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.

creative writing

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.
(Don DeLillo)

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:

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.
  • Set up a writing environment that gets your creative juices flowing. The first thing here is to decide which room of the house is best suited for your creative writing efforts. There is no right or wrong here. Some people prefer to write in the bedroom, some in the living room, some set up a home office, some even in the bathroom! If you’d like to listen to music by writing, considering investing in a good headphone or on a sound system. Getting a comfortable and ergonomic chair can also be a good idea, especially if you were going to spend many hours per day writing. Last but not least, consider what kind of lighting and fragrances might help to make you more productive.
  • 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.
  • Consider experimenting with artificial intelligence software that can generate writing prompts and even short stories. Technology is getting to a point where those computer generated texts are very sophisticated, and therefore they can help to inspire or even complement your creative writing work.

Online resources

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.

Competitions listings
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. Alternatively check out the Poets and Writers 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.

Common mistakes beginners make

While the most important thing when you’re getting started is to simply enjoy flexing your creative muscles, if you’re aiming toward publication (or if you want to enter competitions) then it’s a good idea to steer clear of some common creative writing mistakes.

Three very common mistakes that often crop up in beginners’ work include:

  • Too much descriptive detail. This is a tricky one, because description is a good thing – and some well-known writers are particularly loved for the vivid, well-realised fictional worlds that they create. (I always think Joanne Harris does a great job with description, for instance.) But when you’re new to writing, it’s easy to go over the top in trying very hard to describe everything – when readers are more interested in the actual story: the action taking place, and the dialogue between your characters.
  • Unintentional repetition. This can crop up in lots of different ways – but any repetition of a word that stands out to the reader, without the author intending it to stand out, is a bad thing. This could mean simply using the same word in several sentences running (e.g. “I put the money back in his wallet while his back was turned. Thinking back…”) It could also mean starting a run of sentences or paragraphs in the same way – e.g. always starting with “He” or “She” plus a verb.
  • “Headhopping” to a different point of view. While it’s fine to shift between viewpoints in a short story or novel, you need to do so deliberately. Even when you’re writing in the first person (“he” or “she” rather than “I”), most readers will expect you to stick with one character’s feelings and thoughts – so don’t suddenly give us access to the inside of another characters’ head.

Ways to get support with your creative writing

When you’re starting out with creative writing, you might feel that you’re on your own. Perhaps you don’t have any family members or friends who are interested in writing (or worse, you might even have people around you who scoff at your dreams of writing success).

There are lots of ways to find support, though. Two of the best are to:

Take an evening class or a weekend course. Unless you live somewhere very remote, there’s a good chance that there are writing classes available near you. These might be run by published authors, by organised groups, by local libraries, and so on. You might want to ask around locally or via a local Facebook group.

Join a writers’ workshop group. These don’t tend to offer “teaching” content, but instead, you’ll find a group of likeminded peers who get together to write and/or to share what they’ve written. It can be nerve-wracking to share your work with others (I still remember my knees shaking the first time I read out a piece to a writing group!) but it’s

If finding an offline, local group of some sort really isn’t a possibility, there are lots of writing communities available online through forums, Facebook, and so on. Whatever your situation, do try to find other writers who can support you (and who you can support in turn) – it will make a huge difference to your motivation and to your growing skill levels.

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167 thoughts on “Creative Writing 101”

  1. Great article.
    Morning is definitely the time where I am most creative. I think it’s because my mind is the freshest and the least cluttered at this time of day.

  2. When I write, it is with an emphasis on the sharing of wisdom arising
    from my life experience. Wether one could reasonably term such writing as being creative or not I don’t necessarily concern myself with.
    The creative aspect which I believe is part of a writing nevertheless
    may be found in how I address people with careful consideration
    regarding how I may come across to them. There is no use in trying to be helpful if The way I say things registers in the readers mind that I
    am being arrogant and self serving. Best regards,—Doug Rosbury

  3. For me creative writing is an “art piece” of your mind wherein you can freely express your ideas, emotions and ability to attract or magnetize readers. I love what he said regarding writing which is “HAVE FUN”. I’m absolutely agree on that. Look at writing as a gift, hobby or as a passion. If you see writing as a job, definitely you will feel exhausted and dead. For me, I enjoy writing specially if it is personal essay or fashion trends essay. I enjoy what I’m doing because writing is my passion.

