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How to Start Writing Fiction: The Six Core Elements of Fiction Writing

Jack Smith and Sean Glatch  |  June 14, 2023  |  4 Comments

how to start writing fiction

Whether you’ve been struck with a moment of inspiration or you’ve carried a story inside you for years, you’re here because you want to start writing fiction. From developing flesh-and-bone characters to worlds as real as our own, good fiction is hard to write, and getting the first words onto the blank page can be daunting.

Daunting, but not impossible. Although writing good fiction takes time, with a few fiction writing tips and your first sentences written, you’ll find that it’s much easier to get your words on the page.

Let’s break down fiction to its essential elements. We’ll investigate the individual components of fiction writing—and how, when they sit down to write, writers turn words into worlds. Then, we’ll turn to instructor Jack Smith and his thoughts on combining these elements into great works of fiction. But first, what are the elements of fiction writing?

Introduction to Fiction Writing: The Six Elements of Fiction

Before we delve into any writing tips, let’s review the essentials of creative writing in fiction. Whether you’re writing flash fiction , short stories, or epic trilogies, most fiction stories require these six components:

  • Plot: the “what happens” of your story.
  • Characters:  whose lives are we watching?
  • Setting: the world that the story is set in.
  • Point of View: from whose eyes do we see the story unfold?
  • Theme: the “deeper meaning” of the story, or what the story represents.
  • Style: how you use words to tell the story.

It’s important to recognize that all of these elements are intertwined. You can’t build the setting without writing it through a certain point of view; you can’t develop important themes with arbitrary characters, etc. We’ll get into the relationship between these elements later, but for now, let’s explore how to use each element to write fiction.

1. Fiction Writing Tip: Developing Fictional Plots

Plot is the series of causes and effects that produce the story as a whole. Because A, then B, then C—ultimately leading to the story’s  climax , the result of all the story’s events and character’s decisions.

If you don’t know where to start your story, but you have a few story ideas, then start with the conflict . Some novels take their time to introduce characters or explain the world of the piece, but if the conflict that drives the story doesn’t show up within the first 15 pages, then the story loses direction quickly.

That’s not to say you have to be explicit about the conflict. In Harry Potter, Voldemort isn’t introduced as the main antagonist until later in the first book; the series’ conflict begins with the Dursley family hiding Harry from his magical talents. Let the conflict unfold naturally in the story, but start with the story’s impetus, then go from there.

2. Fiction Writing Tip: Creating Characters

Think far back to 9th grade English, and you might remember the basic types of story conflicts: man vs. nature, man vs. man, and man vs. self. The conflicts that occur within stories happen to its characters—there can be no story without its people. Sometimes, your story needs to start there: in the middle of a conversation, a disrupted routine, or simply with what makes your characters special.

There are many ways to craft characters with depth and complexity. These include writing backstory, giving characters goals and fatal flaws, and making your characters contend with complicated themes and ideas. This guide on character development will help you sort out the traits your characters need, and how to interweave those traits into the story.

3. Fiction Writing Tip: Give Life to Living Worlds

Whether your story is set on Earth or a land far, far away, your setting lives in the same way your characters do. In the same way that we read to get inside the heads of other people, we also read to escape to a world outside of our own. Consider starting the story with what makes your world live: a pulsing city, the whispered susurrus of orchards, hills that roil with unsolved mysteries, etc. Tell us where the conflict is happening, and the story will follow.

4. Fiction Writing Tip: Play With Narrative Point of View

Point of view refers to the “cameraman” of the story—the vantage point we are viewing the story through. Maybe you’re stuck starting your story because you’re trying to write it in the wrong person. There are four POVs that authors work with:

  • First person—the story is told from the “I” perspective, and that “I” is the protagonist.
  • First person peripheral—the story is told from the “I” perspective, but the “I” is not the protagonist, but someone adjacent to the protagonist. (Think: Nick Carraway, narrator of  The Great Gatsby. )
  • Second person—the story is told from the “you” perspective. This point of view is rare, but when done effectively, it can create a sense of eeriness or a personalized piece.
  • Third person limited—the story is told from the “he/she/they” perspective. The narrator is not directly involved in the lives of the characters; additionally, the narrator usually writes from the perspective of one or two characters.
  • Third person omniscient—the story is told from the “he/she/they” perspective. The narrator is not directly involved in the lives of the characters; additionally, the narrator knows what is happening in each character’s heads and in the world at large.

If you can’t find the right words to begin your piece, consider switching up the pronouns you use and the perspective you write from. You might find that the story flows onto the page from a different point of view.

5. Fiction Writing Tip: Use the Story to Investigate Themes

Generally, the themes of the story aren’t explored until after the aforementioned elements are established, and writers don’t always know the themes of their own work until after the work is written. Still, it might help to consider the broader implications of the story you want to write. How does the conflict or story extend into a bigger picture?

Let’s revisit Harry Potter’s opening scenes. When we revisit the Dursleys preventing Harry from knowing about his true nature, several themes are established: the meaning of family, the importance of identity, and the idea of fate can all be explored here. Themes often develop organically, but it doesn’t hurt to consider the message of your story from the start.

6. Fiction Writing Tip: Experiment With Words

Style is the last of the six fiction elements, but certainly as important as the others. The words you use to tell your story, the way you structure your sentences, how you alternate between characters, and the sounds of the words you use all contribute to the mood of the work itself.

If you’re struggling to get past the first sentence, try rewriting it. Write it in 10 words or write it in 200 words; write a single word sentence; experiment with metaphors, alliteration, or onomatopoeia . Then, once you’ve found the right words, build from there, and let your first sentence guide the style and mood of the narrative.

Now, let’s take a deeper look at the craft of fiction writing. The above elements are great starting points, but to learn how to start writing fiction, we need to examine the craft of combining these elements.

Jack Smith

Primer on the Elements of Fiction Writing

First, before we get into the craft of fiction writing, it’s important to understand the elements of fiction. You don’t need to understand everything about the craft of fiction before you start keying in ideas or planning your novel. But this primer will be something you can consult if you need clarification on any term (e.g., point of view) as you learn how to start writing fiction.

The Elements of Fiction Writing

A standard novel runs between 80,000 to 100,000 words. A short novel, going by the National Novel Writing Month , is at least 50,000. To begin with, don’t think about length—think about development. Length will come. It is true that some works lend themselves more to novellas, but if that’s the case, you don’t want to pad them to make a longer work. If you write a plot summary—that’s one option on getting started writing fiction—you will be able to get a fairly good idea about your project as to whether it lends itself to a full-blown novel.

For now, let’s think about the various elements of fiction—the building blocks.

Writing Fiction: Your Protagonist

Readers want an interesting protagonist , or main character. One that seems real, that deals with the various things in life we all deal with. If the writer makes life too simple, and doesn’t reflect the kinds of problems we all face, most readers are going to lose interest.

Don’t cheat it. Make the work honest. Do as much as you can to develop a character who is fully developed, fully real—many-sided. Complex. In Aspects of the Novel , E.M Forster called this character a “round” characte r. This character is capable of surprising us. Don’t be afraid to make your protagonist, or any of your characters, a bit contradictory. Most of us are somewhat contradictory at one time or another. The deeper you see into your protagonist, the more complex, the more believable they will be.

If a character has no depth, is merely “flat,” as Forster terms it, then we can sum this character up in a sentence: “George hates his ex-wife.” This is much too limited. Find out why. What is it that causes George to hate his ex-wife? Is it because of something she did or didn’t do? Is it because of a basic personality clash? Is it because George can’t stand a certain type of person, and he didn’t realize, until too late, that his ex-wife was really that kind of person? Imagine some moments of illumination, and you will have a much richer character than one who just hates his ex-wife.

And so… to sum up: think about fleshing out your protagonist as much as you can. Consider personality, character (or moral makeup), inclinations, proclivities, likes, dislikes, etc. What makes this character happy? What makes this character sad or frustrated? What motivates your character? Readers don’t want to know only what —they want to know why .

Usually, readers want a sympathetic character, one they can root for. Or if not that, one that is interesting in different ways. You might not find the protagonist of The Girl on the Train totally sympathetic, but she’s interesting! She’s compelling.

Here’s an article I wrote on what makes a good protagonist.

Also on clichéd characters.

Now, we’re ready for a key question: what is your protagonist’s main goal in this story? And secondly, who or what will stand in the way of your character achieving this goal?

There are two kinds of conflicts: internal and external. In some cases, characters may not be opposing an external antagonist, but be self-conflicted. Once you decide on your character’s goal, you can more easily determine the nature of the obstacles that your protagonist must overcome. There must be conflict, of course, and stories must involve movement. Things go from Phase A to Phase B to Phase C, and so on. Overall, the protagonist begins here and ends there. She isn’t the same at the end of the story as she was in the beginning. There is a character arc.

I spoke of character arc. Now let’s move on to plot, the mechanism governing the overall logic of the story. What causes the protagonist to change? What key events lead up to the final resolution?

But before we go there, let’s stop a moment and think about point of view, the lens through which the story is told.

