What you’ll learn and discover in this guide:
Are you a creative writer? Maybe you think so, but you’re not sure. Perhaps you have aspirations of creative writing, but you’re not totally sure what defines creative writing. After all, it’s supposed to be creative, right? Are there really set definitions or parameters delineating the boundaries of the concept?
I’m assuming you’re either new to writing or you’re already involved in writing some kind of content and looking to make the switch to creative works. I admit, you might have even tried your hand at creative writing, but are looking for a boost. This is normally the point in my own writing where I’d say what I’m going to cover and then invite you to keep reading into the following paragraphs to learn more. However, for once, I’m going to suggest maybe you skim through the content really quick. You’ll see that quite a few different questions are posed throughout, but hopefully you’ll see questions you currently have.
I’ve provided answers to the best of my ability to these questions, and given my sheer verbosity, you’ll quickly see that I at least love writing. Whether or not I’m actually any good at it is a subjective question (and please don’t feel compelled to answer it). In any case, the primary chapters of this content focus on an attempt to define creative writing, a detailed walk-through of some of the nuts and bolts, what it means to be a creative writer, how you can get better at it, and even a bit about making money on it. Skip straight to the sections you need, or read the whole thing. Just do what it takes to fill your current needs and questions about creative writing.
It first helps to have some idea what creative writing is, as well as why it’s important and what truly makes it creative. If I really wanted to get technical, I could think back to my time in elementary school when I’d get sent to the principal’s office for mouthing off at my teacher. The principal would talk to me and then write a note to my parents. Now, that note was writing, and he was creating it, but was it creative writing? Probably not, given the professional and objective nature of the content. Then again, the words coming out of my mother’s mouth as she punished me were obviously quite creative at times, and yet they weren’t writing. So, the question stands.
The first thing that you should know is what creative writing isn’t, which is anything that falls within the bounds of conventional or traditional academic, journalistic, professional, and technical literary forms. Creative writing usually puts a strong focus on the development of characters and narrative craft, often employing a number of literary tropes or poetic traditions. You should note that some journalistic work can fall under this category, so creative writing is both non-fiction and fiction works at the same time. Any piece of original composition writing could be considered creative writing, which means it’s more of a process name than various genres of literature.
You might think you would only undergo the process of creative writing if you’re looking to publish the next best-seller that gets a movie deal. That’s a fine ideal, and kudos to those that have done it, because I’m still waiting on Hollywood to call me. However, even if you never publish, there are advantages to creative writing that are important. They include developing your ability to express yourself artistically, boost your imagination, and learn how to clarify your thoughts. Any attempt at creative writing enhances your comprehension of the mechanics of both reading and writing. You learn communication skills and improve your ability to empathize with others. On top of all this, there is documented research showing that creative writers enjoy improved physical, emotional, and mental health. Stress kills people, but creative writing lets them say things that maybe they can’t get out any other way.
The form of writing known as creative writing is one where the concept of creativity takes prominent center stage. Innovation and imagination are necessary in order to go through storytelling that uses robust written visuals that deliver emotional impacts. The emotional engagement is just as crucial in poetry and short stories as it is in novels and novellas.
Yes, yes it certainly does. In fact, here are 10 specific things that creative writing can teach you:
1) Learn about yourself and your writing path.
2) Discover your writing strengths and weaknesses.
3) Grow to handle any criticism of your work.
4) Guide others in making their own work better.
5) Improve your own writing, of course.
6) Meet others that share your own passions.
7) Learn new and different writing techniques.
8) Find a mentor.
9) Get experience.
10) Enjoy tons of practice doing all kinds of writing.
Okay, I’ve already covered the basic definition of creative writing and some of the advantages of it. Now, let’s dive into the nuts and bolts that actually formulate the components of most creative writing.
Remember, the general definition is that any piece of original writing composition could be construed as creative writing. Having said that, there are specific examples with which you are likely familiar, and you probably already have a passion for one or two of them specifically. They include poetry and plays. Scripts are pieces of creative writing, and for years were television episodes and big-screen movies, although they are now used for online videos and streaming content too. Short stories and novels in the realm of fiction fall under the umbrella of creative works, as do songs, speeches, memoirs, and personal essays.
The list can vary depending on how creative a piece might be, but in general, there are only four core principles involved in creative writing. They include point of view, conflict, plot, and characterization.
The big four aren’t the only elements of most creative writing. You should also decide on and instill things like a vivid setting and underlying theme. Depending on your piece, you might also involve dialogue, anecdotes, and similes and/or metaphors.
Note that I’m not asking if I personally am a creative writer. I know I am. Again, I’m just not sure I’m a good creative writer, but we’ll get to that later. First, let’s talk more about you.
There’s something to be said for just deciding that you are a creative writer. That is the first step. However, there are specific qualities that can find useful or should strive to develop along the way.
