You could be doing a million other things, but you’re taking the time to read this guide, which tells me two things about you:
One, you like the idea of creative writing, be it as an outlet or a career. And two, you’d like to give your writing muscles some exercise and improve your skills – possibly in hopes of getting published someday – and need help to do it.
Whatever the case, if you’d like to know how to get into creative writing, stick around.
I’ll break the process down into manageable, bite-sized tasks and walk you through some fundamental creative writing tips!
What Is Creative Writing?
Step outside the more formal scope of journalistic, academic, and technical writing, and there it is – the exciting realm of creative writing:
Any form of writing that will put creativity at the forefront and tell a story through strong visuals, creating an even more substantial emotional impact.
Short stories, novels, poetry – it can be anything that approaches the subject matter using imagination, innovation, and creativity, expressing thoughts and emotions, rather than keeping things “dry” and factual.
It’s how you write – or should write, anyway – when you’re weaving a fictional story.
Creative writing is generally labeled as the complete opposite of academic or technical writing, which – loaded with facts and information – pays very little attention to the emotional aspects and intrigue.
And I wouldn’t say it’s solely limited to fiction, either.
Even non-fiction writing – think blogging, for example – will need a little bit of creativity thrown into it.
Sure, writing non-fiction doesn’t seem as exciting or imagination-fueling, but:
A skilled writer will figure out how to turn simple information delivery into an energetic piece of writing. They need to know how to drive their point home using the oldest tool in the box – creativity.
I’d say that’s a quality anyone striving to become a good writer will need.
Anyway, back to the point:
Creative writing comes down to that imaginative approach that warrants an emotional response.
If that’s something you’re interested in pursuing, there are plenty of ways to start writing creative pieces, including:
- Short stories
- Novels and novellas
- Scripts for plays and movies
- Opinion pieces
- Personal essays
What Are The 7 Elements Of Creative Writing Of Creative Writing?
Sometimes, the words pour right out, and all you need to start writing is grab the nearest notebook and capture them. But one valuable lesson about creative writing I picked up a long time ago is that it’s rarely pure inspiration.
A combination of instinctual and calculated is a much better description of the creative writing process.
So, while you may be tempted to wing it the next time inspiration hits, you may want to reconsider.
It’s not an exact science, sure – but there are still elements to a great piece of creative writing that you can’t afford to overlook.
Not if you want to improve your writing skills and communicate an idea effectively, anyway.
Your story’s plot is a series of events that were deliberately arranged in a way that reveals their thematic, dramatic, and emotional importance. It’s your narrative, your characters’ actions, the turning points, and the storyline behind them, combined into one.
If you don’t have a plot, you don’t have a story – and if you don’t have a storyline, you’re not doing much creative writing at all.
What happens in your story?
That’s the single most crucial question a writer needs to answer when coming up with a plot.
It can be anything in the world – but it has to be there. Otherwise, nothing is happening in your story – and what kind of story is that?
The following elements may help you get started when crafting your next plot:
- Conflict and tension
- Falling action
You could come up with the best plot ever, but if you don’t have characters, you still don’t have a story – period. That’s why plot and character development go hand in hand in creative writing; both are essential, and both can make or break your piece.
You can’t just slap a name on a random caricature, add a few cliché traits to it, and call it a character.
I mean, you can – but it won’t be a character your readers will believe.
There’s an art to developing fictional characters:
Your job is to uncover who your character is as a person and how they might change throughout the story. Most importantly, you want the reader to understand – and, at times, even relate to – your character.
You should know more about the character than your readers would ever find out in the actual story.
Again, most of these details you’ll use for character development won’t have a spot in the final draft. However, it will help you better understand who your characters are and how to make them more believable.
That’s how you develop a complex, multi-faceted, living, breathing character.
The theme can be described as the underlying message, “moral of the story,” or the big idea behind your creative writing piece. It’s an idea you wish to – explicitly or not – convey to your readers on a particular matter.
Every story will have it – even if the author made no conscious effort to include it.
Now, here’s the tricky part:
You want to avoid sounding preachy.
Show without telling; that’s how you escape the pitfalls of heavy-handed themes in creative writing.
It would be best if there were a moral of the story in there somewhere. But you shouldn’t smack your readers on the head with it until they agree with you.
Readers will ultimately carve their ideas out of whatever you write – and that’s the real beauty of it.
4. Point Of View
The point of view is, in essence, the perspective from which you’re telling the story. You have several options here, the two most widely used in creative writing being the first person and third person:
- A first-person point of view, where the narrator is also the main character telling the story
- A second person point of view, which is mostly reserved for instructional writing, and the narrator speaks directly to you
- A third-person point of view, including third-person limited, third-person multiple, and third-person omniscient, where the narrator uses he/she/they when speaking about the characters
If you’re struggling to determine which point of view to use, ask yourself whose story you’re trying to tell.
