Creative Writing vs Writing as Therapy

I had a rough childhood and adolescence (but hey, who hadn’t?), and often times found consolation in making up stories. I would write short, gothic stories with monsters and witches that helped me cope with my everyday issues. Later on, when I became more serious about my writing, I realized that creative writing is so different from writing to soothe your soul, because you have a responsibility towards your readers (and towards yourself) to deliver something a bit more concise than fumbling notes about how your dad doesn’t love you and all the other kids are stupid. Here are some of the main differences between creative writing and therapeutic writing:

  1. Your audience

    While therapeutic writing is usually intended for your eyes only, creative writing should aim a little higher than that. There are many things that a writer should take into consideration when writing, and his target audience is crucial. Which brings me to my next point…

  2. Editing

    The best way to show your readers you care for them is to edit and proofread your text. As I’ve already mentioned, having an audience means you will have to cut out some of the things which are perfectly fine if you’re writing just for yourself, such as unnecessary adjectives/adverb, cliches, etc. Your readers are not interested in the “truth”, if it’s badly written: they expect good storytelling and prose which is more than a sob story (sorry, I am being brutally honest here). Remember, it’s not all about you. It’s about you, and your readers.

  3. Consistency

    Also, if you are writing a piece of prose you are looking forward to publishing one day, it is important to get organized and to keep a working schedule. While writing for therapy does not require keeping up with the deadlines, in creative writing, consistency is key. Building up a habit of writing regularly, and not only when you feel like it, is what distinguishes professionals from amateurs (mea colpa).

  4. Art for Art’s Sake

    When you are a professional writer, who wants his writing to improve with each written piece, you are looking forward to acquiring new skills and making your prose as good as it can be. Not because of money (let’s be real, nobody takes up creative writing in order to get rich), but because of the art itself. And this is something that is absolutely irrelevant when you are writing only for yourself, because you couldn’t care less about the form or style of your writing as long as you are succeeding in whatever your specific therapy goal is.

The reason why I have decided to dedicate today’s post to the difference between writing as therapy and writing as art form is because I have seen several other young writers struggle with this issue (separating the two worlds, that is), and I want you to know that you’re not alone in this. It took me quite some time to progress from writing down my (then) teenage thoughts to the more polished prose I am striving to write today. But that’s for my readers to judge 🙂

Have any of you struggled with this? I would love to hear about your experiences!

A Cat And His Writer

This is Jimmy. His full name is James Marshall Hendrix, but we only call him by his full name when we get mad at him. We feel very posh those times to be honest, almost like English aristocracy (or aristoCATsy? Hmm.) More often, he is our Jim Jim or Jimbo.

He is actually my boyfriend’s cat, or should I say my boyfriend is his human. He found Jim on the street while he was still a tiny kitten with no teeth, claws or wish for world domination. However, this changed quickly.

The black dot, named after my boyfriend’s favorite rocker, soon realized that he can get away with pretty much everything thanks to his overwhelming cuteness, and developed a taste for throwing stuff on the ground and leaving red marks on the skin of his humans. My boyfriend swears that Jim Jim is, deep down, a good kitty, but at first I wasn’t so convinced. In fact, Jim Jim and I had a very rocky relationship.

At first, I was a little reluctant to play with a tiny black monster. He was also extremely careful around me, and would always run away when I tried to pet him (or, more often, would just lower his head until it practically became flat, because, you know, cats are liquid). With time, much to my boyfriend’s amusement, I have grown to love him despite the manipulative little bastard he is (by “he”, I mean the cat).

The first time I slept over, he actually jumped on my side on the bed and spent the whole night at my feet. I discovered that there are very few things in life that are warmer than a sleeping cat, and if you’re someone whose legs are always cold, like mine, you might consider getting this living and breathing heater. And yet, I woke up with a strange feeling that I was being watched. Sure enough, there he was, staring right into my eyes in a totally not creepy way.

Today, Jim and I have formed a truce. He tolerates my need to pet the shit out of him (especially when he is sleepy) and I occasionally give him treats and try to adapt to his adorable craziness. Let’s face it: no matter what he does, I can’t stay mad at him for long.