Vivid imagination is a big one, but so too is the desire to write. From those two, you need to also have a love of reading, a passion for words, self-discipline, and a thick skin. Follow that up with fearlessness, a perfectionist pedigree, research and organization skills, and grammatical knowledge, and you should be good to go.
Having said all this, you don’t have to be great at all these skills, because the biggest quality you will ever need is an ability to get better over time. You can learn better grammar with enough study, and your fearlessness doesn’t have to be 24/7, just when you’re writing or advancing your craft.
There honestly isn’t a lot of difference between the qualities of a creative writer and their skills. In fact, there is a lot of overlap. However, there are four skills that are worth mentioning outside of the previous section. The first is an ability to communicate, while the second is a power of observation. The third is reasoning, and the fourth is problem solving. You won’t get anywhere without these four cards in your deck.
If you’re reading this straight through without skipping around, then you have already learned about what creative writing is and what makes a creative writer who they are. However, if you truly have the drive, then you know at some point you must sit down and start doing actual writing.
First of all, don’t write. Yes, I actually typed that. If you don’t do any reading, then you can’t write. Writers are the most voracious readers. Don’t just stick to a single medium or style either. Read anything and everything that you possibly can.
Secondly, conduct research. Learn all you are able to. Follow this up with finding your own voice. Once you read and research enough, you’ll start knowing the pieces you like and the ones that you don’t. These are the two canyon walls that help you lead to your own voice.
When it comes time to start doing your own writing, make a routine of it. Don’t just wait for the cliche of waiting for a lightning bolt of inspiration to strike followed by a frenetic burst of words flowing from you. Such episodes can happen, and roll with them when they do. However, the best writers know how how to make inspiration and perspiration a habit. Even tiny does over time add up to many, many pages. Also, don’t do drugs or drinking to get the light bulb going. If you’re not sure where to start, wait until September or October and then join NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month happens every November and can show you the sustainable way.
Know who your audience is. Remember in the introduction where I was speculating you were either a new writer or a writer not involved in creative writing but looking for a way in? I assumed my audience right off the bat, and if any human eyes ever fall upon these words, then I got it right.
Practice your craft as much as you can. Workshop all you can. Revise, revise, revise. Go to school if you need to. If you’re too emotionally close to your characters or soft on your story, kill off your favorite person in the story.
Finally, submit. Submit widely, as widely as you can. Amazon and digital technology make it possible to self-publish, and maybe that’s right for you. You can even get a few hundred hardbacks of your own book published for reasonable rates these days. However, there’s nothing quite like getting a book deal and seeing your own title on the shelf at the store when you walk in.
If you read a lot, then you know there are a lot of ways to get a story started. Maybe your character or narrator simply introduces themselves. You could also start things in the thick of the action. Crucial memories can prove intriguing, or you might lead into your story with purposeful prologue. If you want to swing for the fences, open with something unexpected for a strong start. You only have so many pages to capture the reader’s attention so you can keep them engaged until the narrative hook that leaves them wanting to read all the way until the end. You only get about two pages when it comes to an editor looking over submissions to publish.
If you’re not even stuck on your beginning, but just need to start writing anything at all, then use a creative writing prompt. These are just topics which you start gathering ideas around. The benefits of writing prompts include getting you to put pen down to paper (or type or transcribe, whatever suits you), getting better through practice, and boosting your creativity.
There are thousands of different writing prompts online you can find with a quick Google search, but I’d rather not see you leave just yet, so I’ll include a few of my favorites:
-What was your favorite vacation as a kid?
-Pick a random line from a poem or song you love. Make it the last words of your story, and then reverse the rest in front of it.
-Choose a random text in your phone. Let it blossom into a story.
-What was the last movie you watched? What original scene would you add to it?
-Think of two different friends you know that don’t know each other. What would they argue over?
-Who was your favorite teacher like? What was his or her weekend like, according to your imagination?
-If you were alive at the time, where were you when 9/11 happened? If you can’t do that one, where were you when you found out a relative or dog died? I was off at college when one family dog died. Someone passing me in the dorm hallway joked that I looked like my dog had died, to which I replied he actually had. I really wish I could remember the awkward conversation after that, because it was probably good stuff.
-Do you remember the first time you held someone else’s hand?
-What was the worst time that you ever got embarrassed that no one knows about except you?
-What was the last thing that made you smile or laugh?
There are millions of aspiring authors out there, which means companies know there is a market hungry for good writing tools. Personally, I can’t do without my subscription to Writer’s Digest. I’ve been getting issues since I was a teen, and I’ve learned more from that magazine than possibly everywhere else combined.
Having said that, I also like Evernote. Verbose writers take verbose notes. Evernote lets you organize your thoughts and notes with ease, including text, videos, and pictures, so you can develop things into writing later. You can even share your ideas via social media or email.