Writing Fiction: Point of View as Lens

Is this the right protagonist for this story? Is this character the one who has the most at stake? Does this character have real potential for change? Remember, you must have change or movement—in terms of character growth—in your story. Your character should not be quite the same at the end as in the beginning. Otherwise, it’s more of a sketch.

Such a story used to be called “slice of life.” For example, what if a man thinks his job can’t get any worse—and it doesn’t? He started with a great dislike for the job, for the people he works with, just for the pay. His hate factor is 9 on a scale of 10. He doesn’t learn anything about himself either. He just realizes he’s got to get out of there. The reader knew that from page 1.

Choose a character who has a chance of undergoing change of some kind. The more complex the change, the better. Characters that change are dynamic characters , according to E. M. Forster. Characters that remain the same are  static  characters. Be sure your protagonist is dynamic.

Okay, an exception: Let’s say your character resists change—that can involve some sort of movement—the resisting of change.

Here’s another thing to look at on protagonists—a blog I wrote: https://elizabethspanncraig.com/writing-tips-2/creating-strong-characters-typical-challenges/

Writing Fiction: Point of View and Person

Usually when we think of point of view, we have in mind the choice of person: first, second, and third. First person provides intimacy. As readers we’re allowed into the I-narrator’s mind and heart. A story told from the first person can sometimes be highly confessional, frank, bold. Think of some of the great first-person narrators like Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield. With first person we can also create narrators that are not completely reliable, leading to dramatic irony : we as readers believe one thing while the narrator believes another. This creates some interesting tension, but be careful to make your protagonist likable, sympathetic. Or at least empathetic, someone we can relate to.

What if a novel is told in first person from the point of view of a mob hit man? As author of such a tale, you probably wouldn’t want your reader to root for this character, but you could at least make the character human and believable. With first person, your reader would be constantly in the mind of this character, so you’d need to find a way to deal with this sympathy question. First person is a good choice for many works of fiction, as long as one doesn’t confuse the I-narrator with themselves. It may be a temptation, especially in the case of fiction based on one’s own life—not that it wouldn’t be in third person narrations. But perhaps even more with a first person story: that character is me . But it’s not—it’s a fictional character.

Check out my article on writing autobiographical fiction, which appeared in  The   Writer  magazine. https://www.writermag.com/2018/07/31/filtering-fact-through-fiction/

Third person provides more distance. With third person, you have a choice between three forms: omniscient, limited omniscient, and objective or dramatic. If you get outside of your protagonist’s mind and enter other characters’ minds, you are being omniscient or godlike. If you limit your access to your protagonist’s mind only, this is limited omniscience. Let’s consider these two forms of third-person narrators before moving on to the objective or dramatic POV.

The omniscient form is rather risky, but it is certainly used, and it can certainly serve a worthwhile function. With this form, the author knows everything that has occurred, is occurring, or will occur in a given place, or in given places, for all the characters in the story. The author can provide historical background, look into the future, and even speculate on characters and make judgments. This point of view, writers tend to feel today, is more the method of nineteenth-century fiction, and not for today. It seems like too heavy an authorial footprint. Not handled well—and it is difficult to handle well—the characters seem to be pawns of an all-knowing author.

Today’s omniscience tends to take the form of multiple points of view, sometimes alternating, sometimes in sections. An author is behind it all, but the author is effaced, not making an appearance. BUT there are notable examples of well-handled authorial omniscience–read Nobel-prize winning Jose Saramago’s Blindness  as a good example.

For more help, here’s an article I wrote on the omniscient point of view for  The Writer : https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/fiction/omniscient-pov/

The limited omniscient form is typical of much of today’s fiction. You stick to your protagonist’s mind. You see others from the outside. Even so, you do have to be careful that you don’t get out of this point of view from time to time, and bring in things the character can’t see or observe—unless you want to stand outside this character, and therein lies the omniscience, however limited it is.

But anyway, note the difference between: “George’s smiles were very welcoming” and “George felt like his smiles were very welcoming”—see the difference? In the case of the first, we’re seeing George from the outside; in the case of the second, from the inside. It’s safer to stay within your protagonist’s perspective as much as possible and not describe them from the outside. Doing so comes off like a point-of-view shift. Yet it’s true that in some stories, the narrator will describe what the character is wearing, tell us what his hopes and dreams are, mention things he doesn’t know right now but will later—and perhaps, in rather quirky stories, the narrator will even say something like “Our hero…” This can work, and has, if you create an interesting narrative voice. But it’s certainly a risk.

The dramatic or objective point of view is one you’ll probably use from time to time, but not throughout your whole novel. Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” is handled with this point of view. Mostly, with maybe one exception, all we know is what the characters say and do, as in a play. Using this point of view from time to time in a longer work can certainly create interest. You can intensify a scene sometimes with this point of view. An interesting back and forth can be accomplished, especially if the dialogue is clipped.

I’ve saved the second-person point of view for the last. I would advise you not to use this point of view for an entire work. In his short novel Bright Lights, Big City , Jay McInerney famously uses this point of view, and with some force, but it’s hard to pull off. In lesser hands, it can get old. You also cause the reader to become the character. Does the reader want to become this character? One problem with this point of view is it may seem overly arty, an attempt at sophistication. I think it’s best to choose either first or third.

Here’s an article I wrote on use of second person for  The Writer magazine. Check it out if you’re interested. https://www.writermag.com/2016/11/02/second-person-pov/

Writing Fiction: Protagonist and Plot and Structure

We come now to plot, keeping in mind character. You might consider the traditional five-stage structure : exposition, rising action, crisis and climax, falling action, and resolution. Not every plot works this way, but it’s a tried-and-true structure. Certainly a number of pieces of literature you read will begin in media re s—that is, in the middle of things. Instead of beginning with standard exposition, or explanation of the condition of the protagonist’s life at the story’s starting point, the author will begin with a scene. But even so, as in Jerzy Kosiński’s famous novella Being There , which begins with a scene, we’ll still pick up the present state of the character’s life before we see something that complicates it or changes the existing equilibrium. This so-called complication can be something apparently good—like winning the lottery—or something decidedly bad—like losing a huge amount of money at the gaming tables. One thing is true in both cases: whatever has happened will cause the character to change. And so now you have to fill in the events that bring this about.

How do you do that? One way is to write a chapter outline to prevent false starts. But some writers don’t like plotting in this fashion, but want to discover as they write. If you do plot your novel in advance, do realize that as you write, you will discover a lot of things about your character that you didn’t have in mind when you first set pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard. And so, while it’s a good idea to do some planning, do keep your options open.

Let’s think some more about plot. To have a workable plot, you need a sequence of actions or events that give the story an overall movement. This includes two elements which we’ll take up later: foreshadowing and echoing (things that prepare us for something in the future and things that remind us of what has already happened). These two elements knit a story together.

Think carefully about character motivations. Some things may happen to your character; some things your character may decide to do, however wisely or unwisely. In the revision stage, if not earlier, ask yourself: What motivates my character to act in one way or another? And ask yourself: What is the overall logic of this story? What caused my character to change? What were the various forces, whether inner or outer, that caused this change? Can I describe my character’s overall arc, from A to Z?  Try to do that. Write a short paragraph. Then try to write down your summary in one sentence, called a log line in film script writing, but also a useful technique in fiction writing as well. If you write by the discovery method, you probably won’t want to do this in the midst of the drafting, but at least in the revision stage, you should consider doing so.

With a novel you may have a subplot or two. Assuming you will, you’ll need to decide how the plot and the subplot relate. Are they related enough to make one story? If you think the subplot is crucial for the telling of your tale, try to say why—in a paragraph, then in a sentence.

Here’s an article I wrote on structure for  The Writer : https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/revision-grammar/find-novels-structure/

Writing Fiction: Setting

Let’s move on to setting . Your novel has to take place somewhere. Where is it? Is it someplace that is particularly striking and calls for a lot of solid description? If it’s a wilderness area where your character is lost, give your reader a strong sense for the place. If it’s a factory job, and much of the story takes place at the worksite, again readers will want to feel they’re there with your character, putting in the hours. If it’s an apartment and the apartment itself isn’t related to the problems your character is having, then there’s no need to provide that much detail. Exception: If your protagonist concentrates on certain things in the apartment and begins to associate certain things about the apartment with their misery, now there’s reason to get concrete. Take a look, when you have a chance, at the short story “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” It’s not an apartment—it’s a house—but clearly the setting itself becomes important when it becomes important to the character. She reads the wallpaper as a statement about her own condition.

Here’s the URL for ”The Yellow Wall-Paper”: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/theliteratureofprescription/exhibitionAssets/digitalDocs/The-Yellow-Wall-Paper.pdf

Sometimes setting is pretty important; sometimes it’s much less important. When it doesn’t serve a purpose to describe it, don’t, other than to give the reader a sense for where the story takes place. If you provide very many details, even in a longer work like a novel, the reader will think that these details have some significance in terms of character, plot, or theme—or all three. And if they don’t, why are they there? If setting details are important, be selective. Provide a dominant impression. More on description below.

