Write It Sideways

Writers Write–Creativity Is a State of Mind

Today’s post is written by Susan Bearman, a finalist in The First Ever Write It Sideways Blogging Contest. Thanks for joining us, Susan!

It’s not an original sentiment, but it’s true: writers write. I wish I had written that.

When I was in college, I took a break between my sophomore and junior years (don’t ask, it’s not a pretty story). During that time, I worked full time at a bank and learned that almost all business problems could be linked to poor written communication: muddy memos from higher ups; technical manuals written by programmers or non-English speakers; and endless, wordy reports jammed packed with jargon, but sorely lacking in usable content. The solution seemed simple.

I went back to school and got my degree in Communications. Since I declared my major so late, I had a lot of writing to do. In fact, for my last four semesters, I had at least one paper due every day (including the first day of class). Some people would faint over the idea of that many papers, but I loved the writing part. And I got good — and fast — at producing written work. I had no time to fool around. I took every teacher comment to heart and learned the craft, structure and tools of clear, effective writing:

By the time I graduated, I was a writing machine, but not at all creative. Or so I thought.

Fast forward through many years of technical and business writing in various nonprofit and for-profit venues. I honed my skills and did lots of work for hire, which meant that my name was never seen in a byline or on a cover. I did get lots of compliments:

“You made me sound great.”

“Boy, are you a fast editor.”

“I wish I could write like that.”

I started a freelance business, where I continued writing for other people: dentists, doctors, schools, big companies and small, art galleries and restaurants. I even ghost wrote a how-to book for a retired business executive, transforming 58 overhead transparencies into a full-blown guide that has been published (by a major house) in several languages and that is now available as an e-book. My name is not on the spine, but I wrote it. While friends and family celebrated the book’s release, I found myself plummeting into depression. Why could I get everyone else’s words just right, but not my own?

Every once in a while, I would attempt some kind of “creative” writing. I yearned to write something that was mine, but I had no stories in me. Or so I thought.

One day, a story came to me — a picture book inspired by a simple observation made by my oldest son. When I say it came to me, I mean just that. It popped into my brain in its entirety. And it was pretty good. I worked on it, got feedback from other writers, polished it and submitted it.

Suddenly, I found creative writing possibilities around every corner. I couldn’t write fast enough. In fact, writer’s block is an entirely foreign concept to me. A whole new world was opening up, and at first I didn’t question it, but the question hovered: Did I wake up one morning transformed into a “creative” person?

The answer, of course, is no. There was nothing sudden about it. I had spent a couple of decades grooming my brain, sharpening my skills, and training my sensibilities to become receptive to creative ideas and impulses. When I heard my son’s observation, my writerly brain transformed it into a story.

I love that first story. It’s still not published. Maybe it will be some day, maybe not, but it taught me two things.

First, writers write … and edit and revise and polish. They hang around with other writers. They read a lot and learn everything they can about writing, because there is always something new to learn. They get excited when they discover a new word and revel in a beautifully wrought sentence. That’s the joy of working on the craft.

The second thing it taught me is that creativity is a state of mind. I had always considered myself to be a technical/business writer, but that was more limiting than my skills deserved. I’m not a technical writer or a business writer. I’m not a creative writer, either. I’m a writer. Period. Everything I write, be it the procedure manual for my husband’s pet store, a new blog post or another chapter in one of my (many) works in progress, requires me to draw on all my writing skills, life experience and creativity. The more I write, the more I exercise that muscle, the more creative I become. The art follows the craft.

Writers write. Aren’t we lucky?

Susan Bearman is freelance writer/editor/blogger, mama or four, stepmom of two, reluctant pet store owner and intrepid insomniac. In her dreams, all her manuscripts are published bestsellers; in her waking hours, she is still working on that. Her fondest wish is for more hours in the day. Susan contributes to Garanimals blog, Technorati and The Chicago Moms. Follow her on Twitter, and subscribe her her blogs Susan Bearman, Two Kinds of People, and Mike & Ollie: 24-Weekers Who Beat the Odds.