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.

“But I’m Not a Writer…,” she said.

colored pencils
Photo courtesy of


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.