Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Lessons from Creative Writing

Cadillac Farm

A friend of mine teaches English at a high school whose class was fortunate to receive a response letter from author George Saunders, who provided the following hint in expanding ideas by treating them as “language nuggets”:

“One trick, for beginning writers, I think, is to not think of it in terms of ‘ideas’, but as little ‘language nuggets’. That takes the pressure off. I am just trying to find an amusing or vivid bit of language, and then polish it, according to my tastes of the moment. Then that moment will imply another—and pretty soon you have a story. You write, ‘Once there was a man who was so mean.’ And as a sentence, that is lacking. So you say to yourself, ‘Please provide an example.’ And you write ‘Once there was a man who kicked a dog.’ And suddenly a man starts to emerge. (And a dog. And a kick.) And then you ask, ‘Why did he do that?’ And you write: ‘On the day his wife died, Ron kicked his dog, Buster, who he loved dearly.’ And now we are into something bigger and more complicated. Ron is beginning to be a ‘character’. But we didn’t get there by deciding what sort of character he was going to be—we did it by trying to make our sentence better.

[emphasis added by me]

Are good writers good because they are also good thinkers? Do good thinkers write in a way that help others be better thinkers? Because George Saunders note to my friend’s English class got me thinking beyond techniques in creative writing (which in itself was a gem).

Two other lessons learned that’s applicable to disciplines beyond creative writing:

  1. Techniques themselves can help give birth to new creations, and
  2. Bottom up approaches, practiced with appropriate types and levels of discipline should not be overlooked in business management, especially in ideation for product development. Typical scenario in a business setting is to solve a particular problem, and the response is innovation. But there are times where the approach to answering a more open-ended question requires more exploration than analysis, where the only problem statement should be “We want to see where it takes us” rather than “Let’s get to Point X.” (And as Saunders said, techniques have their place in former problem statement also.)

I appreciate someone whose profession is to create develops, practices and embraces certain techniques, because in the world that tends to more easily see dichotomy and differences than unity and similarities, techniques is often viewed as dampening creativity. Truly creative people, regardless of their discipline, talk about their process as problem solving, another word we tend to place in a different category.

I hope the students, if not now, will one day put Saunders’ technique and insights to practice in whatever discipline they choose to excel in.

Photo: Cadillac Farm outside of Amarillo, Texas, where George Saunders was born.


2 comments on “On Lessons from Creative Writing

  1. Pingback: On Lessons from Creative Writing | Toni Kennedy : A Writing Life

    • lavayoda
      January 6, 2016

      Thank you for the reposting. (Please remember to note author-credit on your post alongside the source link. Thanks!)


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This entry was posted on January 5, 2016 by in creativity, Education, Management, Quotes, Writing and tagged , , .
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