For a year and a half, I studied as a creative writing major at a tight-knit private university. I wrote poetry under the guidance of a published poet, learned how to develop a narrative arc, and attended readings by local authors.
Now, I’m a professional freelance writer and English major at a different school. But as I look back on my creative writing studies, I see many mistakes that I made (and that other students made, too).
When you’re immersed in any sort of writing community, it’s easy to make these mistakes without noticing, and they can significantly detract from your study of writing. If I had made a few simple changes, I could’ve gotten much more out of my education.
4 Common Mistakes Creative Writing Majors Make
If you’re a creative writing major, what can you do differently to get the most out of your education? And if you’re out of college or practicing writing on your own, what can you learn from my mistakes?
Here are the four common mistakes creative writers make and, most importantly, how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Writing only within a closed community.
I studied creative writing at a school with a student body of roughly 1,600, and there were perhaps twenty creative writing majors in total. As a result, everyone knew each other, and any given writing class could contain ninety percent of the majors. This created a vacuum for the students, where little outside influence could enter.
There’s no doubt that feedback from like-minded writers is important. However, it’s also important to seek feedback from those outside the craft.
Your writing will ultimately be read by many people who aren’t writers. You know how your writer friends will see your story, but how would a real estate agent see it? A mechanic? A senior citizen?
The trick here is to balance your feedback avenues. Make sure you’re talking with other writers, but don’t neglect outside sources. They can be invaluable and provide radically different and new perspectives.
Mistake #2: Concentrating on one type of creative writing.
Almost immediately after I became a creative writing major, I decided I liked poetry much better than nonfiction or fiction. I concentrated on writing poem after poem and spent much less time on my essays or fiction assignments.
Since I spent so much time with poetry, I got better at it. When it came to nonfiction and fiction, however, I was lacking. It didn’t have any oomph or zazzle, and my writing skills became unbalanced.
It’s vital to practice all types of creative writing so that you engage with writing as a whole. In the study of creative writing, you’ll benefit from investigating all of its facets. After all, you can’t say you know a house back and forth if you only stay in one room.
Even if you don’t like a certain area of creative writing, you’ll still learn something from it. For example, many elements of poetry can be applied to fiction and vice versa.
Mistake #3: Giving poor writing feedback.
As a member of a writing community, you need to give the best advice possible to fellow writers. To do so, you need to understand a key difference that many writers and students don’t take into consideration.
In more than one workshop, I’ve witnessed many students begin their comments like this: “I wanted…” Or: “I would’ve liked to see…”
These students didn’t understand the difference between sharing personal opinion and helping the story grow. They prioritized what they wanted over the author’s goals. They didn’t think about what the writer was trying to do with the piece. They were essentially saying, “What I want for this story is more important than where it needs to go.”
Instead of prioritizing your personal opinion, consider what the writer wants to do with the piece of writing in question. Then, shape your response around that goal.
Mistake #4: Becoming too emotionally involved.
Lots of creative writing majors suffer from a condition I’ll call Beatnik Syndrome. They become too emotionally involved with writing, speaking about it lovingly and poetically, as if writing were their significant other. Like a beatnik, their ethos is: “It’s all about the feeling, man.”
While it’s good to become emotionally involved in the craft, it can go too far. Many creative writers have a tendency to romanticize writing to an extreme. They view their characters as real people and fawn over them. They pat themselves on the back when they write a new line.
I agree that the process of writing is wonderful, but it’s also painful. For me, writing often feels dry and mechanical, but I barrel through. At the end of the day, I’m a better writer because of it.
Writing is poetic and wonderful, but it can also be painful. Some days, writing means staying up until three A.M. with a headache to finish something you dread. Some days, you’ll have to slam words together on a blank page, even if you hate the result. Embrace the struggle, and you’ll grow.
What easily avoidable mistakes have you seen other writers make? What mistakes have you made? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Today’s practice is going to consist of four parts. Each part will help you correct the four common mistakes.
- Find someone who is not a writer, and ask them to give you honest feedback on a piece of your writing.
- Pick a type of writing you don’t normally do, and give it a go. For poetry, try a simple haiku. For nonfiction, try a 100-word personal story . For fiction, try a 100-word flash fiction piece.
- Reach out to a fellow writer, and offer to critique a piece of their work. Try to prioritize the goals of the piece over your personal feelings.
- Take a piece of your writing. Find an element you love, which could be anything from a particularly poetic phrase to a captivating scene. Temporarily delete it, and see how the piece reads without it.
Choose one task, or do all of them, and post about your progress in the comments section.
Good luck, and happy writing!