P.s. About that world domination thing… yeah, that’s still on.

Top 15 Best Short Story Collections

If you want to write good short stories, it is important to read them, too. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Margaret Atwood: Dancing Girls

    Atwood writes about the complexity of human relationships with a rare intensity which mixes humor and violence, laughter and pain. Her characters feel real and relatable, and I have to admit I was hooked from the very first page. Some of the main topics Atwood focuses on in this collection are the failed communication between men and women, and also the tough choices they are sometimes forced to make. The surreal elements in her stories are a distinctive feature of Atwood’s superb storytelling.

  2. Frode Grytten: Song of the Beehive

    Grytten’s collection focuses on the inhabitants of several apartment blocks in a small town in Norway. Each story is about one person who lives there, and every narrator has a very distinct voice. It’s a great portrayal of the micro-universe consisting of different people living together in a small place with limited contact with the rest of the world. What could possibly go wrong?

  3. Raymond Carver: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

    Every short story writer has been told to go read Carver at one point. I have to admit I was stubborn at first, and refused to give it a shot precisely because of his admirable reputation. Of course, after reading his stories, I realized there is a reason why he is one of the most celebrated short-story writers in American (and world) literature. Carver accomplishes more in the span of one page than some other authors in an entire novel. A must-read for all writers.

  4. Lorrie Moore: The Collected Stories

    Moore writes about the gulf between men and women, about having one’s heart broken and about eternal craving for intimacy. It is both a funny and a deeply moving collection, portraying men-women relationships with an astonishing accuracy. It is a huge collection, truth to be told, but it is also a a page turner, so you will probably read it sooner than you think.

  5. Lydia Davis: The Collected Stories

    Lydia Davis is one of those writers you either love or hate. Her short stories are really unlike any other and belong to their own category. Davis writes about things so ordinary you would never considered them to be a good sorce of inspiration for writers, and them she twists and turns them until something unusual and extraordinary comes out. Strange in the middle of ordinary really sounds like her writing motto.

  6. Alice Munro: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

    A Nobel Prize winner, Munro has written an emotionally affecting, bitter-sweet collection, which is my favorite book of hers so far. The themes range from the underestimated effect of small unkindnesses built up over many years to the disappointment that is a result of a poorly-made compromise. Munro’s characters often times seem to be living perfect lives: until you scratch the surface, of course.

  7. Flannery O’Connor: A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories

    Connor’s wonderfully gloomy outlook on life is reflected in her stories, which are often grotesque and comic at the same time. This is a deliciously twisted and dark collection. O’Connor takes bizzare and turns it into a piece of art. She writes about ridiculously wise children and insane adults, about self-fulfilling prophecies, about deaths, secrets, assaults and deformities. This is one of my favorite collections on this list.

  8. Isabel Allende: The Stories of Eva Luna

    While Eva is lying in bed with her lover, she answers his request for a story “you have never told anyone before” in twenty-three short stories which are contained in this collection. Her world is magical and poetic, full of extraordinary imagery of love and sadness. Allende’s stories focus on eternal themes: the suppressed memories of first love, aging and death, greed and revenge. All in all, it is a great read for those who enjoy the South American mystical realism genre.

  9. Ernest Hemingway: The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories

    This collection contains ten of Hemingway’s most acclaimed short stories. To me, Hemingway’s stories always felt pure, almost sublime in their simplicity and remarkable storytelling. If you get past occasional misogynism (after all, Hemingway was a notorious womanizer and this is obvious in his writing), you will find a rare beaty in his stories, where not one word is a surplus.

  10. Neil Gaiman: Fragile Things

    If you read other Gaiman’s work, you know it is impossible not to be hypnotized by his magical storytelling. This collection is no different. It proves that Gaiman is equally brilliant in his short fiction as he is in his novels. His stories continue to send shivers down the spines of readers of all ages. Fragile Things, a collection of short stories but also poetry, will shock and terrify you, but also make you laugh. This weird and magical collection is an excellent read for the lovers of fantasy genre

  11. Edgar Allan Poe: Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque

    One of the oldest entries on this list has earned its place among contemporary authors by its eternal themes of murder, passion and obsession. I really love the title of this collection, it is probably one of my favorite book titles ever. Some readers may find laughing at foreigners and their customs a bit repulsive, but don’t let that put you off this wonderfully dark classic.

