Creative Writing from Uncertainty. Tips and Prompts to Vanquish Writer's Block | Mary-Jane Holmes | Skillshare

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Creative Writing from Uncertainty. Tips and Prompts to Vanquish Writer's Block

teacher avatar Mary-Jane Holmes, Access your best creative ideas.

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

5 Lessons (29m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Free Writing

    • 3. Montage

    • 4. Clustering

    • 5. Final Thoughts

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About This Class




I don’t know where to start?

I don’t know what to write about.

I have an idea but I am too scared it will be terrible  when I write it down.

Sound familiar?

Even the most established writers have experienced the frustration of a seeming lack of imagination or fresh ideas. The blank page can be daunting. The poet Glyn Maxwell has described it as coming up against a snow drift or an ice plain you can’t walk around.

As a published writer myself, when this happens to me (almost daily) I take solace in the two sentences scribbled on Post-It notes and stuck on my fridge:

Flannery O’Connor's  ‘I write to hear what I say' and Robert Frost’s ‘No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader’. Both of these quotes suggest that the unconscious is a rich source of inspiration to writers. In this class we will be focusing on some fun techniques to mine for the raw material needed to kick-start or unblock your writing practice. This class can be applied to whichever genre you work in or want to work in, whether that be short fiction, novel, poetry or memoir. This class will be helpful to writers who are just starting out, as well as established writers looking to shake up their practice. 

This is a 'let's-do-it-now' rather than a 'how-to' class. We will be working with guided writing exercises and prompts, as well as learning from the works of established writers. All you need is a quiet place to sit and a pen and paper (or device if that's better for you). So join me in what will be a fun creative exploration in how to access your best creative ideas!

Meet Your Teacher

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Mary-Jane Holmes

Access your best creative ideas.


Mary-Jane is passionate about writing, teaching and editing creative writing.

A Forward Prize nominee and Hawthornden Fellow, Mary-Jane has won the Bath Novella-in-Flash Prize, the Bridport Poetry prize, Martin Starkie, Dromineer, Reflex Fiction and Mslexia Flash prize as well as the Bedford Poetry competition. In 2020, she was shortlisted for the Beverley International Prize for Literature and longlisted for the UK National Poetry Prize.

Mary-Jane’s debut poetry collection Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass is published by Pindrop Press.

Her work appears in anthologies including Best Small Fictions 2014/16/18  and Best Microfictions 2020 and in a variety of publications including Magma, Modern Poetry in Translation,  The Journal of Co... See full profile

