For Better or For Worse: The Long-Haul Love of Writing

by David Ebenbach, teacher at Georgetown University

Writing has been a constant love in my life. What has changed over the years is the way I’ve loved writing.

When I was a kid, we had an old manual typewriter. When I banged away on that typewriter, I was pretending to be a grown-up. As I sat happily clacking my way into scripts and stories and even a novel (eight pages long), writing became something like the idea of a girlfriend. Kids my age talked about girlfriends and boyfriends, and supposedly some of them even had girlfriends and boyfriends, but of course nobody really knew what they were talking about or was really serious about it. Writing was like that for me; I loved it, but it was mostly a game of pretend.

By the time I hit adolescence, my love of writing had become similarly adolescent. I had very romantic ideas about being a passionate, misunderstood writer, and filled my journal with manic bursts of poetry and self-examination. Story ideas ran wild through me the way infatuations did.

This wildness remained into college and a few years beyond, but, as I gained experience and wisdom, I saw hints of the possibility of constancy, of calm. I began to love writing in a more committed way, finding myself increasingly willing to stay with a piece, to revise it, and see it through.

The real turning point was my decision to enroll in Vermont College’s MFA program. It would be a major investment of time and resources, and would take me down a different path from the one I’d been traveling (pursuing a degree in Psychology). Given the enormity of the move, I made the decision soberly, but also with much joy, as though entering a marriage. It was not impetuous, but rather driven by a powerful, abiding love. I had spent years in the relationship, and I knew how I felt.

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Tips and Tricks to Writing Emotions

Are Emotions Absent in your Scenes? If they aren’t, don’t look now, but you just lost your readers.

by Deborah Owen

There are tips and tricks to writing emotions. As a creative writer, you must feel the mood you’re writing. This is imperative if you want to reach your audience. How can you do that? By experiencing the mood.

Let’s suppose you want to write a scene that displays anger. Maybe the story is about abuse, a mom and dad arguing, or sibling rivalry. Maybe it’s about a girl breaking up with her boyfriend because he was cheating on her. If the scene is intense, you have to get into the mood. I mean red, piping hot angry.

Remember the guy or gal that dumped you 30 years ago? Remember the time you had a bad dream about your pal and you wouldn’t speak to him/her all day? How about when you got steamed at the boss, or got into a heated argument over politics, world affairs, abortion, women’s rights, etc.? As a writer, you must recapture those emotions and write them into your scenes. It should be so real that you attend anger management classes to get over it.

Do you need to be happy? Then think of some happy occasions. Sing a crazy song as loud as you can. Laugh like an idiot! When you begin laughing at yourself, it’s time to write that joy into your scene.

Another way to develop absent emotions is to imagine yourself as the character and write entries in a diary from his/her point of view. Live the make-believe life. Do whatever it takes to crawl into your character’s skin. You can’t write effectively what you don’t know or aren’t in the mood for. (You can, however, write a draft for the scene and come back to build it in a more realistic way later.)

Remember that your protagonist (main character, hero) and antagonist (villain) must be three-dimensional characters. They must have a past and a future; they must have problems in their lives and they must work through those issues like real, live people. Your characters should be real enough to walk off the page and sit next to the reader. If your reader can’t identify with the characters, he or she will probably not continue reading.

When my daughter was 16 years old, it was not uncommon for her to sit cross-legged on the floor and bawl her eyes out over a dramatic TV show. One night I winked at my husband and said, “That actress is playing her part really well, isn’t she?” He picked up on it and we talked back and forth about the actress’ career and wondered out loud what movie she would be in next – although she just died in that scene.

Our daughter turned around, tears dripping off her cheeks, and said, “Quit it, you guys. You’re ruining the show!” But what she really meant was, “I’m into the character. I feel what she is feeling. Don’t move me out of the scene.”

If your characters aren’t three-dimensional, (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) you’ll lose your readers. Put yourself into the mood and into the groove. Live what you write.

How do you best write emotions? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to head over to to find out about our creative writing courses!

You can find me online at http://www.deborahowen.wordpress or deborahowen on Twitter. Don’t forget to “like” us before you leave! Click on the title to leave a comment. Thank you!


Elements of of Writing
by Pat Decker Nipper, Volunteer Staff

Labor Day is a good day to reinforce your labor of love — that is, your love of writing. Since you’re reading this article, you’re already working in that labor of love, but as you get more experience, you might consider writing to be more love than labor.

METHOD #1: The elements of writing leads to the love of words. The novelist Joseph Conrad was fluent in three languages—his native language, Polish, French (which he spoke without an accent), and English. He wrote in English because he loved the nuances of English words. When you consider the various definitions of a single word, you can understand what he meant.

Take for example the word “joy.” In Roget’s Thesaurus, 19 different words extend the same meaning. In the online version, over 40 synonyms are given. Some of them are: delight, happiness, gladness, exultation…and so forth. The Thesaurus is a valuable tool, but be careful when you use it. Be sure the meaning and interpretation fits your needs.

METHOD #2: Another element of writing is ideas. Everything written comes from one or more ideas. Great fiction revolves around the ideas of possibility. When you get stuck, ask yourself “what if…?” and your mind will plunge into a story.

For example:
* What if General Custer had won the battle at the Little Bighorn?
* What if Custer had become President of the Unite States?
* What if he were the one to assassinate President Lincoln, instead of John Wilkes Booth? How many ways would that change history?

“What if” will give birth to a lot of ideas.

METHOD #3: Clustering is another great element. Start with one word and associate from it. For instance, start with the word water and you might list:

* Boat
* Life preservers
* Paddles
* Canoe
* Accident
* Swimming
* Sharks
* Panic

Clustering is a great way to snare an idea. And yet another method of creation can be triggered by something you’ve read, or experienced.

METHOD #4: Another writing element is to put yourself in someone else’s adventure. For example, if you want to travel in space, imagine yourself as one of the astronauts, or manufacture your own flight to the moon. Colonize the moon. Build a city on Mars. The sky (or space) is literally the limit.

What Lies Ahead?

New poetry courses will debut at Creative Writing Institute this fall. The first will come out within a few weeks and a second one is in the brew, along with two more courses, Advanced Wordsmithing and Journaling.

We’re always open to new ideas. Writing elements are what writers thrive on. What subject would you like to see discussed? Red herrings? Inference? Arcing? Warts? Send your suggestion to

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