  4. Good tips for writing. I really like the notebook idea. I always have trouble remembering the little details that make writing all the more interesting, so having a notebook always helps for memory’s sake as well. Also, who doesn’t look kind of important carrying around a notebook with a sophisticated air about them?!

  5. My writing is horrible. But it’s much better than it was.

    The tip that I would toss into the hat is to be willing to write garbage prose in order to get an idea out, however roughly. Just get it down on paper in a form that will let you recognize it later. You can edit it tomorrow — IF you wrote it today.

    I go now to teach myself how to blog from an outline.

  6. Hi!!! I am looking for a parttime online writing job. Please recommend a site that I can visit. Thanks and more power!!!

  7. Creative Writing 101 encourages neophyte writers how to write a piece imaginatively which can attract readers. The tips are very hepful in writing piece. Thank you so much for the post you have given. This will hep in expanding our skills in writing.

  8. Writing and reading fiction is where I am at. Using proper English and sentence structure is my goal from start to finish, since I am not part of the Dumbing Down of America when it comes to writing of any kind.

    Working on getting the most lethal intensity out of my characters and the situations they find themselves in no matter what the tone or the subject matter is. I see this now and then in what I read and I must emulate this and still remain with feet on the ground and sane :-). If you are a writer of fiction without boundries and needs to talk with another beginner like yourself about this method of self-expression, don’t hesitate to drop me a note. We might be able to help each other out to one degree or another.

  9. Thanks for the great tips. I write to get things off my mind . Though i,m told i am too deep.I wonder if that could be a plus for me someday as i,ve alot of ideas lingering in my head.

  10. The tips were very helpful. I’ve got a lot of good ideas and the material just flows at times. However, I still have room for improvement.

  11. I hope it’s alright that I use some parts of the blog in my project this year- don’t worry, I cited correctly! I got a lot out of the information you provided, being a budding creative writer myself, and I appreciate the great tips and other links!

  12. I really enjoyed this article, and there were a lot of useful tips that I am in the midst of using as we speak (finals week, ugh…) I love to write, but my “internal editor” does not allow one consistent thought to flow freely. When I am writing, I constantly edit words and phrases in my mind before I can get anything on paper. The technicalities of writing has hindered my fulfillment of the act itself. I still love it, I just want to love it MORE. Anyone with any advice, as to how to break free from these (mental) constraints?

  13. The article was very interesting and helped me understand where I am in my writing skills (that is in comparison to others). I must respond to the comment before me, it’s simply too tempting. I wrote a short essay for myself a while back because I was frustrated with my english teachers controlling the end product of my writing. My essay explained that correct english is useless, you use grammar to get your point across (as well as word choice). If your point comes across as you want it to, tell your “internal editor” to be quiet for a moment.
    I find the comments much more helpful than the article. All the opinions teach you that writing is as you make it, nothing more.

  14. I have found your site interesting and would like to know more about it……………….Think it’s really going to help budding/aspiring writers………

  15. Writing is a phenomenon that I am unable to grasp. My high school years precipitated a downward spiral of confusion. It has paralyzed my cerebrum, dash my confidence, retarded my ability to freely and clearly express myself without criticism. Luckily, I have stumbled upon your advice. I hope that with continued persistence, I will be able to rise to the level of the greats…

  16. It is really a wonderful site I have ever got to hone my writing skill and broaden my ken. And for this very reason I have recommended this site to my friends as well and hope they might also be doing good with their writing as they are obviously great readers and writers than me in some aspect.

  17. Thanks for your insights. One of my greatest irritations is to read a published article or book with blatant grammatical or spelling errors. Do these people not have spell check or ANYONE who reads what they have written BEFORE it is published??? I have found these problems in academic materials as well as fiction writing. Amazingly, I find very few errors in magazine articles which would seemingly have more of an excuse because of the short publishing deadline!