  12. Anton Chekhov: Selected Stories

    Chekhov is one of the several writers on this list whose area of expertise were precisely short stories. And expert he was: the tragedy in his writing, the nihilism that often permeates his stories, the little moments of sad life for these belonging to the lower social class do not overshadow the profound beauty of Chekhov’s writing. His characters feel very real and colorful and amazingly human, and so they make up for author’s eternal pessimism. If you want to write better stories, reading Chekhov and studying his story structure is a way to go.

  13. James Joyce: Dubliners

    Dublin is one of my favorite cities in the whole world. That being said, Joyce’s Dublin is a very different city from the one I know and love. The collection reflects life in Ireland at the turn of the last century and offers glimpses into Irish middle class. Joyce writes about love and routine, violence and longing for escape, religion and epiphany. If you are one of those people who reject Joyce because of his difficult, Modernist novels, such as the Portrait, this collection paints a different picture of him and puts him firmly among greatest short story writers of all time.

  14. Italo Calvino: Invisible Cities

    This dreamy collection written by an acclaimed Italian writer feels more like poetry than prose. It abounds in powerful imagery full of symbolic meaning. One could say that the protagonists of this collections are, in fact, the cities themselves, which are different versions of the same city that doesn’t exist. It is impossible to say what this book is about – every reader comes up with a different interpretation. I would say that this is probably the most difficult read on this list because of the extensive symbolism, but it is definitely worth the effort.

  15. Haruki Murakami: After the Quake

    I have previously written about my love for Murakami, and this mesmerizing collection is no exception. It containes of six stories, all set at the time of the catastrophic 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan. The surreal themes, which are familiar to those who have read other novels from the same author, are also present in this collection. The earthquake acts as a catalyst for his characters, which then start rethinking their lives. Murakami is not afraid to dig into the psychological consequence of the traumatic crisis, resulting in this wonderful collection.

Do you agree with my list?

Tips For Ending a Short Story

It is a well known fact that short stories should go out with a bang. In shorter fiction, where you have a limited set of character and a shorter time span in which the action takes place (unlike novel), every word should bring the readers one step closer to the big finale. Here are some tips and tricks to write a killer ending to your short story.

1. Nice writers finish first

Keep your ending short and sweet. Make sure you don’t over-explain things – don’t underestimate your readers.

2. Finish at the beginning

Circular ending is a good way to round up your story and make the readers feel like the circle is closing and the journey has come to an end. By reintroducing some elements from the beginning of the story, you evoke the sense of completion and leave your readers satisfied.

3. Shock your readers

Another way to end your short story is to say something completely unexpected. Keep telling them about the drunk, unstable woman who wakes up with no memory and blood on her hands, and in the end slap us with an abusive husband who used her weakness to frame her for murder (okay, don’t do that because Paula Hawkins already used this one up in her bestseller, The Girl on the Train, but you get the picture).

4. Zoom out of the story

This is a very visual ending: show the close-up of the setting and then drift away to show the broader picture.

5. Keep it vague

An open ending is possibly the most true-to-life, because in real life, the Earth doesn’t stop turning because a certain event came to an end, or a mystery has been resolved. It also offers the readers to pick the ending they like best.

No matter how you decide to end your story, make sure to achieve the sense of completion, and to show that your protagonist has changed as a result of the events shown in the story.

Similarities Between Running and Writing

  1. First step (or sentence) is the hardest

Imagine this: it’s cold outside, and all you want to do is stay indoors and drink a nice cup of tea. But you know better than crushing on the couch: you put your running shoes on, and start your training, even when every inch of your body seems to protest against it. After you get going, something amazing happens: it gets easier. And when you come home, you are glad that you didn’t listen to the lazy voice inside your head and chose to go for a run instead.

