Like a lot of things, writing is a creative skill that needs to be learnt. No one is a ‘born writer’ any more than they are a ‘born mathematician’ or ‘born athlete’. But with dedication, time and practice, anyone can teach themselves to write creatively. So whether you’re just starting out as a beginner, or studying creative writing at university and looking to perfect your techniques – here are our top tips on how to get better at creative writing.
1. Read, read, read
The more you read, the easier it will be to write. Most writers will want you to think they’re naturally gifted. But there’s a technique to creative writing, and the secret lies in learning what other people are doing. So don’t be afraid to pinch (or ‘borrow’) creative writing styles that you like, because no one is truly unique. So take a look at the latest books, blogs, poems, articles and short stories that you’ve read and enjoyed. Write down what you like about them – the voice, structure, characters, tone, words and phrases – anything that you’d like to replicate in your own work. This will give you a starting point for your own work, and it will help you to develop a writing style of your own.
2. Thinking and planning
Creative ideas won’t magically come to you overnight. You need to go and find them. The trick is to start small and write about the things that interest you. Chances are if they interest you – they’ll interest someone else. Once you’ve chosen a general topic, you can start planning your story ideas. Whether it’s on paper or online, on post-it notes, brainstorming, bullet points or prose – get your ideas down in a way that works for you. Let your mind be free, and remember to always question ‘why’. Next, create a storyline that shocks and surprises. Most storylines start off as a few bullet points, so you don’t need to go overboard. Work out what’s going to happen, and in what order. Just be clear and concise.
3. Creating characters
If you’re creating a piece of writing with characters, don’t be afraid to go wild. Think about who they are – What do they look like? What’s their personality? How do they walk? What kind of jokes do they make? Where do they live? You can never go too far with this, so go into lots of detail and have fun. Make sure that you’re making intentional decisions that are based on your characters traits and flaws. Human beings are fascinating, so having good characters with developed personalities can really carry a piece of creative writing. Create a character ‘profile’ that outlines the basics of who they are.
4. Know your audience
Knowing who you’re speaking to is one of the most important ways to develop your tone as a writer, and it will help you to develop your own voice. Consider the age profile of your audience, this will help you to make choices about certain words to use. Are you writing as yourself, or are you also part of your audience? You should also think about whether your audience will already be knowledgable about your topic? This will determine how much explaining you need to do, or if you can get away with using highly technical words and phrases. When you write, imagine that you’re talking to a friend. This will help to keep your words flowing.
5. The dreaded first draft
Good writing always starts off as bad writing, period. So you’ve got to let go of any embarrassment that you might feel. Take yourself out of the equation, and get your head into the storyline. Break it down into small sections – what do you want your first paragraph or introduction to say? Make sure that you get your ideas down in an order that makes sense, regardless of the words you’ve used. Once you’ve made a start, you can always go back and edit, redraft and refine it. If it helps, start in the middle, or at the end! Do what comes naturally. Whatever you do, don’t cross anything out – you’ll be surprised at how useful it might be later on.
6. Fresh eyes!
If the purpose of your first draft is to get your ideas down on paper, your second draft is for developing the words and structure. When you look at your creative writing with fresh eyes, you’ll read it in a completely different way. So consider what’s on the page, as well as what’s missing from your story. This is where you can start to add personality and flair to your writing. So have a go at playing around with sentence structure and speech. This is where the magic happens, and the more times you can go back and re-edit, the more concise and accurate your writing will be. If possible, always try to get a second opinion, because two brains are better than one!
Enjoyed this article? Check out our other subject guides.