  18. How best might I approach writing promos for a senior group here in the town of Moraga, California?
    Lee Barker

  19. In addition to the books in this article, I would add “Art of Fiction” by John Gardner to a list of recommended reading. The first part is more theoretical with chapter titles “Aesthetic Law and Artistic Mastery,” “Basic Skills, Genre, and Fiction as Dream,” “Interest and Truth,” and “Metafiction, Deconstruction, and Jazzing Around.” The second part focuses on the craft of writing with the best discussion of fiction writing technique and style that I have ever read. Chapter titles in the part: “Common Errors,” “Technique,” and “Plotting.”

    Art of Fiction also includes some great exercises. In particular, I liked a long sentence exercise: Write three effective long sentences, each at least one typed page, each involving a different emotion. Several other exercises develop the technique of leading the reader paragraph by paragraph and establishing tone. These exercises include writing about the discovery of a dead body before the body is discovered or writing about an old woman whose detestable husband has died but without mentioning the husband or the death.

  20. Here’s my story but im a loss of what to do next! The one and only Sherry the Great!
    By Sara Roberts

    If you walk along the river you see a great cliff and next to that cliff is the house in which sherry lives. Now sherry is a nice girl, simple not to bright and not very pretty, but she is nice. She has three family members no of which are related to her but they are the closest people that she knows. There is a cat named Herbert, a doll named Freena, and her best friend Sherrie, who is a speck of dust that she sees float by when she needs help.
    One time sherry was playing wit her cat Herbert and they were on the edge of the cliff seeing who could get the closest to the edge. (Of coarse Herbert would never go along with the plan because he was such a scardy cat, so sherry helped him with that problem by throwing him as far as she could. Lucky for Herbert she couldn’t throw that far.) Now on this particular day sherry did not want Herbert to win so she would take an extra turn after her friend went. But this time she was running so fast and right before she could stop her friend Sherrie floated by and got right ion sherry’s way! This threw sherry of balance and caused her to wobble off over the edge of the cliff. Now I understand what you’re feeling now, how could Sherrie do such a thing! But indeed it was better off that Sherrie do that because right as she did there was a tree that fell down on the other side of the world right exactly where Sherry was standing and if she had tried to go any farther the tree would’ve squished her flat! But now back to sherry, as she fell down the side of the cliff, a great big eagle soared over the sun. Sherry was so scared that she couldn’t even think to cry out for help! But the eagle saw her and swooped down to her rescue, and caught sherry in its mouth. Granted the bird had no intent to save sherry, but she had no knowledge of that. She was merely glad she did not fall to her death. And as the giant bird carried her away, sherry thought brilliantly to her self, ‘My, what a lucky person I am to have so many people try to help me and be my friends.’ And with that she was dropped onto the birds nest where two tiny baby eagles where sitting waiting to be fed. Sherry thought they wanted to be her friends too, so she went over to play with the youngling’s and just as they started to wrestle, one of them bit off her hand. All this was so shocking she screamed and jumped out of the nest! But she left her hand behind her. And as she fell threw the sky for the second time today, she realized that Sherrie was the one who pushed her off the cliff and she wondered. ‘Why would my best friends do something like that?’ but sherry didn’t know why. So as she fell even farther down the side of the cliff, a breeze picked her up and flung her over the Grand Canyon. And then another wind flew her to the Great Wall of China, then over to the Eiffel Tower.

  21. Thank you for the writing tips that you shared. I benefit from this sharing.

    I am a technical writer who is toying with the idea to try my luck in creative writing for “fun and for legacy” at the same time. Why not?

    Sometimes writing helps me in expressing clearly what I am supposed to say but cannot because I am already drown with mixed emotions.

    In case some people are not aware of this – writers are now highly in demand as content writers and the like.

    So, try writing …

  22. creative writing is almost a spiritual activity. its purpose is not to inform,but to reaeal. creaty is the ability to create,that is to bring into existence or give to something that is original in nature.

  23. Some people do puzzle books,or needle point or they have some other hobby to help them relax,for me it’s writing.I know that I am
    a beginner,but I do enjoy it.
    This is the first time that I have been to this website.Reading what
    you have written here has helped me relize that I am not alone.
    Finaly I have found a spot where I will be able to get the help needed to my writing straightened out. Thanks.