If you’re interested, here’s a blog on setting I wrote for Writers.com: https://writers.com/what-is-the-setting-of-a-story

Writing Fiction: Theme and Idea

Most literary works have a theme or idea. It’s possible to decide on this theme before you write, as you plan out your novel. But be careful here. If the theme seems imposed on the work, the novel will lose a lot of force. It will seem—and it may well be—engineered by the author much like a nonfiction piece, and lose the felt experience of the characters.

Theme must emerge from the work naturally, or at least appear to do so. Once you have a draft, you can certainly build ideas that are apparent in the work, and you can even do this while you’re generating your first draft. But watch out for overdoing it. Let the characters (what they do, what they say) and the plot (the whole storyline with its logical connections) contribute on their own to the theme. Also you can depend on metaphors, similes, and analogies to point to the theme—as long as these are not heavy-handed. Avoid authorial intrusion, authorial impositions of any kind. If you do end up creating a simile, metaphor, or analogy through rational thinking, make sure it sounds  natural. That’s not easy, of course.

Writing Fiction: Handling Scenes

Keep a few things in mind about writing scenes. Not every event deserves a whole scene, maybe only a half-scene, a short interaction between characters. Scenes need to do two things: reveal character and advance plot. If a scene seems to stall out and lack interest, in the revision mode you might try using narrative summary instead (see below).

Good fiction is strongly dramatic, calling for scenes, many of them scenes with dialogue and action. Scenes need to involve conflict of some kind. If everyone is happy, that’s probably going to be a dull scene. Some scenes will be narrative, without dialogue. You need some interesting action to make these work.

Let’s consider scenes with dialogue.

The best dialogue is speech that sounds natural, and yet isn’t. Everything about fiction is an artifice, including speech. But try to make it sound real. The best way to do this is to “hear” the voices in your head and transcribe them. Take dictation. If you can do this, whole conversations will seem very real, believable. If you force what each character has to say, and plan it out too much, it will certainly sound planned out, and not real at all. Not that in the revision mode you can’t doctor up the speech here and there, but still, make sure it comes off as natural sounding.

Some things to think about when writing dialogue: people usually speak in fragments, interrupt each other, engage in pauses, follow up a question with a comment that takes the conversation off course (non sequiturs). Note these aspects of dialogue in the fiction you read.

Also, note how writers intersperse action with dialogue, setting details, and character thoughts. As far as the latter goes, though, if you’ll recall, I spoke of the dramatic point of view, which doesn’t get into a character’s mind but depends instead on what characters do and say, as in a play. You may try this point of view out in some scenes to make them really move.

One technique is to use indirect dialogue, or summary of what a character said, not in the character’s own words. For instance: Bill made it clear that he wasn’t going to the city after all. If anybody thought that, they were wrong .

Now and then you’ll come upon dialogue that doesn’t use the standard double quotes, but perhaps a single quote (this is British), or dashes, or no punctuation at all. The latter two methods create some distance from the speech. If you want to give your work a surreal quality, this certainly adds to it. It also makes it seem more interior.

One way to kill good dialogue is to make characters too obviously expository devices—that is, functioning to provide background or explanations of certain important story facts. Certainly characters can serve as expository devices, but don’t be too heavy-handed about this. Don’t force it like the following:

“We always used to go to the beach, you recall? You recall how first we would have breakfast, then take a long walk on the beach, and then we would change into our swimsuits, and spend an hour in the water. And you recall how we usually followed that with a picnic lunch, maybe an hour later.”

This sounds like the character is saying all this to fill the reader in on backstory. You’d need a motive for the utterance of all of these details—maybe sharing a memory?

But the above sounds stilted, doesn’t it?

One final word about dialogue. Watch out for dialogue tags that tell but don’t show . Here’s an example:

“Do you think that’s the case,” said Ted, hoping to hear some good news. “Not necessarily,” responded Laura, in a barky voice. “I just wish life wasn’t so difficult,” replied Ted.

If you’re going to use a tag at all—and many times you don’t need to—use “said.” Dialogue tags like the above examples can really kill the dialogue.

Writing Fiction: Writing Solid Prose

Narrative summary :  As I’ve stated above, not everything will be a scene. You’ll need to write narrative summary now and then. Narrative summary telescopes time, covering a day, a week, a month, a year, or even longer. Often it will be followed up by a scene, whether a narrative scene   or one with dialogue. Narrative summary can also relate how things generally went over a given period. You can write strong narrative summary if you make it specific and concrete—and dramatic. Also, if we hear the voice of the writer, it can be interesting—if the voice is compelling enough.

Exposition : It’s the first stage of the 5-stage plot structure, where things are set up prior to some sort of complication, but more generally, it’s a prose form which tells or informs. You use exposition when you get inside your character, dealing with his or her thoughts and emotions, memories, plans, dreams. This can be difficult to do well because it can come off too much like authorial “telling” instead of “showing,” and readers want to feel like they’re experiencing the world of the protagonist, not being told about this world. Still, it’s important to get inside characters, and exposition is often the right tool, along with narrative summary, if the character is remembering a sequence of events from the past.

Description :  Description is a word picture, providing specific and concrete details to allow the reader to see, not just be told. Concreteness is putting the reader in the world of the five senses, what we call imagery . Some writers provide a lot of details, some only a few—just enough that the reader can imagine the rest. Consider choosing details that create a dominant impression—whether it’s a character or a place. Similes, metaphors, and analogies help readers see people and places and can make thoughts and ideas (the reflections of your character or characters) more interesting. Not that you should always make your reader see. To do so might cause an overload of images.

Check out these two articles: https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/fiction/the-definitive-guide-to-show-dont-tell/ https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/fiction/figurative-language-in-fiction/

Writing Fiction: Research

Some novels require research. Obviously historical novels do, but others do, too, like Sci Fi novels. Almost any novel can call for a little research. Here’s a short article I wrote for The Writer magazine on handling research materials. It’s in no way an in-depth commentary on research–but it will serve as an introduction. https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/fiction/research-in-fiction/

For a blog on novel writing, check this link at Writers.com: https://writers.com/novel-writing-tips

For more articles I’ve published in  The Writer , go here: https://www.writermag.com/author/jack-smith/

How to Start Writing Fiction: Take a Writing Class!

To write a story or even write a book, fiction writers need these tools first and foremost. Although there’s no comprehensive guide on how to write fiction for beginners, working with these elements of fiction will help your story bloom.

All six elements synergize to make a work of fiction, and like most works of art, the sum of these elements is greater than the individual parts. Still, you might find that you struggle with one of these elements, like maybe you’re great at writing characters but not very good with exploring setting. If this is the case, then use your strengths: use characters to explore the setting, or use style to explore themes, etc.

Getting the first draft written is the hardest part, but it deserves to be written. Once you’ve got a working draft of a story or novel and you need an extra set of eyes, the Writers.com community is here to give feedback: take a look at our upcoming courses on fiction writing, and check out our talented writing community .

Good luck, and happy writing!

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I have had a story in my mind for over 15 years. I just haven’t had an idea how to start , putting it down on print just seems too confusing. After reading this article I’m even more confused but also more determined to give it a try. It has given me answers to some of my questions. Thank you !

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You’ve got this, Earl!

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Just reading this as I have decided to attempt a fiction work. I am terrible at writing outside of research papers and such. I have about 50 single spaced pages “written” and an entire outline. These tips are great because where I struggle it seems is drawing the reader in. My private proof reader tells me it is to much like an explanation and not enough of a story, but working on it.

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first class

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Writing Beginner

What Is Creative Writing? (Ultimate Guide + 20 Examples)

Creative writing begins with a blank page and the courage to fill it with the stories only you can tell.

I face this intimidating blank page daily–and I have for the better part of 20+ years.

In this guide, you’ll learn all the ins and outs of creative writing with tons of examples.

What Is Creative Writing (Long Description)?

Creative Writing is the art of using words to express ideas and emotions in imaginative ways. It encompasses various forms including novels, poetry, and plays, focusing on narrative craft, character development, and the use of literary tropes.

Bright, colorful creative writer's desk with notebook and typewriter -- What Is Creative Writing

Table of Contents

Let’s expand on that definition a bit.

Creative writing is an art form that transcends traditional literature boundaries.

It includes professional, journalistic, academic, and technical writing. This type of writing emphasizes narrative craft, character development, and literary tropes. It also explores poetry and poetics traditions.

In essence, creative writing lets you express ideas and emotions uniquely and imaginatively.

It’s about the freedom to invent worlds, characters, and stories. These creations evoke a spectrum of emotions in readers.

Creative writing covers fiction, poetry, and everything in between.

It allows writers to express inner thoughts and feelings. Often, it reflects human experiences through a fabricated lens.

Types of Creative Writing

There are many types of creative writing that we need to explain.

Some of the most common types:

  • Short stories
  • Screenplays
  • Flash fiction
  • Creative Nonfiction

Short Stories (The Brief Escape)

Short stories are like narrative treasures.

