Today I’m thrilled to have one of my DIY MFA colleagues here for a guest post! Leanne Sowul is a historical fiction writer, music teacher, and the insightful mind behind DIY MFA’s “Be Well, Write Well,” which offers tips and wisdom for writers on maintaining a healthy well-being. She’s also an advocate for cultivating creativity in our lives and recently launched her new project, The Creativity Perspective, to explore this further. I invited Leanne to write about the importance of creativity in writing, and this is what she had to say.
When I first decided to write a novel, I wasn’t sure what genre I wanted to specialize in. I read widely, so I had interest in writing many different things, but I was intimidated by working in the sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery genres because I thought they required a higher level of creativity. Building a world from scratch, or crafting a suspenseful crime, felt beyond me. I wanted to choose a genre that had some rules I could follow; a creativity “support,” if you will.
I have a longtime love for history, so I decided to write historical fiction. I figured I could use historical facts to hang my story on, and felt comforted by the element of nonfiction in my fiction to keep me on track with my story. I thought it was the perfect solution. Oh, how little I knew back then! I didn’t understand I was making the enormous decision of my novel’s genre based partly on fear and partly on an incorrect assumption.
The assumption was that historical fiction would somehow be easier to plot and that other fiction didn’t have “rules” to follow. I’ve since found that there are just as many challenges to writing a historical novel than any other. I’ve also learned many methods of plotting that would give confidence to a novelist starting out in any genre. But when I first started, I hadn’t a clue how to plan out my novel; I simply started writing.
The fear, hiding so deep inside me that I didn’t even recognize it for many years, was that I wasn’t creative enough to write fiction in the first place. I’m so grateful that I managed to prove myself wrong in that respect.
Fast-forward 6 years. I’ve completed one historical novel (currently out on submission via the agent I’ve also acquired since then) and recently finished the first draft of a second. I’m also working on a nonfiction website project that teaches embracing creativity and growing creatively within the structures of daily life. In the past 6 years, I’ve learned a few things about creativity and writing, and I now know my early assumption that writing historical fiction would be “easier” on my imagination was completely laughable.
History comes with its own set of problems that require creativity to get around. For example, how close do you stick to actual historical events? Does the event matter more than the time period and social context for the characters? And, how do you write a character that seems relatable to today’s audience if she was living a hundred years ago?
Every genre of writing, from nonfiction down to children’s literature, requires intense creative powers. They simply require us to focus the creativity in different ways.
In every genre of writing, creativity is needed for the following:
- Compose and Describe Setting: All books, even nonfiction, require world-building. Some build bigger worlds than others, and some rely on facts that can’t be made up or changed. But in all cases, the author must make creative decisions about what to leave in, what to leave out, and how to describe the setting so that the reader can intimately experience it.
- Do Research: Even genres that are complete fiction must contain an element of truth. Sara’s book is an excellent example. Although it’s set in a fantasy world, she still learned how to use a bow and arrow so that she can accurately describe the experience. The author doesn’t want the reader taken out of the story because something doesn’t ring true. Even though research doesn’t feel like a creative activity, it does take creative planning and problem-solving to research well and balance it with time spent writing.
- Create Characters: No matter what world the characters inhabit, they need to be thought-out in detail so as to feel like well-rounded people. This is even true in nonfiction or historical fiction that references real people, because although there are things that can’t be invented, the author will still need to choose which aspects of personality to highlight.
- Plot the Novel: As I said before, one thing I hadn’t fully understood before starting my first novel was that there aren’t an infinite number of ways to structure a book. The story can’t literally go anyplace, because it has to make sense to the reader. Still, it’s up to the author to take a familiar structure and adjust it to fit her needs, like the basic scaffolding of a sculpture. I learned this one the hard way when writing my historical narrative. Far from being a less creative genre because I had to stick to certain facts, I found myself faced with endless choices and problems that stemmed from balancing story and characters with real life events.
- Connect with Readers: This is a vital component for any author, both within the confines of the book and outside of it. How will you, as the writer, find your audience? What common ground do you share? What are your own strengths in the area of communication? These are all issues that need creative solutions.
Looking back on how little I understood about the role of creativity in fiction, it feels like a small miracle that I managed to complete a novel at all, let alone put it on the road to publication. I’m grateful that even though I made an initial decision based on a faulty assumption and an element of fear, the choice was still the right one: I love writing historical fiction, not because it’s easy, but because it challenges me creatively.
ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER:
Leanne Sowul is a writer and educator living in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Her historical novel Waist: A Tale of the Triangle Fire is currently out on submission via her literary agent, Suzie Townsend.
Leanne recently released a new web project, The Creativity Perspective, which teaches followers to grow creatively in all aspects of daily life. She also runs a website for writers, Words From The Sowul, and writes the column “Be Well, Write Well” for DIY MFA, recently named one of the top websites for writers by Writer’s Digest. Her short essay “The Gondola Ride” was featured in this summer’s Writers Read performance in New York City. In addition to her website, you can connect with Leanne on Twitter at @sowulwords.
Interested in guest posting here in the future? Check out my guest posting policy before contacting me to see if your idea might be a good fit.