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1. Introduction: I'm Mary Jane Homes and welcome to my skill share class. Writing from uncertainty Prompts and tips to vanquish Writer's Block Even the most established writers know the frustration off a seeming lack of imagination or fresh ideas. The blank page or screen could be really daunting. As the poet Glyn Maxwell says, it's like snowdrifts or an ice plane you can't walk around. This workshop is designed to make writer's Block a thing of the past and to enable you to either kick start your writing practice or reinvigorate it. The short story writer Flannery O'Connor once said, I write to hear what I say, and this sage piece of advice suggests it may in fact not be those things we have sought out consciously that will stir creativity or focus, but something off the unknown or the unconscious that will be a rich seam of inspiration. I call this writing from uncertainty in other words, not knowing where the words coming from or where they're going to take you, and that is what we're going to investigate in this workshop. The project for this class will be to follow the Siris of guided writing exercises with the aim of mining your unconscious for the raw material needed as a seed for any type of writing you wish to pursue. The techniques were going to use in this class can be applied to whichever genre you work in or want to work in. Whether that be short story, novel, poetry or memoir. I have been working in the editing and publishing industry for over 20 years and have been teaching creative writing for 10 years. My passion and goal as a creative writing tutor is first and foremost to help you, the writer access your best ideas and then help you hone and shape that war material into strong, entertaining, crafted pieces of writing. This class will be helpful to writers who are just starting out as well as established writers looking to shake up their practice. All you need is a quiet place to sit on a pen and paper, so join me in what will be a fun exploration in how to access your best creative ideas 2. Free Writing: welcome. If I were to ask your name, I doubt you would have any calls to hesitate. There is probably only one correct answer. This is what the psychologist Joy poor Guilford called convergent fault, since it requires us to converge on the sole correct answer. However, if I were to ask you what your writing pen name Waas or your alias, I suspect that you would have to think a little longer if you like. Just pause this video for 30 seconds and have a think about what name you might give yourself. Of course, here there is no one correct answer. There are many an infinite amount. This is called divergent thought, since it requires us to diverge from the one correct, answer the fact and consider a range of possible correct answers So we can see divergent thinking as the ability to generate many ideas or solutions from a single idea or piece of information. It's thought to be one off, if not the most important factor in creativity. You might have noticed as you thought about an alternative name and feel free to post your alias on the discussion board this moment off hesitancy before you launched into the task. The poet Emily Dickinson wrote about Dwelling in Possibility. And I think this phrase captures this moment in time where suddenly our imagination has been given permission to come alive. Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Own and Butler says that when we allow our rational mind that part of the psyche that critiques, analyzes, plots, edits and focuses on ideas when we fall back on technique or intellect rather than the unconscious, you will close the doors on something unique, fresh and original. So let's work first on a guided writing exercise that uses the technique often called free writing, where we permit ourselves to associate freely, that is, to write down the first thing that occurs to us and then, from there, whatever that makes us think off. And so we follow the train of thought without judgment or prejudice for settlement time. I actually find the technique quite difficult to do on my own. I tend to stop on that inner critic creeps out rolling her eyes at me, so I have found that by adding a little bit of outside input, it helps me to keep focused on that internal editor out of the picture, so get comfortable. Get your writing tools at the ready. I prefer pen and paper, but you may be comfortable typing on a device. Make sure you have no distractions. This is a three minute exercise and you should keep this video running all the way through . I'm going to lead the exercise by giving you a word to kick start the process from that word, right. Anything that comes to mind after one minute I will give you another word which you can then incorporate into the writing. After another minute, I will give you another words. When we are near the end, I will ask you to bring the writing to a close. If you get stop, Don't stop writing. Simply repeat the last word you wrote until another comes along. Don't worry, it will. No one is ever going to see this. So it is important to postpone perfection. Give yourself free rein. When we have finished, we will talk about what we can do with the writing you produced. So let's begin. Your first word is staircase blue burning . - Now bring your writing to a close. Now stop what you are writing and take a breath later on. Perhaps after this video is finished or tomorrow morning, go back to this writing and highlight any words or phrases that you are drawn to or might want to build on at a later date. Perhaps you have the seed of a poet, a short story or the spark off the beginning of a novel. Don't worry if you don't feel you have anything quite yet. You have something on the page or screen, and that is more than you did three minutes ago. As Jodi Picoult said, You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page at the end of the class. I will be talking about how to guide your own free writing exercises like this and how to set up a daily practice so you can build a body of ideas and images. But in the next video, we're going to focus on another writing technique, a technique called montage 3. Montage: stories where the fiction or nonfiction are built, constructed and crafted entities. Our lives, however, are not often so neat. In fact, they tend to be episodic, disjointed, even chaotic, rather like a collage or mosaic. A technique called montage uses this idea by juxtaposing composite scraps and fragments to see what motives and things might develop whenever you put two of anything together. Ah, third thing emerges on the things that logic would normally try to keep separate the writer six seeds in bringing together and often in ways they might never have imagined. So here's a guided writing exercise to kick stop a work off montage similar to the free writing exercise in the last video, there are three separate writing sections that will last for two minutes. As I speak, the instructions will also appear on the screen. So let's begin right about a personal memory that involves a parent grand parent friend apartment, - right about a current news story or cultural event or something that you heard that stuck in your mind. Tell it as a story. - Write a detailed description off the natural world where you live well nearby. Now stop writing and take a breath. When you are ready, alternate these pieces paragraph by paragraph. Don't worry if there is no real connection between one section and another when you are happy with your order, put the writing away for a day when you come back to it. Look for connections, theme, image, conflict, anything that feels like a pattern. If you can't find any, have some fun creating those connections. It would be lovely to see your work, so feel free to share by posting on the discussion board. This idea of connection is something that we're going to focus on in the last of our writing exercises. So join me in the next video where we will look, a cluster mapping and its many creative uses. 4. Clustering: Welcome back to this video. Looking at cluster maps, Gabriella Lucero Rico discovered and named the concept of clustering while studying for her doctoral research at Stanford University in the 19 seventies. Inspired by the latest studies on brain search, she realized that new insights into how our brains work could be applied to writing. This is a great tool not only to trigger writing, but also when you are stuck on something and can't new forward. It is a method that can be used for many different reasons. To investigate beans in essays and memoirs, character and plot in fiction images in poems for its own. Let's look at how to cluster. Firstly, write a single word or phrase in the center of a blank sheet of paper and circle it. You can call this the nucleus word, then let your thoughts flow and dropped down every word that comes to mind around the first word circle the new words on draw lines to connect. When that chain of association runs out, begin another. You may want to start a new thread on a word that catches your attention. Circling your words is important. Rico points out that by its very nature The Circle centers focuses. The circle implicitly suggests bringing into being activating, animating the pattern, making forces off the creative process. Here is an example of one of my cluster diagrams. I love to employ them when I'm writing poetry. Sometimes I use them just a group sounds of words in others, such as this one. I focus on imagery. It won't make much sense in this rule for but this exam became a blueprint for a poem I wrote that went on to win the prestigious prize. So now it's your turn. As with the other exercises, I will kick start the process with a ridiculous word. But if that doesn't work for you all, you have a topic you really want to investigate. Feel free to make up your own. We're going to spend three minutes writing out our class demands. I will tell you when your time is coming to a close. Your nucleus word is forest. - Let your writing come to a close. I hope you had fun clustering Now that you have a visual map, highlight any words or connections that you were drawn to, perhaps they will be the springboard for a new piece of work or can be incorporated into something you're already working on. You now have three pieces of writing there on the page or screen full of possibility. In the final video, we will have a look at how we can sustain our creativity on what to do with these writing seeds that have been written from uncertainty. 5. Final Thoughts: in this workshop, we have looked at how the unconscious, the sensory memory, the emotional could provide a rich seam of inspiration on that by taking risks writing while not knowing where the words will take. You can help keep that internal critic who tries to convince you that you can't do it at they. I hope you have enjoyed creating your free right peace montage and cluster map on that. From now on, you will embrace the blank page or screen rather than turn away from it. I used these techniques on a regular basis on much of my most original and successful publications were born out of these short and fun exercises. All these techniques are great to kick, start your creative writing day. Working on a free right for just three minutes when you wake up in the morning means you have a concrete piece of writing toe hold and shape at a later date. In the broach exception of the class, you will find some additional resources that will help you guide your own practice. To keep the writing spontaneous and surprising, the philosopher Bertrand Russell said. Our principal goal in life has to be to learn how to live without certainty. And yet without being paralyzed by hesitation, I hope that through these simple exercises, your creative life will continue to grow and flourish. Happy writing.