At times, the creative process can almost look logical: "This is my purpose, and this is what I need to do." Other times the creativity just flows, and you do what you can to capture all the lovely ideas.

Occasionally, I'll do some of the same writing exercises I require of my students. Actually, it's not that I feel I should share the pain, er, joy, of the writing homework, but rather that I have a very good reason for each and every writing assignment I ask my students to complete.

For this particular exercise, my goal wasn't to take one of my exercises to work through it. I had a purpose for writing, and I knew this exercise would help me. The exercise? Take a piece of writing from a writer you admire and copy it by hand (you could type it on the computer, but I find that copying by hand gives you a more visceral feel for the structure and the words).

So the logical piece of this exercise was that I wanted to get an inside look at how a short story under 2000 words was structured. Most of my writing is longer, and I hadn't written any fiction under 12,000 words. I started out with a purpose (the logical piece) - I want to write a short, short story and see how a best-selling author structured one of hers. The flowing piece of the process was what I learned.

In this particular short story, "The Pony," almost every paragraph uses dialogue. Dialogue is an effective technique to show, not tell your readers what you want to convey. And it works pretty well in story telling (as well as nonfiction).

Willis uses concise ways to convey information. If you're writing a short story, you don't have a lot of room to go into lengthy descriptions. Suzy, one of the characters, asks, "What does this say?" and comments that the boys at her preschool might stop making fun of her. Not only do you get a sense of Suzy's personality, but you immediately understand that she's probably around four years old. You don't need Willis to write, "Suzy, a precocious four-year-old...." She uses concise description to get that point across. Another example of showing, not telling.

As with all writing, the stronger and more precise the description, the better. Willis describes the striped Yankee shirt pulled over her red nightgown that Suzy receives as a gift. You can see the little girl in a red nightgown with the famous Yankee jersey over it.

Even in a short story, Willis builds tension. As Suzy opens her "ominous" present, Willis draws it out. You don't see the present immediately. Willis throws in more dialogue (and that moves the story forward as well) but delays the reader seeing the present. Another example: Barbara, the main character, expects a phone call from a patient on Christmas Day. The phone rings, but it's a neighbor. You almost breathe a sigh of relief that it's not Barbara's patient.

Like classic literature, Willis sprinkles in comedy to relieve some of that tension. Barbara and Ellen get into a heated discussion, with yet more tension mounting, and it's suddenly diffused by Suzy opening her present.

As Barbara explains her theory around why opening Christmas presents is such a disappointment to most people, her niece Suzy provides a foil, an ability to explain and perhaps even be proven wrong by her theories.

A lot of words in this short story have "s" in them. It's not really important, but when you're copying by hand, you tend to notice things like that.

All of that in 1600 words? I find it fascinating that all those elements (well, maybe not the fact that the letter "s" is a frequent visitor) come into play in such a short work. It's all part of being a conscious writer. Pay attention to others' writing and ask yourself, "How did she do that?" And then think about how you can apply that technique or strategy to your own writing.

Author's Bio: 

Dawn Shuler, Content Creator Extraordinaire, helps entrepreneurs and authors convey their deep message into compelling words, whether it's marketing material or a book, as well as to create powerful content to increase their credibility, visibility, and profitability. Her soul purpose is to help entrepreneurs unleash their authentic selves into their businesses through their content. She created the Writing From Your Soul system to help business owners connect more powerfully, reach more people, and make a difference. Download the free, 13-step system at