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. i love writing especially poems your articles are encouraging and iwill try someting new like short stories

  2. Can you give me any ideas on how to get my work , out in views of m y possbile readers and any site I can join where I do not have to pay out for help ? my capital is $0.00

  3. What a great article. This site provided details on much needed information. This link will become a wonderful reference for future writing projects.

  4. i wrote an essay about my life. i am not that good in grammar and correct construction of sentence in english. is it bad if when i read books i take down notes of phrases, expressions, and sentences that delighted me which i can use in writing anything? i’ve finished an essay through that process. the whole story is an original idea and it happened in real life i just injected some of the words i copied from my notes.
    would you think i have the potential to be a writer?
    i am planning to pursue a masters degree and i am not yet decided of what to take up. is creative writing a good choice for me?
    i will appreciate your immediate reply because i need to decide immediately before the course in my chosen school closed, and i will respect your opinion about it whether its negative or positive.


  5. I usually start writing at around midnite. All the amazing imagination flows in especially wen i m stressed out after studying…i juz write 4 fun though, poems n stories…:)oh n reali long stuff 2:)

  6. i ALWAYS WRITE WHEN i think that words can only represent the thought process i am going through.It gives me immense pleasure and satisfaction when I am able to portray what I feel in words which are endless.Creativity is something that I always cherish aa its inherited rather than being imparted. If you love what you write then reader would always experience the true picture. I would just say write your heart out and just feel the difference.

  7. I’m meant to write a creative essay on, What happens when we go to war. Does anyone have any good ideas on how to start my essay??
    I’m really confused, and if anyone could aid me with this, it would be very helpful.

  8. Exactly! Exactly i was looking for such article .These are something very techinical tip which must be considered.Thanx for doing the work.

  9. Great tips. Your site is a great resource and I’ve often suggested it to my students. I know it smacks of pimping my wares, and I apologise if that’s the way this comes across, but I’m certain your readers might also like my most recent blog entry, “How to be a Creative Genius”, which covers a lot of similar ground as to how you get started and how you get good.

    I also just read that Malcolm Gladwell in his most recent book “Outliers” has stated that to “get good” at something you need to have done it for 10,000 hours. That is a huge and daunting number but when you break it down it makes more sense. That’s about 3-4 years of 8 hour days, or 10 years worth of a few hours a day. Most professionals can get that under their belt easily, but it does re-emphasise something I’m always saying, you have to write every day no matter what.

    Wonderful blog, keep up the good work.

  10. Excellent tips. It’s true that you have to take baby-steps before you learn how to write. Some people are born naturals, but most of us need to work at it. Thanks for the resource links, I will check out out.

  11. i think what you have talk about in this article is very good you have describe how writing improves your life and how writing can improves a personslife i have this to say on articles

  12. well your concept of writing creatively is very impressive. Its helpful to broaden ones mind with numerous fascinations, observations and imaginations. But usually i think myself as a failure in writing skill due to my poor vocabulary and grammar. I guess with your tips and ideas i might be able to improve them eventually.

  13. Just what I Need, thank you. But I won’t mind a piece on STYLISTICS. i.e. analysing the language of a piece of writing

  14. To Joshua : You are at war,you have taken aim and fired.Stop the bullet in time.Tell the story of how and why you got there,and to this very point in life.When you get back you will understand that a person has to have a destination

  15. Thanks for the ideas. While, I am not a writer but want to be one some day. My problem is, How can I start writing a good story? I sometimes find myself writing but soon stop and don’t know what to write again. How can I figure out a complete situation to write a story about?

  16. I think that this has alot of good tips to help you get started writing ,carry a notebook around and write down your ideas and things around you and that its ok to have a hard time getting started and it gave you really good tips on how to get over that. i really enjoyed this article

  17. the article is very helpful for me… i love writing, i do it usually when i am depressed or sad just to speak my emotions when nobody is listening. the article helps me to enhance my writing and hope t create a good master piece….

  18. Thanks for sharing some good thoughts with us.

    I too want to join the world of writers, but I don’t know how and from where to start?

    Till now, whatever I have written is my personal diary.

    So, please lend me a helping hand and provide your valuable suggestions…

    I am sure it would help a lot…

    Jitin 🙂

  19. This web site is very useful for me to get more infomation in helping
    me to improve my skills in creative writing , therefore i would request daily writing tips to provide me recources and samples of creative writing.

  20. I would like to join the world of writers, but the problem facing me
    how and from where get started. I would very nice if i get one method to follow.

