Category Archives: Creativity

Instinctive Writing


Instinctive writing is like breathing. You do it naturally. If you pretend you are Robertson Davies (who I loathe) and try to write in his literary style (I call it dull and boring) you will fail. Similarly, if you mimic the high fantasy style of Georges R. R. Martin, you are dooming yourself to failure. That’s because you are not using your instinctual way of writing.

Talk to Your Readers

When I started this latest novel, I wanted to write high fantasy. It’s not an instinctive way of writing for me. And what I found was, while the nub of the story was exactly what I wanted – the style sucked … big time. I was copying someone else’s style, and of course, it didn”t work. Only when I used my instinctive style (which is more conversational, and in the contemporary/urban genre) did my story start to pop, and work.

Can Instinctive Writing be Taught?

Yes, I think so. If a writer is struggling and his/her prose sounds stilted – STOP writing immediately. Get a recorder, or your phone and tape what you want to say. Better still, tape yourself telling someone else your story. Chances are the words will flow because you’re allowing your instinctual self to take over. Not thinking about words, and phrases, and sentences – just the story. You can fix the flow later. What you want is the raw emotion and power that flows out of you.

I’ve said this so often I’m sick of hearing it from myself – but, GO WITH YOUR GUT. If you feel a character must say or do something even though it’s not in your plot outline – go with it.

Write the Clichés

Sounds like crazy advice, but this is your first draft and if the cliches allow you to show what your character feels or does – go with it. You can fix up the clichés later.

Stop Line Editing

You can do this later. Instinctive Writing means go with the flow. No over-analyzing and over-thinking. Let your gut take over.



Plagiarism Versus Inspiration

What is the difference between plagiarism versus inspiration? I think there is a huge difference. First, let’s try to look at it through simple definitions. According to Merriam-Webster, plagiarism means to use the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own words or ideas. Fair enough, no one can argue with that.


Inspiration, on the other hand, according to Merriam-Webster again, is something that gives someone an idea about what to do or create or a force or influence that inspires someone.

Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” Voltaire

How do you know when you are writing a story whether you are being completely original? Well, sadly, it’s highly doubtful your plot line is completely original. According to Christopher Booker and his 2004 book The Seven Basic Plots:Why We Tell Stories, there are only … well, seven basic plots. They are:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

So, I guess with only this many original plots, what’s an author to do? Well, that’s where inspiration comes in. If you copy a book word for word, or make small changes like substituting a name that is like the original, but close enough that it is recognizable, you are plagiarizing for sure. But if you take a story you admire, and base your own on it, then you are drawing on the original for inspiration.

In actual fact, plagiarizing is quite difficult if you set out to write a story. Try it. Take a novel you wish you had written and begin to copy it. Change the names of the protagonists and the setting and begin. Within a page or two you will find that your story has taken off and your characters have achieved a life of their own. What you thought was plagiarism was inspiration.

It’s actually very difficult to imitate someone else’s writing style since we each have our own unique voices. Take the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I loved reading that series. Sadly, Robert Jordan died before he could complete the last two books, which were finished by Brandon Sanderson who did a phenomenal job. But … there was just something missing – that indefinable stamp that gave the books that came before that je ne sais quois. That’s what I mean – it’s extremely difficult to copy anyone.

Do you agree?


2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-The-Lamppost

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story”  

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished”  

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript”  







How to Develop Creativity

When I began writing novels a few years ago, I didn’t believe I could write creatively. I was a good freelance writer (which is quite different from creative writing) – no, make that a damn fine freelance writer. I could take whatever I was given, re-work it and churn out something my clients were always pleased with. But how to develop creativity was something that escaped me. I was sure it was not possible. I just was not that type.

My son Kyle changed all that. He challenged me to write something creatively and I began a memoir. Surprise, surprise, the writing flowed and I discovered a new talent and something I enjoyed far better than regurgitating someone else’s words.

Everyone has a creative side to them. I’m convinced of this. The trick is to discover it. This doesn’t mean everybody can write creatively. On the contrary, creativity takes many different paths: art, sculpture, painting – and those are just the ones we generally associate with creativity. But what about gardening garden.07.23or flower arranging, event coordination, tailoring a wedding gown, baking an upside-down pineapple cake, creating a wreath made of wine corks. Creativity takes so many forms.