They are compact but impactful, telling a full story within a limited word count. These tales often focus on a single character or a crucial moment.

Short stories are known for their brevity.

They deliver emotion and insight in a concise yet powerful package. This format is ideal for exploring diverse genres, themes, and characters. It leaves a lasting impression on readers.

Example: Emma discovers an old photo of her smiling grandmother. It’s a rarity. Through flashbacks, Emma learns about her grandmother’s wartime love story. She comes to understand her grandmother’s resilience and the value of joy.

Novels (The Long Journey)

Novels are extensive explorations of character, plot, and setting.

They span thousands of words, giving writers the space to create entire worlds. Novels can weave complex stories across various themes and timelines.

The length of a novel allows for deep narrative and character development.

Readers get an immersive experience.

Example: Across the Divide tells of two siblings separated in childhood. They grow up in different cultures. Their reunion highlights the strength of family bonds, despite distance and differences.

Poetry (The Soul’s Language)

Poetry expresses ideas and emotions through rhythm, sound, and word beauty.

It distills emotions and thoughts into verses. Poetry often uses metaphors, similes, and figurative language to reach the reader’s heart and mind.

Poetry ranges from structured forms, like sonnets, to free verse.

The latter breaks away from traditional formats for more expressive thought.

Example: Whispers of Dawn is a poem collection capturing morning’s quiet moments. “First Light” personifies dawn as a painter. It brings colors of hope and renewal to the world.

Plays (The Dramatic Dialogue)

Plays are meant for performance. They bring characters and conflicts to life through dialogue and action.

This format uniquely explores human relationships and societal issues.

Playwrights face the challenge of conveying setting, emotion, and plot through dialogue and directions.

Example: Echoes of Tomorrow is set in a dystopian future. Memories can be bought and sold. It follows siblings on a quest to retrieve their stolen memories. They learn the cost of living in a world where the past has a price.

Screenplays (Cinema’s Blueprint)

Screenplays outline narratives for films and TV shows.

They require an understanding of visual storytelling, pacing, and dialogue. Screenplays must fit film production constraints.

Example: The Last Light is a screenplay for a sci-fi film. Humanity’s survivors on a dying Earth seek a new planet. The story focuses on spacecraft Argo’s crew as they face mission challenges and internal dynamics.

Memoirs (The Personal Journey)

Memoirs provide insight into an author’s life, focusing on personal experiences and emotional journeys.

They differ from autobiographies by concentrating on specific themes or events.

Memoirs invite readers into the author’s world.

They share lessons learned and hardships overcome.

Example: Under the Mango Tree is a memoir by Maria Gomez. It shares her childhood memories in rural Colombia. The mango tree in their yard symbolizes home, growth, and nostalgia. Maria reflects on her journey to a new life in America.

Flash Fiction (The Quick Twist)

Flash fiction tells stories in under 1,000 words.

It’s about crafting compelling narratives concisely. Each word in flash fiction must count, often leading to a twist.

This format captures life’s vivid moments, delivering quick, impactful insights.

Example: The Last Message features an astronaut’s final Earth message as her spacecraft drifts away. In 500 words, it explores isolation, hope, and the desire to connect against all odds.

Creative Nonfiction (The Factual Tale)

Creative nonfiction combines factual accuracy with creative storytelling.

This genre covers real events, people, and places with a twist. It uses descriptive language and narrative arcs to make true stories engaging.

Creative nonfiction includes biographies, essays, and travelogues.

Example: Echoes of Everest follows the author’s Mount Everest climb. It mixes factual details with personal reflections and the history of past climbers. The narrative captures the climb’s beauty and challenges, offering an immersive experience.

Fantasy (The World Beyond)

Fantasy transports readers to magical and mythical worlds.

It explores themes like good vs. evil and heroism in unreal settings. Fantasy requires careful world-building to create believable yet fantastic realms.

Example: The Crystal of Azmar tells of a young girl destined to save her world from darkness. She learns she’s the last sorceress in a forgotten lineage. Her journey involves mastering powers, forming alliances, and uncovering ancient kingdom myths.

Science Fiction (The Future Imagined)

Science fiction delves into futuristic and scientific themes.

It questions the impact of advancements on society and individuals.

Science fiction ranges from speculative to hard sci-fi, focusing on plausible futures.

Example: When the Stars Whisper is set in a future where humanity communicates with distant galaxies. It centers on a scientist who finds an alien message. This discovery prompts a deep look at humanity’s universe role and interstellar communication.

Watch this great video that explores the question, “What is creative writing?” and “How to get started?”:

What Are the 5 Cs of Creative Writing?

The 5 Cs of creative writing are fundamental pillars.

They guide writers to produce compelling and impactful work. These principles—Clarity, Coherence, Conciseness, Creativity, and Consistency—help craft stories that engage and entertain.

They also resonate deeply with readers. Let’s explore each of these critical components.

Clarity makes your writing understandable and accessible.

It involves choosing the right words and constructing clear sentences. Your narrative should be easy to follow.

In creative writing, clarity means conveying complex ideas in a digestible and enjoyable way.

Coherence ensures your writing flows logically.

It’s crucial for maintaining the reader’s interest. Characters should develop believably, and plots should progress logically. This makes the narrative feel cohesive.

Conciseness

Conciseness is about expressing ideas succinctly.

It’s being economical with words and avoiding redundancy. This principle helps maintain pace and tension, engaging readers throughout the story.

Creativity is the heart of creative writing.

It allows writers to invent new worlds and create memorable characters. Creativity involves originality and imagination. It’s seeing the world in unique ways and sharing that vision.

Consistency

Consistency maintains a uniform tone, style, and voice.

It means being faithful to the world you’ve created. Characters should act true to their development. This builds trust with readers, making your story immersive and believable.

Is Creative Writing Easy?

Creative writing is both rewarding and challenging.

Crafting stories from your imagination involves more than just words on a page. It requires discipline and a deep understanding of language and narrative structure.

Exploring complex characters and themes is also key.

Refining and revising your work is crucial for developing your voice.

The ease of creative writing varies. Some find the freedom of expression liberating.

Others struggle with writer’s block or plot development challenges. However, practice and feedback make creative writing more fulfilling.

What Does a Creative Writer Do?

A creative writer weaves narratives that entertain, enlighten, and inspire.

Writers explore both the world they create and the emotions they wish to evoke. Their tasks are diverse, involving more than just writing.

Creative writers develop ideas, research, and plan their stories.

They create characters and outline plots with attention to detail. Drafting and revising their work is a significant part of their process. They strive for the 5 Cs of compelling writing.

Writers engage with the literary community, seeking feedback and participating in workshops.

They may navigate the publishing world with agents and editors.

Creative writers are storytellers, craftsmen, and artists. They bring narratives to life, enriching our lives and expanding our imaginations.

How to Get Started With Creative Writing?

Embarking on a creative writing journey can feel like standing at the edge of a vast and mysterious forest.

The path is not always clear, but the adventure is calling.

Here’s how to take your first steps into the world of creative writing:

  • Find a time of day when your mind is most alert and creative.
  • Create a comfortable writing space free from distractions.
  • Use prompts to spark your imagination. They can be as simple as a word, a phrase, or an image.
  • Try writing for 15-20 minutes on a prompt without editing yourself. Let the ideas flow freely.
  • Reading is fuel for your writing. Explore various genres and styles.
  • Pay attention to how your favorite authors construct their sentences, develop characters, and build their worlds.
  • Don’t pressure yourself to write a novel right away. Begin with short stories or poems.
  • Small projects can help you hone your skills and boost your confidence.
  • Look for writing groups in your area or online. These communities offer support, feedback, and motivation.
  • Participating in workshops or classes can also provide valuable insights into your writing.
  • Understand that your first draft is just the beginning. Revising your work is where the real magic happens.
  • Be open to feedback and willing to rework your pieces.
  • Carry a notebook or digital recorder to jot down ideas, observations, and snippets of conversations.
  • These notes can be gold mines for future writing projects.

Final Thoughts: What Is Creative Writing?

Creative writing is an invitation to explore the unknown, to give voice to the silenced, and to celebrate the human spirit in all its forms.

Check out these creative writing tools (that I highly recommend):

Recommended ToolsLearn More
Jasper AI
Show Not Tell GPT
Dragon Professional Speech Dictation and Voice Recognition
Surface Laptop
Bluehost
Sqribble (eBook maker)

Read This Next:

  • What Is a Prompt in Writing? (Ultimate Guide + 200 Examples)
  • What Is A Personal Account In Writing? (47 Examples)
  • How To Write A Fantasy Short Story (Ultimate Guide + Examples)
  • How To Write A Fantasy Romance Novel [21 Tips + Examples)

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Last updated on Dec 23, 2022

Creative Writing: 8 Fun Ways to Get Started

Creative writing is a written art form that uses the imagination to tell stories and compose essays, poetry, screenplays, novels, lyrics, and more. It can be defined in opposition to the dry and factual types of writing found in academic, technical, or journalistic texts.