And remember – consistency is crucial:
You want to stick with the chosen point of view. Switching perspectives mid-story – from the first person to the third person – can throw the reader off and is hard to pull off successfully.
Visual descriptions aren’t something you’d typically come across reading a newspaper; they’re primarily saved for creative writing.
It’s what pulls the reader in and allows them not only to understand but to experience the surroundings as your character does, too.
Close your eyes, picture your characters, and ask yourself:
Where and when is the story set?
Location, time, context, and atmosphere are critical to a great setting and can help the reader imagine themselves in your characters’ shoes.
Make it as sparse or as detailed as you want – as long as it adds to the story and supports whatever emotion you’re looking to convey in your writing.
Rather than being a conscious effort, style often emerges from how you write – your vocabulary, syntax, voice, mood, and rhythm – by itself, as a natural “byproduct” of writing. Think of style as part of your writer’s DNA – unique and almost impossible to manipulate.
And yes, it’s possible to imitate a more pronounced style – at least to a degree, anyway – but that won’t necessarily help you get better or grow as a writer.
So, instead of trying to modify it to fit a specific mold – which has proven to be nearly impossible to do – you should learn to embrace it.
Be yourself; more often than not, it makes for much better writing.
7. Literary Devices
Think of anything – literally anything – you’ve ever read, and I can guarantee you it uses literary devices.
Allusion, euphemism, diction, metaphor, simile, personification, a figure of speech, foreshadowing, epigraph, and many – many – other types of literary devices have been around almost as long as creative writing itself.
Everything that’s ever written contains some form of it.
Creative writing – well, good creative writing, anyway – is supposed to paint this vivid image in your reader’s mind. And when you know which ones to use, literary devices can be indispensable tools for telling your story.
That said, here’s a piece of advice:
Don’t overdo it or try to cover up the lack of good writing skills; it will only sound cheesy.
Creative Writing Tips: How Can I Improve My Creative Writing?
Here are a few essential tips on getting started with creative writing and sharpening your skills as you go!
Read Like Your Writing Depends On It (Because It Does)
Show me a writer, and I’ll show you a voracious reader.
It can be contemporary poetry, classic literature, horror stories, mind-boggling thrillers, epic fantasy trilogies – but if you want to write, you’ll have to read.
Writers love reading – no, they’re passionate about reading – and need to read every bit as much as they need to write.
Being immersed in a world of words, even if they’re someone else’s, is what ultimately encourages better writing. And let’s face it; reading is likely what sparked your desire to write in the first place.
Find Your Voice
Don’t try to sound like Jane Austen or Ernest Hemingway because – and I mean this in the nicest way possible – you aren’t them. And that’s a good thing.
You’re you – and finding your voice as a new writer is about using that to your advantage.
That’s not to say that it won’t be tough – because it will.
You may have an idea of what you want to convey, one that seems clear as day in your head. But you might not be able to transfer it into words.
If you’re struggling with finding your writing voice, try underlining sentences that “speak to you” when reading. Things you highlight could tell you a lot about the style and tone that suits you as a reader – and, potentially, as a writer, too.
You can also try listing writers you admire for their style and why. See what you can incorporate in your writing while still being the most authentic version of yourself.
Start Small; Write A Short Story
Yes, yes, I get it. The first thing to jump to mind when you hear the words “creative writing” is probably a book rather than a short story.
Everyone wants to skip the hard part and jump straight into writing and self-publishing trilogies. It’s the same mistake many beginning writers make – despite knowing, deep down, that they’re biting off more than they can chew.
I’m afraid that’s not how things work, though.
Starting small is often your best bet:
Flash fiction – a few hundred words max – is one form of honing your writing skills, even though it won’t land you a spot on someone’s bookshelf.
You’ve probably heard the legend of Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story before, which only proves my argument:
You want to be sure you can tell a story – and convey a strong, albeit implied, emotion – in as few words as possible first.
So, write a short story. Then, write another one – and another.
You’ll get to that book eventually.
Give Writing Courses A Try
If you’d prefer a structured approach to help you get started with writing creative prose or poetry, you can never go wrong with writing courses.
Joining a writing class could help strengthen any weak spots and work on some of your less developed skills. You’ll be part of a larger writing community – and the feedback, constructive criticism, and open discussions can be priceless in the long run.
