Creative Writing 101
What is Creative Writing?
Creative writing is anything where the purpose is to express thoughts, feelings and emotions rather than to simply convey information.
I’ll be focusing on creative fiction in this post (mainly short stories and novels), but poetry, (auto)biography and creative non-fiction are all other forms of creative writing. Here’s a couple of definitions:
Creative writing is writing that expresses the writer’s thoughts and feelings in an imaginative, often unique, and poetic way.
(Sil.org – What is Creative Writing?)
Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.
Writing of any sort is hard, but rewarding work – you’ll gain a huge amount of satisfaction from a finished piece. Being creative can also be difficult and challenging at times, but immensely fun.
How to get started
Many people think that just because they’ve read a lot of stories (or even if they haven’t!) they should be able to write one. But as Nigel Watts writes:
There is a common belief that because most of us are literate and fluent, there is no need to serve an apprenticeship if we want to become a successful wordsmith. … That’s what I thought until I tried to write my first novel. I soon learnt that a novel, like a piece of furniture, has its own set of requirements, laws of construction that have to be learnt. Just because I had read plenty of novels didn’t mean I could write one, any more than I could make a chair because I had sat on enough of them.
(Nigel Watts, Teach Yourself Writing a Novel)
By all means, if you’re keen, jump straight in and have a go: but don’t be too disappointed if your first efforts aren’t as good as you’d hoped. To extend Watts’ metaphor, you may find that these early attempts have wonky legs and an unsteady seat. There are lots of great books aimed at new fiction writers, and I’d strongly recommend buying or borrowing one of these:
- Wannabe a Writer? (Jane Wenham-Jones)
- Teach Yourself … Writing a Novel (Nigel Watts)
- How to Write Fiction (and Think About It) (Robert Graham)
- On Writing (Stephen King)
I’d also recommend starting small. Rather than beginning with an epic fantasy trilogy, a family saga spanning five generations, or an entire adventure series … have a go at a short story or a poem.
And if you end up chewing your pen and staring at a sheet of paper, or gazing at a blank screen for hours, try kickstarting your writing with a short exercise. Don’t stop to think too much about it … just get going, without worrying about the quality of the work you produce.
Tips and tricks for beginners
- Do some short exercises to stretch your writing muscles – if you’re short of ideas, read the Daily Writing Tips article on “Writing Bursts”. Many new creative writers find that doing the washing up or weeding the garden suddenly looks appealing, compared to the effort of sitting down and putting words onto the page. Force yourself to get through these early doubts, and it really will get easier. Try to get into the habit of writing every day, even if it’s just for ten minutes.
- If you’re stuck for ideas, carry a notebook everywhere and write down your observations. You’ll get some great lines of dialogue by keeping your ears open on the bus or in cafes, and an unusual phrase may be prompted by something you see or smell.
- Work out the time of day when you’re at your most creative. For many writers, this is first thing in the morning – before all the demands of the day jostle for attention. Others write well late at night, after the rest of the family have gone to bed. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
- Don’t agonize over getting it right. All writers have to revise and edit their work – it’s rare that a story, scene or even a sentence comes out perfectly the first time. Once you’ve completed the initial draft, leave the piece for a few days – then come back to it fresh, with a red pen in hand. If you know there are problems with your story but can’t pinpoint them, ask a fellow writer to read through it and give feedback.
- HAVE FUN! Sometimes, we writers can end up feeling that our writing is a chore, something that “must” be done, or something to procrastinate over for as long as possible. If your plot seems wildly far-fetched, your characters bore you to tears and you’re convinced that a five-year old with a crayon could write better prose … take a break. Start a completely new project, something which is purely for fun. Write a poem or a 60-word “mini saga”. Just completing a small finished piece can help if you’re bogged down in a longer story.
Every November, hundreds of thousands of people just like you do something extraordinary: they write a novel in just thirty days. Want to be part of the coffee-fueled, manic-typing, adrenaline-rush that is National Novel Writing Month? (NaNoWriMo for short). Make sure you sign up by October 31st. The “rules” state that you can’t start writing Chapter 1 until 00.01am on November 1st but you can spend as long as you like before that planning…
Authors’ websites and blogs
I read lots of websites and blogs written by authors and these give real (sometimes harsh) insights into what it’s like to write professionally. One which has been a strong favourite of mine for many years is Holly Lisle’s. Check out her
advice for writers and her weblog. She also has an excellent newsletter which I subscribe to, and some very thorough and helpful e-books on various aspects of writing available for purchase.
Having a theme and a deadline can make a startling difference to a writer’s motivation! If you’re in the UK, Sally Quilford’s competition listings are a comprehensive and regularly-updated list.
I Should Be Writing podcast
This is a practical and inspiring podcast: I Should Be Writing by Mur Lafferty. She describes the podcast as “For wanna-be fiction writers, by a wanna-be fiction writer” (though since starting it several years ago, she’s had considerable success selling her short stories) and focuses on science fiction and fantasy.