Structure vs. Creativity

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhich is better: Using a tried and true structure of writing, or creatively branching out and writing as you think? Every writer needs to do a little bit of both. It’s like this.

The sun rises every day at a predetermined time. Any weather site can tell you when that event will take place. Boring. Where’s the creativity in that?

It’s in the details. A sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean looks vastly different than a sunrise over the Rocky Mountains. Layer in shades of orange, rose and purple, add a little cloud cover or a clear blue sky, spice it up with some white sugar sand and colors bouncing off the water, and you have the makings of a very creative sunrise. Good news. No two are ever alike.

Every person has a skeleton. Same number of bones in the same place on each one of us. You can’t see your skeleton, but it’s there, giving you the structure you need to stand up, walk around and live life. Can you imagine trying to get dressed or eat breakfast without a skeleton to hold you up? But, if everyone has the same skeleton, where’s the originality in that? It’s in the details like eye color, hair color, body shape, clothing and height.

In your writing, embrace both structure and creativity. Use structure to bring order to your work. Take a few minutes to plan what you will write, whether you do it mentally, on paper or on the screen. Then, when you write, use details to add creativity to your work, making it uniquely yours.

Sentence Starters


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Vary your sentence structure. How many of us have heard that from our high school English teachers? But what did they mean?

Make your writing more interesting by finding fresh ways to start your sentences. Try these six ideas.


1-Question–Most sentences follow the standard subject/ verb construction. Think of it as your go-to method of writing. It’s a fine way to construct a sentence, unless you use it too many in a row. Mix things up by switching the subject and verb so that your sentence becomes a question.

2-Preposition–Start your sentence with a prepositional phrase. Open an new tab, and search online for preposition lists to help yourself decide which preposition to use when you begin your sentence.

3-ly (adverb)–describe how the action happened and make it seem more immediate by starting your sentence with an adverb that ends in -ly.

4-ing–start this sentence with a verb that ends with an –ing. But make sure you follow this simple rule: whatever is doing the -inging, probably the sentence subject, must follow the comma after the -ing phrase that starts the sentence. Pick two actions happening at the same time.

For example: Running down the hall, the boy tripped when the principal stepped out in front of him.

The boy tripped so he follows the initial -ing phrase.

NOT: Running down the hall, the principal stepped out in front of the boy who tripped.

The principal didn’t do the running, so if he follows the -ing phrase, the reader gets confused. word–These are words that start adverbial phrases, a phrase designed to explain how the action happened. You can choose from any of the following words: when, where, while, as, since, if, although, because.

6-VSS very short sentence. This sentence contains two to five words. It must also contain a subject and a verb.

For example: I came. I saw. I conquered. Each sentence has a subject and a verb.

NOT: Wow! (This doesn’t work because Wow is not a subject or a verb).

Use each sentence opener no more than once in each paragraph. Try to include as many different sentence starters as you can.


Adapted from Institute for Excellence in Writing, used with permission.

copyright Writing for Life 2014

“But I’m Not a Writer…,” she said.

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I hear this refrain frequently. And my reply is the same every time.

If you understand and practice the process, you can become a better writer.

Most of us think we bring a big idea with us, sit down at a computer, and bang out something brilliant in 30 minutes or less. When that doesn’t happen, we immediately conclude we can’t write, at least not very well.

Think about applying that method to building a house, or baking a cake, or playing a sport. None of  us would attempt to do those things without first planning and practicing.

Writing is a five-step process. If you work the steps, your writing will improve. I can guarantee it because I’ve watched it happen for other people.

The Writing Process:

1. Gather: Collect all of the information you will need to write your piece from start to finish.

2. Sort: Look through all of your information and ask yourself, “What is this really about?” Write down (or type) your answer in a sentence or two. Can you be more specific. This is the hardest part of the writing process. Get this right, and the rest won’t seem so difficult. Out of all the information you gathered, choose the pieces that best illustrate what you are writing about.

3. Organize: Order the pieces you have chosen into a format that makes sense to your reader. You will always understand your own writing because you wrote it. The true test of clarity comes when your writing makes sense to your audience. By ordering your thoughts in a logical progression, you  aid your readers as they seek to understand our message.

4. Write: Now that you’ve done the hard work of gathering, sorting and organizing, it’s time to write. Start at the beginning, end at the end. Read it out loud when you’re done. Ask someone else to read it.

5. Rewrite: Learn how skillfully using just five parts of speech can energize your writing. Explore six different ways to start a sentence that doesn’t begin with your subject. Consider integrating a bevy of tips and tricks into your writing repertoire.

But what about creativity? Isn’t all that structure stuff too confining? Can’t I just express myself? Let’s explore those thoughts together in the coming days and see what we can learn from each other.

I am a Writer. Always Have Been


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It’s possible that I knew it instinctively during second grade after writing a book report in which I refused to give away the ending story I had summarized. But no one ever knows anything of any lasting value when they are eight. So, probably, the moment of truth came in sixth grade.  I blame my English teacher. She gave a homework assignment to write a patriotic essay for Memorial Day. Something about why I’m glad I’m an American.

Having lots of homework in other subjects that night, I sat at my desk and wrote longhand the first thoughts that came to mind. Words become sentences, and sentences became paragraphs, and paragraphs became the essay that I turned in during class the next day. Not my best work, but it was done. And I moved on.

Then the nagging thoughts started. “I could have written about… I could improve that piece if… It wouldn’t be that much work to…” I spent the rest of the school day cogitating on how to improve my essay instead of paying attention during subjects like math and science.

That night, having substantially less homework, I recreated the entire piece for my benefit, because I knew I could. Much better.  The next day, I humbly handed the newer version to my English teacher and politely asked if it could replace the old one. Shocked that any student would rewrite any assignment for any reason, she gladly accepted my work, and, once again, I thought I was done.

A week later, she announced to the class that she had picked three outstanding essays to be read out loud at a school-wide assembly. She chose mine, the one I had rewritten, as one of the winners. When I stood on the playground, in front of the entire school, reading my essay into the microphone, I knew, at that moment, that I was then and would forever more be a writer.