You could also try something a bit more general, like a workshop-style class, especially if you’re trying to overcome writer’s block:
Sharing what you write with other people and treating the creative process as dialogue can really do wonders for your writing.
Pick A Time And Place (And Stick To It)
I cannot stress how vital routine is when you’re a new and aspiring writer.
I often hear about people taking up creative writing, only to give it up soon after. Without real incentive – other than the personal dream of writing a best-seller – or deadline in the picture, they start to slack off and come up with excuses rather than stories.
If you’re waiting for that sudden flash of brilliance to propel you straight into a creative frenzy, I have some very disappointing news for you:
It’s not going to happen.
You need to work at it – and for it – every day, without fail. You need discipline and routine, no matter how boring it may sound, will be your best friend.
Writing Contests Can Be A Motivational Boost
If lack of motivation is your enemy number one, how do an inflexible deadline, some competitiveness, and a potential prize sound?
That’s right; I’m talking about joining a writing contest!
It might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
On the other hand, some writers may need that figurative kick in the butt to get over the finish line.
Maybe you find yourself starting a bunch of stories and then never bother to finish them. Or perhaps you haven’t really done creative writing in years.
Whatever the case, contests can be a great form of “exercise” for writers.
Writer’s Block Is Part Of The Process
No one’s immune to writer’s block. The sooner you realize that as a new writer, the better.
The question isn’t so much whether you’ll experience writer’s block; you will.
It’s what you do and how you deal with it when it hits that counts.
That’s why it’s such a great idea to write every single day.
It shouldn’t matter how uninspired you are, how much you don’t feel like it, or how much it seems like you don’t have anything to say. That’s the writer’s block talking and coming up with excuses.
You still need to write – every day.
And if that alone doesn’t help, you can also try some writing prompts to get the creative juices flowing and get you back in the game.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The most useful piece of advice anyone can give you as a new, aspiring writer is to practice until you think you got it – and then practice some more.
Practice always and forever, because here’s the thing with any form of creative writing:
No matter where you are in the creative writing journey, there will still be thousands of ways for you to get better, improve, and exercise your writing skills.
You can read all the tips and writing advice in the world, but without exercise – the actual sit-down-and-write part – you won’t grow as a writer. And trust me, there’s always room for improvement.
One writing exercise worth trying is using creative writing to describe your day.
Yes, it’s that simple – and yet, it’s not.
The goal of the exercise is to talk about your day and try to turn the most mundane, dull moments – like brushing teeth – into an engaging, vivid, fun-to-read story.
Kill Your Darlings (And Be Okay With It)
This one’s become a classic piece of creative writing advice for a reason – it works.
It will be a really painful process, and you’re going to hate every minute of it. However, “killing your darlings” is an essential part of editing and polishing your final draft.
It can be many different things:
An out-of-place dialogue, a character that doesn’t fit in, a few sentences here and there, or something you’re sure is brilliant – but for whatever reason feels unnecessary.
Trying to find a place for it in your work may be an exercise in futility. It’s better to cut out the irrelevant character or excess floridity during the rewriting process – like ripping a bandage off – and spend your efforts elsewhere.
What Makes A Good Creative Writer?
Most people – readers and writers alike – can recognize good writing relatively easily. You’ve probably picked up a book before and could tell you’re in for an all-consuming, can’t-seem-to-put-it-down read right from the very start:
A compelling opening that gets you hooked, characters you can relate to, a plot that makes you want to keep reading, and an emotional roller-coaster that comes with it.
You’ll generally hear people describe “great writing” as something along those lines.
And sure, you could argue that “good” creative writing is a highly subjective matter. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have opinions on the same piece that often vary – and drastically so – from one person to another.
Still, you can’t deny that there are specific characteristics of quality writing that are universal – or, at the very least, universally recognizable.
What about good creative writers, though?
That’s a whole different can of worms.
However, you’ll find that most – if not all – great creative writers share some qualities and know-how, both technical and personal. And the sooner you get started on developing these skills and traits, the sooner you’ll see yourself improve and grow, too.
Technical & Narrative Skills
Grammar, Spelling, And Punctuation
Okay, before you get all offended, let me say that I’m not trying to imply that you don’t know your grammar already. I’m sure you do – or, at the very least, I hope you do.
But here’s the thing:
You’ll always have these little mistakes – a misspelled word here or a missing comma there – that found their way into your work.
When your readers do come across one, they’re more likely to perceive you as an amateur – which is probably the last thing you want your reader to think of you.
And sure, it’s okay to break some of these rules consciously as you write – but make sure you understand them and know exactly why you’re doing it. Otherwise, you’ll see your credibility fly right out of the window – and it won’t be a pretty sight.