I also can’t live without Google Docs. I grew up on Microsoft Office (and that’s not an invitation to start guessing my age; I’m trying to help you here after all). Google Docs is better though. It’s free to use, and I can access it online anywhere. I’m not a spreadsheet person, but it does make it so easy to take notes, list characters, and develop a chapter-by-chapter plot outline. Did I mention I can access it anywhere? There’s no need to haul USB drives or floppies around anymore.
Another essential is an e-reader. Jump on the Kindle bandwagon if you like, but there are others. Remember how you need to be reading, reading, reading? There’s a lot of content these days that never even makes it to print. Also, e-content can stretch your dollars further, getting you far more titles and words than you get if you only deal in hardbacks and paper books. I still prefer paper myself, and books seem to be the one corner of the economy where the analog format just won’t die. Still, I know the value of reading something electronically. I can search for words I don’t know, highlight certain passages, and even take notes about things I might include in my own writing.
Congratulations to you if you’re writing now. Or, if you’re still just reading all of this and taking it in, I thank you for that too. Either way, you probably want to know how to get better as a writer. See, my audience started off wanting to know about creative writing, and now you want to know how to get better. Anyone can write words on paper. Only a writer can take their audience on a journey.
You’ll write a lot of bland pages. We all do. However, if it feels like you’ve hit a plateau, there are things you can do to spice things up. First of all, be genuinely interested in the things you are writing about.
Try including fascinating and alluring details. Mimic the writing styles of authors you find intriguing. Switch your tone to active voice. Consider your own thoughts on a matter.
Skip the thesaurus; you want readers sailing through your words without having to stop and process them or look them up. It’s hard enough to establish suspension of disbelief, so don’t ever interrupt it.
Avoid repetitive phrasing, but to be perfectly honest, please don’t use this content as a great example. If you do a keyword scan, you’ll see ‘creative’ a lot.
Don’t use cliches, but do consider some well-timed rhetorical questions. They can really make a reader feel like they’re being spoken directly to, don’t you think? (See what I did there? Twice, if you want to get technical.)
Above all else, proofread, proofread, proofread. One grammar error can trip up someone’s brain and take them out of the groove you’ve laid out for them. Proofread the living daylights out of what you write. Then get someone to proofread your work for you, and then proofread what they give back to you.
Other creative writing exercises you can use to get better include rewriting a passage someone else that you like already wrote, writing different lengths, and just switching up the point of view of something you’ve already written. If you know science fiction, then you know that one of the all-time classics is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Did you know that decades later, he also published Ender’s Shadow, which was a different but parallel story just from the point of view of a previously supporting character?
Why would anyone want to make money doing this? Getting your name on a published cover isn’t enough? I surely hope you can tell that I’m kidding. If you’re going to get good at something, never do it for free. In fact, is there anything more American than getting paid to do something you love? When you do something you love for a living, you never actually work a day in your life, or so they saying goes.
Creative writing involves a lot of technique. It’s up to every writer to find their own voice, and even if you’re fortunate enough to find your own, you can’t really show anyone else how to find their own. Then again, if you are qualified enough to land a job as a creative writing instructor, you can show students the walls of that canyon I was talking about earlier. Teaching others about technique also helps you learn more on your own, because writing is much like yoga, where the teachers are often just the best students.
Getting a job as a creative writing instructor is quite easy too, once you publish a book or several stories. Whether you do it for a school or workshops of your own, it’s a great form of somewhat steady income while your book sales roller coaster or you work on the next piece of creative writing without sweating over your mortgage, groceries, or rent.
Copywriting. Journalism. Web content editing. Search engine optimization. Proofreading. Content marketing. I’ve dabbled in all of them at some point. I’ve done a few of them as full-time jobs, more as freelance contract work, and a handful just on my own. The Internet didn’t kill the need for content; it actually made it blossom. Your words are needed somewhere.
Many great works of creative writing have epic conclusions. The Empire Strikes Back and Avengers: Endgame certainly achieved this. Then again, Kevin Costner’s The Postman sure didn’t. My sympathies if you sat through that, and if you’re not old enough to remember it, be glad. In any case, the epic conclusion I’m thinking about right now isn’t this detailed explanation of creative writing, but instead the epic conclusion of your journey to get your creative writing published. Once you do it, it is epic. Then again, you might also be a ‘professional’ at that point, if you got paid for it. Just remember, that conclusion can also be a beginning if you keep going.
Am I an expert on creative writing myself? It’s hard to say. I can safely say that I know more than I did before I started digging into all of this. I had questions I wanted answers to, many of which I listed here. Hopefully, my answers satisfy your own hunger a bit and the questions you carried with you until now. Expert or not, I can tell you this: once you accomplish something, and you do it well, it’s a waste to walk away and never do it again. Find your voice, and don’t let it remain silent, for someone out there wants to listen.