Characterized by its ability to evoke emotion and engage readers, creative writing can tackle themes and ideas that one might struggle to discuss in cold, factual terms.

If you’re interested in the world of creative writing, we have eight fantastic exercises and activities to get you started.

6S7yB12Gjxs Video Thumb

1. Use writing prompts every week

Illustration of a writer getting ready for a creative writing contest

Coming up with ideas for short stories can be challenging, which is why we created a directory of 1700+ creative writing prompts covering a wide range of genres and topics. Writing prompts are flexible in nature, they are meant to inspire you without being too constrictive. Overall, they are a great way to keep your creative muscles limber.

Example of Reedsy's Creative Writing Prompts

If you’re struggling for motivation, how does a hard deadline and a little prize money sound? Prompts-based writing contests are a fantastic way to dive into creative writing: the combination of due dates, friendly rivalries, prize money, and the potential to have your work published is often just what’s needed to propel you over the finish line. 

We run a weekly writing contest over on Reedsy Prompts , where hundreds of writers from all around the world challenge themselves weekly to write a short story between 1,000 and 3,000 words for a chance to win the $250 prize. Furthermore, the community is very active in providing constructive feedback, support, and accountability to each other 一 something that will make your efforts even more worthwhile.

Take a peek at our directory of writing contests which features some of the most prestigious open writing competitions in the world. 

2. Start journaling your days

Illustration of a writer journaling in autumn

Another easy way to get started with creative writing is to keep a journal. We’re not talking about an hour-by-hour account of your day, but journaling as a way to express yourself without filters and find your ‘voice in writing’. If you’re unsure what to journal about, think of any daily experiences that have had an impact on you, such as… 

Special moments . Did you lock yourself out of your house? Or did you catch a beautiful sunset on your way back from groceries? Capture those moments, and how you felt about them.

People . Did you have an unusual exchange with a stranger at the bar? Or did you reconnect with someone you haven’t seen in years? Share your thoughts about it.

World events . Is there something happening in the world right now that is triggering you? That’s understandable. You can reflect on it (and let some steam off) while journaling.

Memories . Did you go down memory lane after a glass of wine? Great, honor those memories by trying to recollect them in detail on paper so that they will always stay vivid in your mind.

Life decisions . Are you having an existential crisis about what to do with your life? Write down your thought process, and the pros and cons of the possible decisions in front of you. You’ll be surprised to discover that, not only is it a great creative writing exercise, but it can also actually help you sort your life out! 

If you struggle to write consistently, sign up for our How to Write a Novel course to finish a novel in just 3 months.  

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3. Create an anonymous social media account

Illustration of a writer thinking

Like anonymous blogging, an incognito Twitter account sidesteps the pressure that comes with attaching your name to your work. Anonymously putting tiny stories out into the ether gives you the freedom to create without worrying about the consequences — which is great, so long as you don’t use it as an opportunity to troll people or spread conspiracy theories. 

You could use the anonymous account in different ways. For example, you could…

  • Tweet from unique perspectives (e.g. a dog observing human behavior );
  • Create a parody account of real or fictional people (e.g. an English poet from the Middle Ages );
  • Challenge yourself to write tiny flash fiction stories that fit into Twitter threads.

Just remember, you’re not doing this to fool anyone into thinking that your account is real: be a good citizen and mark yourself a fiction account in your bio. 

How to Start Creative Writing | Screenshot of a tweet by the Twitter account

But if you’re not really a social media kinda person, you may enjoy our next tip, which is a bit more on the analog side.

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4. Find an old photo and tell its story

Illustration of a photo-inspired journaling exercise

Find a random old photo — maybe on the web, maybe from a photo album in a yard sale — and see what catches your attention. Look closely at it and try to imagine the story behind it. What was happening? Who are the people in it and how are they really feeling? Do they share a relationship, and of what kind? What are their goals and dreams?

In other words, bring the photo to life with your imagination. Don't be afraid to take artistic license with your story, as the goal is to be creative and have fun while writing. 

How do you know it’s creative writing?

Creative Writing | info card listing 5 headers below

5. Create a character from a random name

Illustration of a young poet and a warrior back to back

Just as our universe started from a few simple elements, you can create a character from a few basic information, like their name, culture, and gender. Reedsy’s handy character name generator can help you with that, offering random names based on archetypes, Medieval roots, fantasy traits and more. A few examples? A Celtic heroine named Fíona O'Keefe, a hero’s sidekick named Aderine, or a Korean track star named Park Kang-Dae.

Once you've chosen their name, begin to develop their personality. Set a timer for 5–10 minutes and write anything that comes to mind about them. It could be a page from their FBI dossier, a childhood diary entry, or simply a scene about them boiling an egg.

Just ‘go with the flow’ and don’t stop writing until your time is up. Repeat the process a few times to further hone the personality. If you like what you end up with, you can always go deeper later by creating a character bible . 

If a stream-of-consciousness exercise is not your thing, you can try to imagine your character in a specific situation and write down how’d they respond to it. For example, what if they were betrayed by a friend? Or if they were elected in power? To help you imagine situations to put your character in, we made a free template that you can download below. 

FREE RESOURCE

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Reedsy’s Character Questionnaire

40 questions to help you develop memorable characters.

6. Construct a character by people-watching

A writer observing a person and taking notes

People watching is “the action of spending time idly observing people in a public place.” In a non-creepy way, ideally. Sit on a bench on a public square or on a road-side table at your favorite café, and start observing the people around you. Pay attention to any interesting quirks or behaviors, and write it down. Then put on your detective’s hat and try to figure out what that tells you about them.

For example, the man at the table next to you at the restaurant is reading the newspaper. His jacket and hat are neatly arranged next to him. The pages make a whipping sound as he briskly turns them, and he grimaces every time he reads a new article. Try to imagine what he’s reading, and why he’s reacting the way he is. Then, try to build a character with the information you have. It’s a fun creative exercise that will also, hopefully, help you better empathize with strangers. 

7. “Map” something you feel strongly about into a new context

Illustration of a young romance writer

Placing your feelings into new contexts can be a powerful creative writing exercise. The idea is to start from something you feel strongly about, and frame it into a completely different context. 

For example, suppose your heart is torn apart after you divorce your life-long partner: instead of journaling or crafting an entire novel  about it, you could tell a story about a legendary trapeze duo whose partnership has come to an end. If you’re struggling with politicking and petty power dynamics at the office: what if you “mapped” your feelings onto an ant who resents being part of a colony? Directing your frustration at a queen ant can be a fun and cathartic writing experience (that won’t get you in trouble if your co-workers end up reading your story).   

8. Capture the moment with a haiku

Illustration of a haiku poet inspired by the four seasons

Haikus are poems from the Japanese tradition that aim to capture, in a few words, daily moments of insight (usually inspired by nature). In a nutshell, it’s about becoming mindful of your surroundings, and notice if you can see something in a new or deeper way 一 then use contrasting imagery to express whatever you noticed. 

Here’s an example:

Bright orange bicycle

Speeding through the autumn leaves

A burst of color waves

It may sound a bit complicated, but it shouldn’t be 一 at least not for the purpose of this exercise. Learn the basics of haiku-writing , then challenge yourself to write one per day for a week or month. At the end, you’ll be able to look back at your collection of poems and 一 in the worst case scenario 一 revisit small but significant moments that you would have otherwise forgot about.   

Creative writing can be any writing you put your heart and soul into. It could be made for the purpose of expressing your feelings, exploring an idea, or simply entertaining your readers. As you can see there’s many paths to get involved with it, and hundreds of exercises you can use as a starting point. In the next post , we’ll look more in detail at some creative writing examples from some fellow authors. 

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Writers' Treasure

Effective writing advice for aspiring writers

Creative Writing 101

Creative writing is any form of writing which is written with the creativity of mind: fiction writing, poetry writing, creative nonfiction writing and more. The purpose is to express something, whether it be feelings, thoughts, or emotions.

Rather than only giving information or inciting the reader to make an action beneficial to the writer, creative writing is written to entertain or educate someone, to spread awareness about something or someone, or to express one’s thoughts.

There are two kinds of creative writing: good and bad, effective and ineffective. Bad, ineffective creative writing cannot make any impression on the reader. It won’t achieve its purpose.

So whether you’re a novelist, a poet, a short-story writer, an essayist, a biographer or an aspiring beginner, you want to improve your craft. The question is: how?

When you write great fiction, poetry, or nonfiction, amazing things can happen. Readers can’t put it down. The work you wrote becomes a bestseller. It becomes famous. But you have to reach to that level… first .

The best way to increase your proficiency in creative writing is to write, write compulsively, but it doesn’t mean write whatever you want. There are certain things you should know first… it helps to start with the right foot.

To do exactly that, here we have a beginners’ guide from Writers’ Treasure on the subject:

  • An Introduction to Creative Writing
  • How to Get Started in Creative Writing in Just Three Steps
  • Creative Writing vs. Technical Writing
  • Fiction Writing 101: The Elements of Stories
  • Poetry Writing: Forms and Terms Galore
  • Creative Non-Fiction: What is it?
  • Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Creative Writing
  • Common Mistakes Made by Creative Writers

For novelists: do you want to write compelling opening chapters?