Words are a creative writer’s most essential tool – one that should be used with utmost proficiency. Having a strong vocabulary, being good with words, and using appropriate language to communicate your ideas are good writers’ skills.
Don’t start using overly complicated terms – so-called “big words” – for the sake of showing off, though, especially when it doesn’t fit your narrative. You don’t want to sound like you ate the dictionary and are now spitting out all the hard-to-digest adjectives.
Being able to find the perfect word – even an unusual one – to get your message across is a welcome skill, but remember:
Clear and concise still wins the race most of the time.
You might think that research isn’t as important in fiction writing; many writers make the same assumption.
Believable storytelling and accurate portrayal of details is the ultimate goal – one that can’t be achieved without proper research. If there’s anything in your story based on facts – and there likely will be – you should do some investigative work first.
You can’t write historical fiction without understanding the period you’re setting your story in or paint an authentic picture of a physical place without research and fact-finding.
There’s a reason why writers typically keep a bibliography of references and sources they came across while researching. You may want to start doing the same.
A common issue, mainly when you write short stories – and only have so many words to get it right – is terrible pacing. Your story either unfolds way too slowly, causing the reader to get bored and lose focus – or way too fast, leaving people confused.
You have to keep things well structured and control pacing at any given point in your story.
It’s up to you to know when’s the right time to reveal something – without revealing too much too soon – and how to keep things going in “real-time.”
You may have a natural inclination for short and straightforward sentences or longer, more complex ones; every writer does.
One way to make your pacing more effective is to actively change your sentence structure, both in length and phrasing, throughout your short story.
Connecting With Your Readers
You’re not writing solely for yourself, are you?
Well, then, you have to make sure you connect with the person reading your work.
Remember, your reader could be doing a million other things, some of which might be a whole lot more interesting than reading your book or short story.
How do you get them to choose you and your writing, then?
Your goal is to get the reader invested in the story, make sure they’re able to follow your narrative, and fuel their imagination. Make it so that they don’t want to put your work down.
Knowing how to achieve this is a storyteller’s most valuable skill – one that makes a difference between a competent writer and a bad one.
Passion For Reading
Good creative writers read – a lot. I hope I’ve made that part clear by now. So, if you had to choose one quality of a proficient fiction writer to start working on right now – as in today – let it be your passion for reading.
Pick up a book – any book, really – and get started.
It can be something you know you’ll love or something you think you might hate; it doesn’t matter. There’s a lesson that will help you write better in there somewhere, either way.
Attention To Detail
Creative writers are natural observes and listeners, always taking mental notes of their surroundings with great attention to detail.
They pick up on the subtle changes around them, listen to other people’s anecdotes, and observe random people and events – only to bring them to life again in their stories.
It’s this attention to detail that adds that special touch to their writing.
Try carrying a notebook with you and writing down snippets of overheard conversations, intriguing personalities, and short story ideas inspired by real-life events – anything that grabs your attention.
Writing is a craft every bit as it is art. And like any other craft, it calls for dedication and commitment to bettering yourself and, in turn, your skills.
Despite what you might think, the best fiction writers aren’t the ones who were merely “born with it.”
I’m afraid that talent means very little when you don’t put in the hard work.
The best writers are those who put in the hours, continually work on bettering themselves and their skills, and make time for writing even when life gets in the way.
It’s up to you to stay committed, nurture that relationship with your creative side, and exercise those writing muscles every day – every chance you get. Life will always try to get in the way; commitment is what keeps you pushing forward.
Thick skin – that’s what you need if you hope to make it in the world of creative writing.
The first time you experience rejection will suck, hard; there’s no other way to put it. And no matter how brilliant your writing is, you’ll feel like throwing in the towel at times.
I’m not saying it shouldn’t get to you at all.
It will – and that’s a good thing. It shows you care, as cliché as that sounds.
But here’s the thing:
You have to be the one person who believes in your work – even when the editors, agents, and publishers don’t.
You’ll be turned down; it’s part of the process. And when it happens, remember to learn whatever you can from it and – most importantly – keep on writing.
Getting Into Creative Writing – Summed Up
If whatever type of writing you’re doing now feels stifling, maybe it’s time to start exploring creative writing. It could be a hobby or turn into a full-blown, reaching-bestselling-charts career that began with self-publishing; who knows.
On that note, I really hope this made for a solid creative writing guide.
I’ll leave you with this:
Words are your tools.
Use them to build something simple or complex, experimental and boundary-pushing or tamed and traditional. If you don’t like how it turns out, tear it all down – and build something else.
But whatever you do, don’t stop writing!
Any writing advice you’d like to share? Drop a comment below!
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