Creative Writing 101

By Ali Hale

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.
  • 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.

Online resources

NaNoWriMo
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.

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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166 Responses to “Creative Writing 101”

  • Jamil

    I have a lot of ideas in my head that floating around in my head, but I’m having a hard time bringing them to life. I feel that they will bring happiness to everyone that reads them.

  • Leila

    I always like write for myself, not for publishing a book or something like that. I’d like Just write for myself. However, every time that I start, I don’t know how I should be writing about the subject and I will lose the words. It sounds that there is nothing in my mind for explaining. So I can’t write again and it’s so frustrating.

  • S. Barry Hamdani

    Write based on your passion. Don’t stop to judge your writing, simplly write. If you have a passion for a specific subject, trust me, others will enjoy it.

  • Jade

    I love writing, especially fiction novels, but at the minute I’m completely stumped. No matter how hard I try to ‘just write’, I can’t stop myself from editing every sentence I type. I’ve only finished half the story I’m currently working on, and I’ve already re-drafted the start four times. It’s driving me crazy!
    And I have a friend who is my “writing buddy”, and I love her writing to pieces, but whenever I read it I always feel so downtrodden. I feel like I’ll never be as good as she is, but without her I don’t think I’d have the willpower to write at all.
    What can I do? I’m desperate to just write all my ideas down, but I feel like there’s something blocking their path.

    -Jade, UK

  • adam goldman

    Writing is good for the brain 🙂

  • D

    Great post!! Very Helpful! Right On!! Keep it up.. looking out for more such articles! 🙂

  • ME

    I’ve always thought of myself as a great writer. I went to a great university and obtained my Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism & Mass Communications and minored in English. Now, seven years later I have yet to nurse my need for writing and I’m finding that I’m not really a good writer after all. I’ve worked at several jobs but none in the writing field. I’ve lost my editing ability, it takes a long time to develop my thoughts and “pen them to paper” and last but not least, I lost my voice. I’m not sure of what I want to do or what my purpose in life is anymore. I feel as though writing used to be an outlet but its not working anymore. No one wants to hire me and there isn’t a lot of money to be made in this field where I currently reside. I feel hopeless

    Warm regards,
    Faith must find ME again

  • DK

    If you want to learn something really helpful and unique about creative writing read the book “On Writing” by Stephen King. He is the master!

  • Lessie Williams

    This article was very imformative and inspiring. I thought so many time about writing a novel and I get bogged down by all the worries of what might go wrong. I like that this aritcle tells you to just do it and not think about it. The advice was wonderful.

  • Frankie Courtney

    I feel the advise is good. Carrying a pad to write something down all the time is essential. You never know when something good is going to appear in your head. The best writing comes from the weirdest situations. The best writing for me also comes when i am viewing a situation as it is happening.

  • Vincent Mwakazi Zakayo

    Wow! I read about creative writing from this website and it’s interesting that what my leccturer and head of dept of Mass Communication told me about writing is exactly what I find here. Truely, I sometimes try but stop just before I written two pages. Am I in the right track to becoming a writer? I love this site since it has given a new desire for writing.

    God Bless You.

  • tita bondoc

    very informative !

  • wparena

    This is an great article, and it’s just perfect for people like me.
    Thanks a lot for tips and also the great links!

  • zahid wazir

    i need guidence or steps to improve creative writing.

  • Mohammed Abbakar

    I like writing very much , because it will help a lot to reinforce my
    skills especially creative writing.Therefore itis necessary to understand these techniqes.

  • weng

    Writing for me is an outlet of your other self. You could be what you want, anytime -all the time.

  • yasir ally

    actualy when i first heard about creative writing i didn know much but thaks to you guys on that

  • chamathka

    I love to write poems,articles and essays.I gained a good knowledge about writing poems and all from this article.It is so interesting.

  • Wasim

    I found it interesting everytime i start to write i don’t know from where i got the words….but i think if u start then definetily u wl get results…keep writing as much as u can….

  • Sienna

    I am doing an essay on creative writers for a possible career in the future most kids are doing theirs on medical stuff but that is way to boring for me. Don’t you think medical stuff is incredibly boring?

  • William McQueen

    Over the years I have written several items, short stories, ads for local businesses, … even pitched for Hollywood. But my true passion lies within the pages of the novel I am writing. Unfortunately I find that I am woefully dreadful at writing dialog, but I refuse to let that keep me from writing my first draft. I fully intend (when my finances will allow) to return to school and learn everything I am lacking. This book is too important to me to simply let it fall into the ash-heap of broken dreams.

  • Sekyen

    I write poems, mostly on personal experience and I need help with that. Am also working on a book which is a faction (fact and fiction). Truely, writing is not easy but it is fun.

  • sara

    Thing that writing is a fun.

  • sara

    Thing that writing is a fun. Should not we write whatever we have in our mind.

  • salim sabo

    really creative writing is a good imagination of different idear which many people can perceive your idear in so many way.

  • Van

    Thank you for this article! I really needed it.

  • Fred

    Why am so many of you not so good with
    the spelling and the grammer? I thinked
    writers need to be good at the writing, no?
    It makes me very disgusting to see so much
    errers from them who’s supposed to be good
    with the words. I pull my hare out. What is
    going on with you peepl?