Are you an aspiring novelist? Will your novel see the light of day? For that, you will need to make the first chapter of your story as compelling as possible. Otherwise, readers won’t even pick up your novel. That chapter can be the make-or-break point that decides whether your novel is published or not. It’s because good editors know how you write from the first three pages… or sometimes even from the opening lines.

To solve this problem, I created a five-part tutorial on Writing Compelling Opening Chapters . It outlines why you need to write a compelling opening chapter, my personal favourite way of beginning it, what should be told and shown in it, general dos and don’ts, and what you need to do after having written it. Check it out for more.

Need more writing tips?

Sometimes you reach that stage when you outgrow the beginner stage of writing but feel that you’re not yet an expert. If I just described you, no worries– Writers’ Treasure’s writing tips are here. Whether you want to make your writing more readable, more irresistible, more professional, we’ve got you covered. So check out our writing tips , and be on your way to fast track your success.

I offer writing, editing and proofreading , as well as website creation services. I’ve been in this field for seven years, and I know the tools of the trade. I’ve seen the directions where the writing industry is going, the changes, the new platforms. Get your work done through me, and get fast and efficient service. Get a quote .

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Creative Writing Tips for Beginners: 10 Top Tips

Hannah Yang headshot

Hannah Yang

creative writing tips for beginners

Creative writing can be a very fulfilling hobby.

Writing can help you explore deep questions, use your imagination, and express your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way.

If you want to learn creative writing, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn our top ten creative writing tips to help you get started.

How to Write Creatively

10 creative writing tips for beginners, how to get better at creative writing, where to find creative writing help.

Anyone can learn creative writing—all you need is a pen and paper, or your writing software of choice.

Once you’ve got your tools ready, it’s time to think of a story idea. You can draw inspiration from your own life, newspaper headlines, songs you like, or anything else around you.

If you don’t have any story ideas in mind, you can also try starting with a prompt. Here are a few creative writing prompts you can choose from:

  • Write about someone with a dangerous secret
  • Write a scene set at your favorite restaurant
  • Write a story about someone who wakes up with no memories, except for a single name
  • Write a story from the perspective of someone who isn’t human
  • Complete the sentence: “It was a completely normal Saturday except for…”

Pick up your pen, choose your favorite prompt, and start writing!

If you’re new to creative writing, here are ten fiction writing tips that you can try.

Tip 1: Read Widely

It’s hard to become a great musician without having heard a lot of great music.

The same is true for writing. Reading a lot of books is a great way to get inspired and to learn more about the anatomy of a story.

It’s important to read in whatever genre you want so you can understand the conventions of that genre. If you’re writing a fantasy story, for example, you should familiarize yourself with popular fantasy novels and short stories so you know what readers expect.

On the other hand, it’s just as important to read a diverse variety of books. Exposing yourself to lots of genres and authors can help you learn about different writing styles and techniques.

Tip 2: Experiment With Different Formats and Points of View

Creative writing can involve countless different formats. You can write a story that looks like a diary entry, a song, or a Charles Dickens novel.

Maybe you want to write a story in the form of a series of instructions to the reader, like a cooking recipe or a how-to manual.

Or maybe you want to write a story in the form of a confession from one character to another, in a mix of first-person and second-person POV.

four story formats

Try out different styles, even ones that don’t feel like your usual writing style. Doing this experimentation early on in your creative writing journey can help you find your own voice and figure out what works best for you.

Tip 3: Take Inspiration From Many Sources

No story is written in a vacuum. Every artist takes inspiration from other works of art, and you shouldn’t feel bad about writing a story that’s inspired by your favorite book or movie.

At the same time, though, it’s important not to write a story that actually plagiarizes an existing one. Directly copying the work of other creative writers is both unethical and illegal. Plus, it’s much less fun than writing your own stories.

A good rule of thumb if you’re looking for ideas is to take inspiration from many sources rather than a single one.

For example, maybe you like the sarcastic humor of one book, the sweet romance arc of another book, and the Gothic setting of your favorite TV show. When you merge those three things together, you’ll most likely create a story that feels unique and original, even though you took inspiration from existing stories.

Tip 4: Show, Don’t Tell

The phrase “Show, don’t tell” is a popular piece of writing advice that almost every writer has heard before.

Essentially, “show, don’t tell” means that you should immerse the reader in your story through sensory details and descriptive language instead of simply summarizing the story to them.

show, don't tell definition

For example, you could tell someone, “My sister’s room is messy.” That sentence conveys the facts, but the person you’re talking to probably wouldn’t be able to picture your sister’s room in their head.

On the other hand, you could say, “My sister basically uses the floor of her room as a giant laundry hamper—it’s covered with so many sweaters and scarves that I don’t even remember what color her carpet is.” This sentence gives your listener a much more specific idea of what your sister’s room looks like.

Tip 5: Write With Intention

Many newer writers put down words on the page based on what comes to mind first.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to describe a character. A new writer might note down whatever details they visualize right away, like the color of the character’s hair or the type of clothes they’re wearing.

This is a great way to write when you’re just starting out, but if you want to improve your skills, it’s important to learn how to write with intention.

Try to get in the habit of asking yourself: What details does the reader need to know and why? For example, what aspects of this character’s hair color and outfit could tell the reader something deeper about the character’s personality and motivations?

It’s also important to figure out what you want to convey emotionally. What do you want your reader to feel? Excited? Creeped out? Hopeful?

For example, you might describe a sunset as “blood-red” if you want the reader to feel creeped out, or as “glowing and bright” if you want the reader to feel hopeful.

Tip 6: Learn How to Edit

No first draft is perfect, even if you’re a seasoned writer.

Learning how to edit your work is just as important as learning how to write on a blank page. That’s how you can create a creative work you feel proud of.

One helpful tip is to try reading your work out loud. That can often help you spot places where your prose doesn’t flow.

AI-powered grammar checkers like ProWritingAid can also help you identify weaknesses in your prose and learn how to strengthen them. You can catch your grammatical mistakes, avoid unnecessary repetition, choose more evocative words, and more with our powerful tool.

Tip 7: Practice Overcoming Writer’s Block

At some point in their writing journey, every writer has reached a point where writing doesn’t feel fun anymore.

There are lots of different causes for writer’s block. You might be unsure what to write, afraid of failing, or simply burned out from writing too much.

It’s important to find ways to overcome creative blocks, so you don’t end up putting down your pen for good.

ways to overcome writer's block

One useful technique is to change your environment. If you normally write at home, try writing in a coffee shop or in your local library.

Another technique is to try a different activity for a while. Go for a walk, take a shower, do your dishes, or try another hobby. Before long, you’ll find yourself wanting to write again.

Perhaps the most underrated method is to simply take a break from writing. Give yourself permission to stop for a while—it’s always okay to take a step back.

Tip 8: Study Writing Craft

Many new writers falsely believe that writing can’t be taught; you’re either good at it or you’re not.

But the truth is that creative writing is a craft, just like woodworking, oil painting, or ballet. You wouldn’t expect anyone to be naturally good at ballet without years of training, so why is writing any different?

One way to learn new creative writing techniques is by reading craft books . Some great books to start with include On Writing by Stephen King, Story Genius by Lisa Cron, and The Creative Writer’s Handbook by Philip K. Jason.

These books can help you learn the basics of how to write well. For example, you can learn how to construct high-quality sentences, how to avoid passive voice, and how to use poetic devices.

The more you learn, the more powerful your writing will become.

Tip 9: Invent Your Own Process

When you’re just starting out as a writer, it can be tempting to copy someone else’s writing process.

Maybe you heard an interview with a bestselling author who said you have to outline a story before you draft it. Or maybe you found out your favorite author writes 1,000 words every day, and now you think you have to write 1,000 words every day too.

But it’s important to remember that no two writers have the exact same writing process. What works best for someone else might not work for you.

There’s no right or wrong way to be a creative writer. Your job is to find a writing process that makes you feel fulfilled, productive, and inspired—and if your favorite writers don’t write the same way, that’s perfectly okay.

Tip 10: Don’t Aim for Perfection

There’s a good chance your writing is never going to be perfect. Mine definitely isn’t!

Remember that writing is about the process, not the product. Even if the final product is never perfect, the process has helped you grow as a writer—and hopefully, it’s also been a lot of fun.

You should decide what your main goal for writing is. Maybe it’s writing stories you might be able to publish someday. Maybe it’s telling stories about characters you rarely see in existing stories. Maybe it’s simply a fun new hobby.

Whatever your goal is, remember that you’re already on your way to achieving it. You don’t need to aim for perfection in order to succeed.

There’s no secret to getting better at creative writing. The process is very simple—it just takes a lot of hard work.

