Skip to content

What I Learned about Writing this Week…from Writing Itself

Courtney Cantrell's "What I Learned about Writing this Week"

Courtney Cantrell's weekly writing advice.

When I was in college, I spent one particular semester feeling as though I were afflicted with a rare and temporary form of Dissociative Identity Disorder (aka Multiple Personality Disorder). Two of my classes that semester were Media Writing and Creative Writing II. In Media Writing, I learned to write one-sentence paragraphs; to put all of my important information at the beginning of each sentence so as to keep the reader’s attention; and to use passive voice. In Creative Writing, I learned to vary the length of my paragraphs; to hint at important information so as to pique the reader’s interest; and to banish passive voice to the depths of the hell whence it originated. You laugh (and yea verily, I can hear the Schadenfreude in your sniggering), but I honestly did feel like two different people vying for control over the same mind. Depending on which of the two classes I happened to be sitting in, one personality dominated, while the other languished in impotent frustration. The homework assignments for both classes had me picking up my marbles off the floor of my living room several days a week.

Eleven years later, here I sit, having finally learned that divergent creative personalities need not remain unintegrated forever.

Over the past two-and-a-half weeks, I have written five posts (counting this one) for Unstressed Syllables. My writing for this site is not wholly media writing, nor is it wholly technical writing. (At least, I don’t think it’s entirely tech writing; but please don’t quote me on this–you’d have to ask Aaron to be sure.) It seems my quirkier side can’t resist putting in a word here and there, peppering my articles with creative flair. Still, what I’ve been writing for this blog is not fiction.


Since I joined Unstressed Syllables, I have added 6,000 words to my work-in-progress, a paranormal novel entitled SHADOWS AFTER MIDNIGHT. That’s compared to the preceding six weeks of teeth-pull-writing that garnered me a measly 7,000 words. Now, I find myself putting together story scenes in my head when I’m away from my computer. I’m making random notes again. The kind you scribble on napkins at restaurants because you can’t remember to keep a Writing Notebook in your purse. The kind you hieroglyph onto a scrap of paper on your nightstand without turning on the light in the middle of the night. The proverbial creative juices are flowing again–not in torrents to overwhelm me, but in a steady trickle that teases me to come back for more as surely as I’m trying to tease you, my inklings, into reading what I am writing now.

I credit my Unstressed Syllables writing with the end of my creative drought. It would seem that even just the act of writing–stringing thoughts together, finding the best adjectives, editing-in more powerful verbs–just The Doing Of It triggers my need to write fiction, even if my trigger isn’t fiction at all. Finally, I get it: I carry around with me a Tech/Media Writer…who is an excellent resource for my Creative Writer. No longer must I banish one in favor of the other. They are one, they are integrated, they are whole. They help each other, instead of hindering one another and giving me creative blackouts. I don’t have to be a writer version of Sybil anymore.

Metaphors and frilliness aside, the age-old adage (say that ten times fast) is true: If you want to be a writer, YOU MUST WRITE. Write and write and write and write, my friends. Write a journal. Write a poem. Write a song. Write a blog. Write ten grocery lists and pick the one you like most and makes sentences from the words upon it. Write something. You carry within you something that wants you to write it. It needs you to write it. And if you “go through the motions,” eventually the Something Which Must Be Written (please excuse the passive) will come out for a romp that will leave you breathless and begging for more.

And that’s WILAWriTWe!

(Furthermore, the FCC wants me to tell you that if you click on the link within this post, and if you buy a product, This Starving Artist will get a few bucks. Consider it your small contribution to The Arts! ;o)

Photo credit Courtney Cantrell.

3 Responses to “What I Learned about Writing this Week…from Writing Itself”

  1. Nice motivational post.

    I think fondly on those times of hieroglyphic nighttime writing and frantic restaurant napkin scribbles. They need to return. My problem is that to me writing is roller coaster rather than a freight train. I am constantly torn between the extremes of elation and depression about my WIP, when I just need to speed straight ahead through all blockades.

  2. Aaron Pogue says:

    I had a semester like that, too (probably one year behind you). I had an easier time, though, because of my deep, longstanding, and (I know now) pretty misguided disdain for journalism.

    The biggest thing I took away from it was the realization that the very mechanics of good writing can change from one project to another. That was an epiphany for me, and it has helped me immensely bridging my two writing careers.

    You’ve definitely got the right idea, knowing that you need to learn to write even when you’re not inspired. That’s something every writer has to learn.

    That’s also something every writer I know of struggles with. It’s not something you should have already managed, by any means. Work on it, by all means, but know that you’ll probably still be working on it even when you’re nine novels down the road.

  3. Courtney Cantrell says:

    I still have the same problem. There are places in the story where I just bog down and have to force myself up out of the word-muck and drag myself forward. I read a quote one time that said something about no writer having a contract that states you have to write only “when you feel like it.” I try to remind myself of this. Frequently. 😉

    My bridge came during my time at the mortgage company, observing the grammatical errors in the monthly auto-generated documents I was supposed to mail to mortgagors. I shuddered every time. Eventually, I created my own templates and kept them on my hard-drive. I replaced the auto-docs with my own and felt much happier with life as a result. 😉