  • Mary Lou

    Sara said: “Thing that writing is a fun. Should not we write whatever we have in our mind”

    No, Sara, you shouldn’t write whatever comes into your head. Heads are renowned for being filled with rubbish and nobody wants to have to read it just because it’s been written down. One writes because one has something to say. That’s quite different to recording what comes to mind. Unfortunately, publishers’ slush piles are packed with the thoughts of writers who wrote whatever junk they had in their minds.
    Too many aspiring writers think that because they can pen a few words that they’re worth reading by others. Not so. Writing takes about twenty years for the average apprentice, and most people aren’t up to it. The reason Woody Allen couldn’t find a plumber at the weekend was because too many potential plumbers were in their garrets scribbling muck that came into their ‘minds’. Hemingway put it best: “Writing is easy. All you do is sit at your typewriter and bleed.” Plumbing is even easier still, but you have to be prepared to work weekends.

  • Sadia

    This is a great website it influences you to write amzing stories

  • the writer

    Hi Ali,
    We have one thing in common… I’m also a huge fan of Holly Lisle’s write ups… I am a freelance article writer.
    Two things which I really find helpful in your post are: keeping a notepad with you to jot down ideas and proofread your content after at least a couple of days… if you read you text same day or even the next day, you will hardly hit the mark.
    Thanks,
    Jenna Twain

  • Amlandeep Bhattacharya

    Hello

    I find this article very useful. I am an aspiring riter form Kolkata and want to write for big publishing houses . Howver as I have no liinks to publishers I find my book hard to sell. Any takers?

  • avantika

    Hi
    I am a crazy lover of poems & creative writings . Creative world is so beautifull writers expressor open their heart in words. I would like to share my own ideas ,thoghts in front of you. However as i have no link to publish my ideas.
    thanks
    avantika

  • Pj

    I found this site quite by accident. I need to tune-up the grammar and punctuation skills before I give up entirely.

    It was a dark and stormy night.

  • avantika

    hi,
    i just remember one thing nature’s beauty , happiness,lot of fantastic things which gives us best moments

  • Santo Toni

    I love writing from childhood, i already have two unfinished novel, but i lack the motivation to keep moving. Help!

  • xixihaha567

    Fantastic post however I was questioning in the event you could write a litte more on this subject? Id be extremely thankful if you could elaborate just a little bit further. Appreciate it!

  • MABEL BLANKSON

    i love creative writing! its so much in ma bones and blood.av so far published 2 of ma stories in ma countries news paper..i need motivation to continue

  • Derek

    I believe some people can write creatively and others can’t. There are some people who think they are good writers with atrocious grammar and spelling – it’s embarrassing really.

    Unless they go back to school and learn how to spell, these people should be told the truth for their own good: they are wasting their efforts by trying to write illiterate garbage: they are running before they can walk. The bare truth can do wonders for people.

    As for the creative part, as I’ve said, it’s a talent which you either have or have not – period. It’s like a singing voice.

  • What A Joke

    I find writing very difficult it has to be said. I have these ideas in my mind and I am never quite able to get them down on the paper with the passion that they deserve. I am able to speak about a subject with passion but something happens when I try to write.

    Maybe i just get too wordy ^

  • Idowu Wande

    Hi,I’m very passionate about creative writing that I sometimes feel very bad about not having a breakthrough on it!Please how can I get a comprehensive book on it?I really need a lot of help.Thanks.Idowu (Human Anatomist)

  • Citra cahyadi

    This site is very interesting, I have got an assignment from my lecturer to make a story, I hope you can help me because I’m just a beginner in writing.

  • jessalyn

    i dont have an assignment, but im 15 and writing is my life, i have recently had a writers block but just started writing randomly and i got a awesome idea XD so it really does work, just right and you may get a idea

  • jessalyn

    i also believe that everyone can write, im helping my little 11 year old brother write a story, my sister was saying that his writing would not be as good as mine so it wouldnt be a good story and this is what i said:
    writing comes naturally to me, so i dont work that much to write something. but lets use a example: school, lets say math, someone may be really good at math naturally, and somebody may be really good at math and not know it because they have never done it, you just got to give yourself and other people a chance.

    so just start writing, try different techniques and genres because you could find a hidden talent

  • Okezie Victoria

    Writing is with the mind. using the pen with so much passion. setting it all into papers, into life. All the drama is in the fingers, all the words stay close to the pen and lie safe on papers. When i write, am happy, relaxed, fulfilled and just me. if u love to write. build it, is a tool, strong tool.

  • Maria

    Thanks for sharing such a useful and factual information. It will definitely help me to write a unique and creative article.

  • Pisith

    This is a very useful article for writing improvement. Thanks!

  • Moomean Yitta

    From literature perspective, engaging in any work of art requires critical thinking over what to write, devotion of time in search of facts concerning what to write because writing is not all about fallacies and rational linkage of your writings to the comprehensible life situations.

  • Adebola Ademuyiwa

    Creative writing is verily d core focus of every Inspired Writers. I have a passion 4 writing wen i was@ d tender age of 10years. I’m into inspirational writing,educative writing,general poets,etc. Pls let’s keep writing ‘professional’ n ‘impactful’!.

  • Phil South

    Just came back to this post after a few years and remember its such a good piece of information. Have you ever considered expanding this into a book?

    Phil South
    Creative Genius Programme

  • Rajeev

    Thanks for the nice information about how to improve our writing skills.

    It’s really very helpful in writing personal experience, essay, speeches and technical writing. Initially, we have to just write rather then too much thinking like how i can write?. Think positive whatever thought comes in your mind just write, because it will take time in perfection. But this procedure gives you boost in writing. After some days you will find yourself as a good writer.

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