In grade school I wrote short stories, a two-act play, and various papers on academic subjects. In High school I wrote short stories, poems, book reports and articles for the high school newspaper. When I reached college, I took several creative writing classes, I wrote short stories, term papers, and more academic reports. Strangely enough as a young adult, I did not consider myself a writer. I guess that had to do with this misguided idea that if you’re not making money at it you can’t truly be a writer.
Back in High school I also started another passion that I did make money at, that was photography. I took pictures of sporting events, drama productions, and people. If you wanted a good picture of your favorite cheerleader, it cost a dollar. My parents were not overly complimentary of either of my creative endeavors. They assumed it was a phase, and I would grow out of it or get over it. Of course, getting over it made it sound like an illness that I had to cure myself of. I did not want to be cured, I wanted to prove I could make a living at doing something I loved.
Since I had made some money in high school with photography, that was what I pursued first. I did copy work in my own darkroom, went into the US Army as a photographer and even worked in a portrait studio for a couple of years. Like many of us, following my dream was not as easy as I had hoped it would be. To keep my growing family alive, I took many jobs that had absolutely nothing to do with photography. I got discouraged, depressed, and stressed out.
After 30 years of flirting with photography; (I still took portraits and did weddings on occasion), I decided to do something about it. I was going to build the best photography website the world had ever seen. In the process of trying to promote that website, I learned a secret. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to promote a website (any website) is to write articles that promote the subject that have a link back to your website. I started writing photography articles for E-zine Articles, Article Factory, and other online article directories. In less than a year I wrote 94 articles.
Strangely enough, it was when I was writing about photography that I finally started feeling like a writer. I mean when you have one article that has been posted on over 3,000 websites worldwide, it does a lot for your ego. The key I found to writing great articles is that I had to write visually. We’ve all heard the phrase: “Show, don’t tell”, but at the time I did not have an instructor that could tell me exactly what that meant.
Although I had taken several Photography classes before, I didn’t start getting recognition until I applied the Art principles I learned in College. So, when I wrote about photography; I wrote about the art of photography, or how to see photographically. It’s hard to write about something you see without making it visual. Let me give you an example from one of my previous photography articles:
“Visit any National Park, go to a scenic lookout point and just sit back and observe. Many people will drive up, jump out, shoot their picture, and zoom off again. This person is taking a picture. Simply put; he will take what is before him and discount all the creative possibilities, because he has what he wants.
On the other hand, wait a little longer and you will see someone who leaves his car slowly. He cautiously approaches the scene with silent reverence. His eyes will explore like a small child in a toy store. He may stoop down low, or strain his neck to see further than his body normally allows. This person is making a photograph. His mind is open to the creative possibilities.”
What’s true for photography, also applies to writing. Most of us don’t just sit down and write a story, send it out to a publisher, and instantly become rich and famous. We write, then rewrite, then rewrite again. We keep fine tuning our work until the reader can see what we saw and feel what we felt.
We cannot be so focused on just telling the story that we forget everything else. The format must be just right, the point of view needs to be consistent, the grammar should be right. Oh . . . don’t get me started on the grammar . . . I rewrote my first novel seven times just focusing on the story line. That was a mistake.
In any event, the writing is kind of pointless if the reader doesn’t get it. The best way for him to get it, is to feel it. The best way for him to feel it, is to see it in his own mind. In other words, don’t just say:
“He fell off a waterfall.”
Say something like:
“When his body hit the water, it was cold, dark, and alive. Air bubbles danced on his flesh, and unseen hands of the current tossed him to and fro. It took a moment to figure out which way was up, and then Scott realized he was still going down! The light above was getting smaller and the pressure in his head felt like a balloon about to burst.”
I keep referring to making the reader see, but do not forget your other senses as well. Touch, smell and hearing are often overlooked in giving a reader the full experience and allowing him or her to feel what you felt. Your job as a creative writer is not to just to report who, what, when, where and why; your job is to transport your reader into a different reality. Show him how to get there, don’t just tell him where you’ve been.