All you have to do is follow this two-step process:

  • Step 1: Write consistently
  • Step 2: Ask for feedback on your writing

The first step is fairly self-explanatory. Whenever you’re learning a new skill, it’s important to practice it. The more you write, the more you’ll learn about how to be a successful creative writer.

The second step is the one that receives more pushback from writers because it requires a lot of courage and vulnerability, but it’s just as important as the first step.

If you don’t get feedback, you could write every day and still never improve. That’s because most people can’t spot the weaknesses in their own stories.

You can ask for feedback from your friends, family, or writing groups. They can help you see your work from a different perspective and identify areas for improvement.

As long as you write consistently and listen to the feedback on the work you’re producing, you’ll be able to create a positive cycle where you create better and better stories over time.

If you want to improve your creative writing skills, there are numerous resources you can use to find help.

One great method is to join a writing community where you can share your work and get feedback from other writers.

You can look for free critique groups online, on websites such as Scribophile and Critique Circle. Or you can start your own group with your friends.

You can also consider joining a local writing class or retreat. Many schools and community centers offer classes and workshops you can join.

Another option is to use creative writing tools. ProWritingAid can give you AI-powered suggestions about how to improve your prose and make your writing shine.

Good luck, and happy writing!

how to start writing a creative writing

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.

Hannah Yang is a speculative fiction writer who writes about all things strange and surreal. Her work has appeared in Analog Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, The Dark, and elsewhere, and two of her stories have been finalists for the Locus Award. Her favorite hobbies include watercolor painting, playing guitar, and rock climbing. You can follow her work on hannahyang.com, or subscribe to her newsletter for publication updates.

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how to start writing a creative writing

How to Develop Your Creative Writing Process

by Melissa Donovan | Feb 7, 2023 | Creative Writing | 45 comments

how to start writing a creative writing

What steps do you take in your creative writing process?

Writing experts often want us to believe that there is only one worthwhile creative writing process. It usually goes something like this:

  • Rough draft
  • Revise (repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat)
  • Edit, proof, and polish

This is a good system — it absolutely works. But does it work for everyone?

Examining the Creative Writing Process

I’ve been thinking a lot about the creative writing process. Lately I’ve found myself working on all types of projects: web pages, blog posts, a science-fiction series, and of course, books on the craft of writing .

I’ve thought about the steps I take to get a project completed and realized that the writing process I use varies from project to project and depends on the level of difficulty, the length and scope of the project, and even my state of mind. If I’m feeling inspired, a blog post will come flying out of my head. If I’m tired, hungry, or unmotivated, or if the project is complicated, then it’s a struggle, and I have to work a little harder. Brainstorming and outlining can help. A lot.

It occurred to me that I don’t have one creative writing process. I have several. And I always use the one that’s best suited for a particular project.

A Process for Every Project

I once wrote a novel with no plan whatsoever. I started with nothing more than a couple of characters. Thirty days and fifty thousand words later, I had completed the draft of a novel (thanks, NaNoWriMo!).

But usually, I need more structure than that. Whether I’m working on a blog post, a page of web copy, a nonfiction book, or a novel, I find that starting with a plan saves a lot of time and reduces the number of revisions that I have to work through later. It’s also more likely to result in a project getting completed and published.

But every plan is different. Sometimes I’ll jot down a quick list of points I want to make in a blog post. This can take just a minute or two, and it makes the writing flow fast and easy. Other times, I’ll spend weeks — even months — working out the intricate details of a story with everything from character sketches to outlines and heaps of research. On the other hand, when I wrote a book of creative writing prompts , I had a rough target for how many prompts I wanted to generate, and I did a little research, but I didn’t create an outline.

I’ve tried lots of different processes, and I continue to develop my processes over time. I also remain cognizant that whatever’s working for me right now might not work in five or ten years. I will keep revising and tweaking my process, depending on my goals.

Finding the Best Process

I’ve written a novel with no process, and I’ve written a novel by going through every step imaginable: brainstorming, character sketches, research, summarizing, outlines, and then multiple drafts, revisions, and edits.

These experiences were vastly different. I can’t say that one was more enjoyable than the other. But it’s probably worth noting that the book I wrote with no process is still sitting on my hard drive somewhere whereas the one I wrote with a methodical yet creative writing process got completed, polished, and published.

In fact, I have found that using a process generates better results if my goal is to complete and publish a project.

But not every piece of writing is destined for public consumption. Sometimes I write just for fun. No plan, no process, no pressure. I just let the words flow. Every once in a while, these projects find their way to completion and get sent out into the world.

It is only by experimenting with a variety of processes that you will find the creative writing process that works best for you. And you’ll also have to decide what “best” means. Is it the process that’s most enjoyable? Or is it the process that leads you to publication? Only you know the answer to that.

I encourage you to try different writing processes. Write a blog post on the fly. Make an outline for a novel. Do some in-depth research for an epic poem. Try the process at the top of this page, and then do some research to find other processes that you can experiment with. Keep trying new things, and when you find whatever helps you achieve your goals, stick with it, but remain open to new methods that you can bring into your process.

What’s Your Creative Writing Process?

Creative writing processes are good. The reason our predecessors developed these processes and shared them, along with a host of other writing tips, was to help us be more productive and produce better writing. Techniques and strategies can be helpful, but it’s our responsibility to know what works for us as individuals and as creative writers and to know what will cause us to infinitely spin our wheels.

What’s your creative writing process? Do you have one? Do you ever get stuck in the writing process? How do you get unstuck?

Ready Set Write a Guide to Creative Writing

45 Comments

Marelisa

Hi Melissa: I do a lot of research on the topic I’ve chosen to write about. As I do the research I take notes on a word perfect document. When I have a whole lot of information written down–in a jumble–I usually leave it and go do something else. Then I sit down and start to work with the information I’ve gathered and just start writing. The first draft I come up with is usually pretty bad, and then I revise and revise until I have something beautiful that I feel is fit to share with the rest of the world. That’s when I hit the “publish” button 🙂 I’m trying to implement Parkinson’s Law to focus my thinking a little more as I write so that I can get the articles out a bit faster.

joey

My favorite pre-writing process would have to be getting a nice big whiteboard and charting characters and plots down. I find that it really helps me anchor on to specific traits of a character, especially if the persona happens to be a dynamic one. Such charting helps me out dramatically in creating an evolving storyline by not allowing me to forget key twists and other storyline-intensive elements =)

That being said, my favorite pre-charting process is going out the on nights leading to it for a few rounds of beer with good friends!

Cath Lawson

Hi Melissa – I’m like you – I do different things depending on what I’m writing. With the novel I’m working on now – alot of stuff I write won’t even go into it.

Some of the stuff the gurus recommend are the kind of things I’d do if I was writing an essay – but nothing else.

Wendi Kelly

I don’t know if I have a set process. I start with morning pages and journaling. then whatever comes streaming from that gets written. As I go about my day I have a notebook that stays with me whereever I go and I am constantly writing in it, notes, ideas, themes, Sentances that begin with “I wonder…” and then then next monring the notebook is with me during quiet time and these thoughts are often carried right in to the process all over again. So…if that is a process, I guess…I never really thought about it. As I have said before, a lot of my writing also takes place in my jacuzzi..so…

I guess my process is that when its falling out of my head I try and catch it.

This will be the first year that I attempt NaNO so I will need to be more organized. This is good for thinking ahead. One of the reasons I started blogging in the first place was to get in the discipline of writing every day. That was the first step. Just creating the habit. This will be a good next step.

--Deb

These days, I feel so scattered, I feel like I’m not getting anything done at all! (grin)

Karen Swim

Melissa, I am really organized but my writing process has never followed the guidelines. I’ve tried them on for size and find that they don’t fit. Even in school, I never did outlines and drafts so I suppose I trained myself against the system! I always do research first and gather all of my notes, clips in one location. As for the writing process itself I let it rip, then go back and fine tune. It has worked for me thus far but I’m always open to trying new techniques on for size, hey if they fit I’m all on board!

Melissa Donovan

@Marelisa, that doesn’t surprise me. Your posts are comprehensive, detailed, and extremely informative. I can tell you care a lot about your topic and about your writing. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy your blog; your passion is palpable.

@Joey, I love the planning stage too. In fact, sometimes I get stuck there and never make it out. Ooh, and white boards. Yes. Those are good. Usually I just use drawing paper though. When I do NaNo, I’m going to try to do less planning. In fact, I’m going to plan in October and just write in November. I’m hoping this new strategy will result in winning my word count goal!

@Cath, I sort of pick and choose which tips from the gurus I use.

@Wendi, you write in the jacuzzi? That’s cool. Or hot. I guess it’s hot. Your process sounds really natural. I started blogging for the exact same reason — to write every day. I’m excited to hear you’re doing NaNo too. That will be fun, and we can offer each other moral support!

@Deb (Punctuality), it sounds like you have a lot going on! I get into that mode sometimes, where I’m so overwhelmed, I can’t get anything done. It’s really frustrating. Sometimes I have to shut down for a day to get my bearings and that’s the only way I can get back on track.