The same goes with writing. Beginning are always the hardest: the decision to actually start writing a new story or a novel is not an easy one. However, once you’ve started, it gets easier. As your word count goes up, your resistance and fear of failure slowly subside. I am not saying that writing is ever easy – especially good writing – but making that first step might be the hardest part of the whole process, especially if you are a procrastinator like me.

  1. Persistence is key

The key to running long distances is gradually increasing your weekly mileage until you reach your goal. Giving up is not an option, because you know how hard it would have been to start all over again. Writing is similar: a lot of writers start from short stories, and than later, when they have mastered short fiction, turn to novels. The key is to not to give up and to try and improve each step on the way. Every run and every story matter.

  1. Success is variable

There will be good and bad running days. Sometimes you will wake up feeling refreshed and energized, and other days you will be grumpy and the weather would be horrible, as if things couldn’t get any worse. Also, with writing, some days you will feel inspired and write diligently without stopping. On other days, you will feel like everything you write is crap and would want to delete the whole thing and give up from your writing career altogether. Don’t. Be aware that success is variable. After all, we are only human: it is natural to change your productivity level according to your mood or outside conditions.

  1. Schedule is important

If you know that you always run on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, you won’t have the time to change your mind. You will make a habit of it and if would be harder not to do it. The same goes with writing: if you have a fixed writing schedule, you are much less likely to put it off indefinitely or wait for inspiration instead of “going after it with a club”.

  1. Comparing yourself to others is a bad idea

If you are running, and another runner passes you by, the worst thing you can do is to get discouraged and quit running, or try to outrun him and risk an injury. You never know where someone’s start line is, and comparing yourself with others is rarely a good idea. If a writer compares herself with great writers and becomes desperate because s/he feels s/he will never be as good, it is important to stop that line of thinking right away. Use others as a source of inspiration, and not to torture yourself. Try to be aware of your fortes just as you are aware of your flaws, and use this knowledge to improve your writing. Always be the best you you can be.

Are there some fellow runners and writers among my followers? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Book Review: Frida’s Bed by Slavenka Drakulic

Today I have decided to write a review of Frida’s Bed, a novel written by one of my favorite Croatian authors, Slavenka Drakulic. The literal translation of the original title (Frida ili o boli) is: Frida or ‘on pain’, which emphasizes one of the main themes of Drakulic’s novel: pain and love. And who could be a more suitable protagonist of such a novel than Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter who, due to her extensive health problems that followed her during her whole life, was very well acquainted with pain. Consequently, Kahlo’s pain was a recurrent theme in her art. One could say that Drakulic’s novel studies the intricate relationship between pain and creativity.

The novel begins at Frida’s childhood and tells the story how she was stricken with polio, and how she had to deal with a lifetime of physical and psychological pain as a consequence. The author manages to write about suffering in such an elaborate, and yet raw prose, that it is transformed into something beautiful and pure, something that enriches one’s life instead of debilitating it. There are some artists whose art is a mere intellectualism, a game, an experiment: on the other hand, Frida’s art is extremely personal and her emotions can be considered to be a driving force behind her painting.

Despite all the suffering she endures, Frida’s story can also be seen as an inspiration for all those who suffer from chronic condition, to encourage them to rise above a life full of pain and to try and participate in life as actively as possible instead. Without her illness, Frida would not have become an artist she eventually came to be. However, Drakulic not only shows us Frida as the famous artist, but she also offers us an intimate portrait of the women behind the artist. The style is simple and pure, but also poetic without being melodramatic, which couldn’t have been easy to achieve considering the chosen subject.

Drakulic’s collage-style composition works very well and creates a mesmerising effect on the reader. The author has clearly done her research on the life and work of Frida Khalo, however, she also offers us her own perception of what it might have been like to be Frida, resulting not only in a historically accurate but also emotionally compelling novel.

The takeaway? Creating art, or writing, can be an excellent way to relieve physical, or emotional pain and to escape from the prison of bodily limitations.

All in all, this book was a delightful read and I highly recommend it.