  24. I have two unpublished children’s stories. It is so discouraging if trying to get published. Maybe I need a writing course.

  25. The 4 Winds would like to request a link to Daily Writing Tips at our website. The content of Daily Writing Tips is a great example of the educational programs and curriculums we are interested in promoting with our project. We are also happy to introduce a new eBook of poetry and art entitled “Dreams of Angels”.

    Thank you for your time and consideration in regard to a link to your website.

    Matt James – Project Representative

  26. As I am trying to figure out what to do with my life, career wise, I get an almost uncontrollable urge to just write all that I am feeling, thinking and seeing about what to do. Then I notice there’s no more room in my notebook from front to back pages and I realize maybe the answer is right in front of me, write.

  27. writing is basically my life.i normally write when i’m crying or very early in the morning.i love writing fiction books mainly for teenagers.i love writing boyfriend stuff.

  28. thanks for the tips,
    for me you should just think of an emotion or a situation beetween charachters and then get a setting that best shows that like if you want to have a really scardey cat character put them in a dungeon or something, i came up with this myself but i sort of like it but maybe im just imagining that it helps

    yea i know that was a huge run on

  29. i dont think your tips will be useful!it sounds like childish,idiot…mine is much better than you. go to smsh.wen.ru and have a look!little kids

  30. I am one
    who whichs to be that way, but people, things get in the way, and now I find myself STUCK, with lots of things I neither need or want, I feel as if I’m carrying my life’s burden on my back, with no way to get rid of it. My freedom depends on me getting rid of this stuff and getting back to me–my very own freedom. I think I need just a little help. I need an outlet for my fustrations, so I write a lot about it. I’m trying to work it thro people, this is not easy. Thanks for listening.

  31. I just wanted to learn a few tips about writing, how to go about it as to me it’s a way to release all the tension and bottled-up feelings. But still there is no break though, as I can’t figure out how to begin, how to choose a topic or to go beyond a few lines and even if I write something it’s not interesting. But I won’t give up and keep on writing.

  32. This site provides a great insight to first time writers. I had been writing since school days though not regularly. Most of them are short stories. My thoughts are random. I have a larger idea but when I start there is no continuous flow. I first write to form the skeleton and add flesh to the skeletal as I go by. To complete it takes anywhere from 2 days to a week. The mood plays a very important role if you are not a regular writer. When I am upbeat I can complete a short story of 1000 words in a 6 hour stretch with a couple of revisions. I am honing my creative juices and have started blogging lately. Please check my first blog and give in your valuable inputs. Your feedback would help me progress in my pursuit of becoming a full time writer.

  33. I am a terrible writer. I am deaf. I try to write short journal for paranormal photos in scienctific journal magazine. I am looking for self training writer. I don’t know where and how to start. Thank you !

  34. It takes a few moments to write some words down on paper, but it takes lifetimes of experience to write them well.
    Thoughts and ideas can take years to develope into the final concept that you desire to put into words. Relax, breathe deeply, be patient and use what you know. The words will come when they are ready and often when most unexpected.

  35. creative writing has really changed my life. it has made me become president of the united states by the creative speech i said to the people. i thank you all for supporting a plagiarist.

  36. I have been writing for many years through my school days. the story’s i have written mostly in one genre . now I’m trying to write a romance story with a little sci-fi elements. anyone got any tips or ideas for starting a story in which i have no experience in the genre?

    -live long and prosper

  37. *to add to my last comment

    i am a man and i don’t know how to write a romance novel that is not feminine. i need help on creating the structure of the story.

    here are the basic ideas that i have

    ” ” studying abroad in japan and my character is just starting to get adjusted to college life. he is somewhat of a loner and has no friends.

    I’m trying to find the right way to make a romantic spark that will stat my characters start my characters social life.

    Also i need to find a way to write in my character’s past without interrupting the flow of the story.

    i cant find a way to make the romantic moments…solid… make the reader feel the emotion of the scene.

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