If a stimulating natural setting was all it took to inspire creativity in writers, then Hawaii would be the nation’s literary center. But even the great writers who were born here like Gary Pak and S.N. Haleʻole will tell you it takes more than the violence of Kilauea or the serenity of the Pacific to turn inspiration into a publish-ready work.
And that also goes for the writers who weren’t born into island life but would grow to appreciate Hawaii as transplants here, including the likes of Maxine Hong Kingston, Jack London, and Mark Twain. Hawaii is often featured in London’s stories. He made many trips to the Islands and, as a celebrity living until 1916, became acquainted with Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana’ole, Queen Lili’uokalani, and Kahanamoku, “The Duke” of surfing.
Hawaii is rich in many things: people, cultures, nature, agriculture, geology, and literature. It’s a place that fosters great writing. As the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of The Woman Warrior observed:
Hawaii’s Unique Ways of Inspiring Writers
For some like Jack London, Hawaii was inspiring because of the people he met. Most widely known for his novels set in the cold of the Yukon, Call of the Wild and White Fang, an entire period of London’s career was actually set in the tropical Pacific. Hawaii makes repeated appearances in his work, not least of which include the short stories, “On the Makaloa Mat,” and, “Koolau the Leper.”
In contrast to London, Maxine Hong Kingston wrote her classic novel thanks to the isolation she found in Hawaii. By a fluke, she ended up living on a remote Lāna’i pineapple plantation isolated in a hotel, and pursued writing as a better option than staring at the wall. The result was The Woman Warrior, a novel using Chinese folk tales to explore the boundary between being a Chinese-American woman and Kingston’s own unique experiences.
S.N. Haleʻole drew an altogether different inspiration from Hawaii for his writing; something much more personal. In addition to penning the first fiction ever written by a Native Hawaiian, a dramatic traditional-religion-infused romance called Laieikawai that touched on elements of class and love, he was also called to be a recorder of history and chronicled important events of his time circa the mid-19th century.
There’s no secret formula for becoming a successful creative writer. Mark Twain once said that if you want to be a writer, you should start by writing without pay until someone offers money for your work. If three years go by and you still haven’t made anything, then you can conclude that you were intended to saw wood for a living. And as he put it, “look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence.”
Traveling is one way to find creative inspiration. That was certainly the case for Mark Twain who counted Hawaii as his abode for four months back in 1866 when he toured O’ahu, Maui, and the Big Island. It was during this time that he entertained readers back on the mainland with his “Letters from Hawaii,” published serially in newspapers. Maybe you could do something similar?
Hawaii’s Creative Writing Classes, Courses, and Workshops Can Prepare You for a Creative Writing Degree
While you might take as much inspiration from volcanoes as Twain did, you can also stir your creative juices through local writers’ groups at coffee shops, book stores, and libraries.
The Hawaii Writers Guild sponsors writing support groups, workshops, public readings at local venues, and offers reduced fees for area writing conferences. It’s a great resource if you’re an up-and-coming writer who wants to network and develop your skills, especially if you live in the Honolulu area.
The Hawaii Writers Group is a loose-knit association of island and island-friendly writers with a digital presence that helps to organize local meetings wherever the like-minded congregate. A current endeavor of many of its members is Hawaii Stories, an online publication that comes out once or twice a year, composed of lyrics, poems, journals, diaries, and “anything else.”
The annual Kauai Writers Conference sees headline-grabbing writers give master classes, and combines these with small group breakout discussion groups, individual sessions, and an informative general conference. It’s also a recruiting ground for top literary agents.
You can find resources on getting your work distributed by a professional publishing house with local companies like Savant Books and Publications, Bess Press, and if your specialty is children’s books, then try Beachhouse Publishing – all local publishers based in Hawaii; all in the greater Honolulu area.
Writing Colleges in Hawaii Offering Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Creative Writing Provide a Path to Becoming a Writer
There’s a point in every creative writer’s journey where you wonder to yourself: am I going be a hobby writer for the rest of my life, or am I ever going to have a breakthrough?
Not that these questions are mutually exclusive… but they can be. There are some great writers who treated their craft as a hobby and happened to be able to feed themselves from it as well. But most people don’t win the lottery, and if you want to make a career out of writing then you need to do everything possible to level up.
That’s where a BFA or MFA degree in creative writing comes into the picture. A formal education in creative writing can help tie together all that advice from those coffee shop writing groups with what you read and re-read in Bird by Bird… with that quotation on writing that you wrote down from the last writers’ conference.
A degree formalizes everything you’ve learned thus far along your writing path. It will prepare you to accomplish your future goals and look squarely in the eyes of what comes next for you.