What works for one person does not necessarily work for another when releasing your creative side. When beginning a new writing project most writing teachers tout the usual:

  • Brainstorm
  • Outline and begin drafting
  • First drafts are no good (I disagree)
  • Revise till you can’t stand the novel any longer
  • Polish

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with these steps, but I realize I don’t do this … and maybe you don’t as well. I toss around ideas in my head for a long time. Sometimes what sets me off is a great lede (this is a journalism term) – something I was always good at when writing for the Ottawa Citizen in my interning days. That hook generally sets me off in the right direction and the characters start flooding my brain with their stories.

I hate outlining. Instead of helping it hinders me. I feel obliged to follow the formula I’ve arbitrarily set up and it works against me. What I do instead is mull over my ideas during my walks with my dog Indy. Indy.3He rares off looking for uneaten sandwiches that school children have chucked in the ravine and I march along thinking. Something always comes to me.

Another great way of boosting creativity is to let your subconscious do the work. Keep pen and paper handy by your bedside. Close your eyes and let your subconscious work on where your story (or whatever creative project you’re dealing with). 

What’s your creative secret?



Writers and Political Correctness

Writers and political correctness do not go hand in hand. I repeat, they do not go hand in hand. If you want to be politically correct, choose something else to do – become a politician.

Our responsibility as writers is to tell it like it is. But it’s fiction you say. True, but even in fiction the truth is an absolute necessity. Let’s say you are writing historical fiction. I once came across a writer who was writing a book about the deep south during the time of slavery. That writer refused to use the correct appellation for the slaves. He persisted in calling them African Americans. Well, that was downright wrong. I skimmed through the internet trying to find out when the term African American began being used in the mainstream – it was tough to find anyone willing to discuss this, let alone give it a time frame. But I think I’ve locked it down to the early 80s.

Would this writer be considered a bigot for using the word ‘Negro’? No. because that was the term used during that period of time.

Author Anne Rice has this to say about political correctness.

anne rice

I agree with her 100 per cent. Do you?

It is absolute insanity to say that only someone from one culture should write about that particular culture or race. I actually have experience in this particular area. One of the books that I’m shopping around to literary agents is called THE SHAMROCK TWINS (it is actually with a wonderful agent right now who I (cross my fingers) hope will sign me on as a client). Anyway, this agent I spoke to here in Toronto asked me

1) if I was Irish (no, I’m not)

2) whether I had African background (no, I do not) since my twins end up in Africa on a quest to find their pot of gold.

What rot, is all I can say. A storyteller tells a story regardless where he or she comes from.

Let me know if you believe an author should write honestly and from the heart.


2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-The-Lamppost

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story”  

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished”  

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript



How Short is Your Attention Span?

How Short is Your Attention Span?

When I was twelve I read a book called The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley.

water babies

It was written in 1863 in very small type and was 205 pages long. Each chapter had snippets from poems by William Wordsworth, Coleridge and the like and it was a story with a moral at the end.

A few years ago, I re-read the book and was amazed that my 12-year-old self should have found this book not only readable but exciting – it had been one of my favourites. I was shocked that someone of such a young age should have had the persistence and determination to read a book where you had to wade through mountains of words before getting to the point. Hurray for my 12-year-old self.

These days our young children and even adults are hostage to sound bites, whether they are on television or in magazines or in books. I think we have lost something in not taking the time to allow a story to build up to something. Every writing teacher (including myself) teaches that a story should begin in media res which means ‘in the middle of things and unfortunately it is true for our day and age. But if Charles Dickens


or others of his ilk were to become authors today, they would have to change their styles or never make it to being published.

How short is your attention span?

The Trouble with Knees

The Trouble with Knees

The trouble with knees – and feet, ankles, hips (add whatever appendage you’d like to add here) is that you don’t treasure them when they’re in good shape and working well for you.

Three years ago, the meniscus on my right knee gave way and I found myself on crutches. With time and some great alternative remedies, my knee was back to 98% normal. I treasure that knee now. Unfortunately, I took the other knee for granted and a couple of weeks it told me off by starting to ache and I began to limp. Then two days ago, it gave way and in a case of severe deja-vu I’m back on crutches again.

Once my knee is back to my normal I pledge to never take either of them for granted ever again.

Do you take your knees for granted? Comment here or follow me on Twitter @bev_bell and let me know.