes people who like my writing are terrible at giving constructive feedback. It really helps me to remember my poem or essay or story is the focus of the criticism, not me. And I want that piece of writing to be the best it can be. And because I listen carefully and can control my tone, I can be a good reader of someone else’s work, giving constructive criticism. There are many non-writing times of my life when this skill has come in handy. Learning a new job, as a wife, as a mother, as a rock climber…I can’t think of any part of my life that didn’t involve learning from honest feedback that was often hard to hear.

All these skills are reasons to keep writing. You may be many other things in your life, and may not make money writing, but money is not a reason to write anyway. These skills will make everything you do and are even better.