  21. Though at the moment I can’t say I’m a writer but I feel there’s something that’s about to break forth- I feel that every time I pass book stands or when I read just any creative material.
    My self discovery venture led me to this site; I must confess it’s given me direction, a direction in which only a conscious effort can lead.

  22. If someone has chosen to write,it is quite obvious from the decision itself that the person relishes the process of generating ideas and creating new plots. Write when you feel like writing, there is no time or place barrier.Make writing your deepest pasion. Always write things that you desired to see .

  23. I have loads of ideas on what to write on.These tips will be very useful to me, but i feel i still need more help so as to bring out these ideas out of me.

  24. Hey guys!
    I am fifteen years old and I have decided (today actually) that I would like to write novels, and i’d rather do it sooner than later so I can get them published and all that jazz. It will mostly be fantasy, because I absolutely adore fantasy novels and I can read them anywhere, anytime. I’m having trouble trying to come up with a different plot though, because with fantasy, some novels are quite similar to others and I would really like mine to be completely unique. Does that make any sense? Please email me on ideas
    Your ideas will be greatly appreciated!! Thanks for taking the time to even read this! 🙂

  25. in no stretch of the imagination am i a great writer but for me when writing i look at two sides of the coin,think of multiple scenarios that you can travel in your story,i write two conflicting trails for my story to travel,example i’m working on a screen play but gave myself a path that leads to horror but another that leads to a drama still haven’t decided on which way to go sadly

  26. thanks for the useful info it really help me a lot. It’s true being a writer means living with criticism but then you wouldn’t just sit there and act as a blind at a corner watching your country and your countrymen having limited wings…living with discrimination and corruption. We have to wake those who are acting as blinds and leaving a deafening ear to the cry outside those walls.
    Being a writer means also facing your death…but it’s better to die fighting for the truth and justice than living with your guilt forever.
    We are the minds beneath the pen’s mist.

  27. after loosing that best part of my life ewhich was my wife and only child nelson,,i decided to try something that would make me drown ma sorrows thru those sleepless nights.i`ve still not penned anything down but trust me my pillow books are full with all things bright ideas.some one help.

  28. I’m 16 years old and I’m from Nigeria. I found out recently taht I really enjoy writing but i was a pure science student in high school:( so I didnt get to do a literature. I have this idea for a novel in my head. It seems like most critics and people in general want very traditional novels from african writers. However, tradition is not as extreme here as it used to be. Do you think with all these I would still be able to pull off a really good novel. Would people enjoy it even if it’s not as “african” as they’ll want it to be?

  29. Hi ghonsie, im a Nigerian living in texas. im currently working on a novel, and it’s set in both Nigeria and the US. the reason this endeavour is called creative writing is because it’s subjective. it is more about what you wanna express than it is about what people would like to read. write a good piece and most people would read.
    feel free to contact me:[email protected]
    we might share ideas

  30. I attempted NaNoWriMo two years ago and I am a failure- let’s just say that I tend to have trouble putting detail into my stories.. I just get up and go. It seems that I finish long before I’d like. I plan on trying again this year if I can- I’m currently writing a novel already and wouldn’t want to be set back by another

  31. I love reading books,but that does not mean that i have to be a good writer. yes,i do try to write my thought process.somehow i cannot create a proper sentences. i use a very simple language,and it does not look professional.I am working on it although and this article have showed me a right way to start up again and know where i am lagging behind. Its my dream to publish my own article which will be appreciated by all.Please do suggest me in a better way. I am glad to my brother who helped me with this site.Hope i will get a reply back.
    Thanks a ton.

  32. In my view, Creative writing is any piece of work that entertains, educates and full of learning.

  33. Great Info….I’m not a professional writer, this is useful stuff….

    I think creative writing depends on the individual. We’re all different so we are going to think, interpret and act different.

    Your the biggest critic of your own work so if you can impress yourself, it’s more than likely others will enjoy it too..

    Thanks Heaps!

  34. i am not a big fan of writing poems or whatsoever..but i take my time learning how to because i am interested with it..i believe that writing can be a pleasure..and i would like to add writing as one of my hobbies…and now i am still studying and i have entered a program where in they teach students with different talents,and because i am really interested with writing i am part of the creative writing class in our school..hope i can find myself in the field of writing..eyy…hope to write here in the second time around..

  35. hiiii i want to learn how to write a short stroy in creaitve writing,,,
    couse i feel it somethimes it`s hard to write u know the writing subject it`s defficult from others subjects ,,,,, so help me to learn in easy way inshallah,,,,thanks,,
    my regards .

  36. I think Practice can work out,it is because once you start writing you will have lack of ideas and appropriate word in order to convey your message.One must read much that he has or she has a bunch of vocabulary and structures.

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