@Karen, that’s probably why your writing flows so well, because you just let it do its thing. I remember learning to do outlines back in 6th grade but it didn’t stick. Later, in college, we’d have to do them as assignments, so I didn’t have a choice. I realized that they sped up the writing process. Now I do them for some (but not all) projects. But I will say this: I actually enjoy outlining (weird?).

Milena

Melissa, I’m not a real writer but I do love reading how you, who are, go about the business of putting words to paper. As always, a great post. Thanks.

Deb

It is funny that you wrote about this today. I picked up an extra assignment with a today deadline. Let’s not talk about how long it’s been since I’ve written copy on that tight a deadline.

My mantra: “If it doesn’t make it I don’t get paid for it.” Rinse and repeat.

Also, I grew to enjoy outlining when I went back to university. Sometimes I’m happy just to outline; also known as a stall tactic.

Sam

Ah, my writing process?

1) Spit out mindgarbage! 2) Sort through mindgarbage. 3) Take out the handy scissors and glue (or rather, ctrl+c, ctrl+v…) 4) Revise Revise Revise 5) Edit, proof, polish… 6) Rewrite, revise rewrite, revise…

My prewriting is just writing. Writing trash. Then cleaning it up. 3 pages = 1 paragraph trash. Yeaaaaah.

@Milena, what do you mean you’re not a real writer? Of course you are. You write; therefore you are a writer!

@Deb, sometimes those crunch deadlines really light the fire. I’ve been amazed at what I can write in a day when there’s a client waiting for it with a nice big PayPal deposit!

@Sam, that’s a good way to get it done! Do you free-write your early drafts? I’ve been teased for editing too much, but it’s definitely worth it. You can get the good stuff early by just spattering it all over the page, and then refine it until it’s polished and sparkling!

Jenny

I never really liked the 5 step process when I wrote back in school, but I suppose that learning that did make me a better writer. I don’t have a set process, sometimes it’s just sitting at the computer and opening up my blog, or a blank page in Word. Sometimes things come from something that struck me during the day. I think I have to work on the discipline of actually sitting down to write more often! Practice makes perfect, or at least close enough, right?!?!

t.sterling

I’ve tried to figure out what my process is, but it’s different depending on what I’m writing.

Blogging – 90% of the time, there is no process at all and it shows. I’m usually writing as fast as I can think, and sometimes I can’t keep up and I may just jump to the next thought at random. I may go back and read and finish thoughts that were left incomplete. I try to write my blogs as if the reader is having a conversation with me, which makes it feel natural for me to write.

Poetry – Most times I don’t like editting unless I’m really unhappy with the first draft. Usually I’m only changing or adding punctuations. But overall, I’ll get my inspiration and after reciting a few lines in my head and an idea of where I want to go, that’s when I’ll pull out some paper (or cardboard or napkins or laptop) and write a potential masterpiece.

Story/scripts – I plan the entire story in my head. One might call it a brainstorm, but I’ll go farther and say it’s a hurricane. I won’t stop with just a story, I’ll create characters, scenes, even background music. A lot of times I’ll get the idea but I won’t be able to write anything down, like if I’m driving, rock climbing, sky diving or underwater. A lot of ideas come to me when I’m in the bathroom. Without sharing much details about that, I’ll just say I have time to think and let my imagination go to work. When I’m able to get to some paper or my laptop, I’ll write out the story and flesh it out a little until I’m done, or I’ll keep working on the story in my head and bounce it off some people to see how they would react of this happened or that happened.

I don’t like outlines, but when it comes to screenplays, they help out a lot and it’s the only time I MIGHT use one. I’ve been known to go without them though.

@Jenny, practice does make perfect! I believe that. I rarely use the five-step process on paper, but I think I often do some steps in my head, often without even realizing I’m doing them!

@t. sterling, I consistently get some of my best ideas in the shower. There must be something very inspiring about bathrooms or water. Like you, I have a bunch of different processes that I use depending on what I’m writing. And after reading all the comments, it seems like that’s how it works for a lot of writers.

J.D. Meier

I like the show me yours, show you mine tradezees.

It’s kind of long, but there’s a lot to it: http://blogs.msdn.com/jmeier/archive/2007/12/24/building-books-in-patterns-amp-practices.aspx

Thanks, J.D.

Kelvin Kao

That depends on the complexity. If it’s something simple like some of my blog posts, I just start writing without outlines. For tutorials, usually there are steps so I will write down all the steps first and re-arrange them to the order I want.

For stories, sometimes I write down the events that should happen, but sometimes I don’t. Even if I don’t explicitly write out an outline, I would still have some kind of structure in my head. And even if it’s written out, eventually I will get that into my head because it’s easier for me to sort through things that way. I think it might be a habit I developed from working as a computer programmer. I tend to rely a lot on short-term memory. I get all these details into my head, and then I try to sort things out in my mind.

Actually, you know what? I’ve just brainstormed for a story right before reading this. I already have most detailed sorted out in my head, so I will most likely write and post it tomorrow. I think I’ll post my writing process after that as well. For now I’ll sleep on it. (I think maybe that’s part of the process as well.)

Oh yes, sleeping on it is definitely part of the process. I like to insert that right between rough draft and revision. Then I do it again between revision and polish or proofread. Sounds like you do things similarly to the way I do — a little of everything with the steps varying depending on the project.

Positively Present

Great post! Thanks for sharing your insights on the writing process. As for me, I feel like I work in spurts of inspiration… Lots of writing, then editing, then writing again.

That is how I’ve always written poetry — with spurts of inspiration and freewrites. Then I will go through the pages and pull out lines and phrases to build a poem. I do use brainstorming, notes, outlines, research, etc. for other forms, but it really depends on the project.

Walter

Actually, I’m not that organize when it comes to creative writing. Most of the time I keep in tune with my thoughts. When something pop-ups (words, phrase, ideas, vocabulary) is immediately write it down on my black notebook.

I go with my own style of writing because I believe my work will speak out only if it’s unique on its own. Being imperfect, I don’t put too much effort on the grammatical construction. I believe that what’s between the words are more important the the words itself. A distinctive writer possesses this quality. 🙂

Writing down your ideas, words, phrases, etc. in your notebook is an excellent habit! However, I have to disagree with you on the importance of grammar. I think it’s essential for writers to master grammar and then (and only then) can you start breaking the rules. Of course, this may depend on what you want to write (i.e. blog versus fiction). Grammar gives writers a common or shared framework in which to construct the language, and believe it or not, there are some astute writers and editors out there who will judge your work rather harshly if the grammar is not up to par. That doesn’t mean it has to be perfect, but if you’re missing the basics, it’s likely they won’t bother reading past the first paragraph. By the way, a fast and easy way to learn grammar is by listening to the Grammar Girl podcast. Just a few minutes of listening a couple times a week will teach you more than you can imagine!

Jay Tee

I separate first draft from editing, but I’m not particular about whether I finish the whole draft before I start editing. Sometimes going back and editing the first 3 chapters gets me moving on a better line.

When I edit, I do whole read-thrus until I’m happy with the story flow. Then I use the Autocrit Editing Wizard to really polish the manuscript. After that, I’m done!

I’ve never heard of the Autocrit Editing Wizard. Sounds interesting. I usually edit short pieces like web page copy or blog posts on the fly, i.e. I will stop every couple of paragraphs and go back to re-read and edit. However, with longer works, I feel like if I start editing midway, I might lose the project and get caught up in polishing before the rough draft is nailed down. All that matters, however, is that each writer finds his or her own best method. Sounds like you’ve got it down!

Annette

LOL! I think I’ve worked through every possible type of creative process possible. From outlining the whole darned thing to working with notecards, story boards and of course just winging it, which resulted in a story with a really flat ending – unforgivable:-) And while I firmly adhere to Anne Lamott’s *&^^%# first draft, I have finally settled into a process that works for me. I now use a plot worksheet and a character worksheet. It takes me a bit longer to actually start writing but what I write works and requires less editing.

I’ve tried all the methods too, and I’m glad I did. I’ve learned that each one works for me, but in a different capacity. With creative writing, such as fiction and poetry, I just jump right in and start writing. Right now I’m working on a nonfiction, educational project using detailed outlines and note cards. I think what you’ve done is brilliant — figuring out what advice works for you and what doesn’t work and then letting your own, personalized process unfold.

Meredith

I have used all the methods, too, and I agree that the method used depends mostly on the subject matter. For novels, it also seems to depend on the genre. I can rip out a romance novel without an outline (in fact that’s the most fun way to do it). I finished a Romance for NaNoWriMo last year in three weeks. For novels with a more complicated plot at least a general outline is helpful (keeping in mind I have to be flexible enough to let the characters take over and go off in some completely different direction).

For me the single most important thing is letting a certain amount of time go by between drafting and editing. It could be days, it could be weeks. For novels it’s even better for me to let months go by. It gives me the the opportunity to look at the material with “fresh eyes”.

Probably for that reason, I tend to work on multiple projects at once: drafting one (early mornings on the weekends when I’m at my best); editing one and polishing another (weekday evenings). That way everything keeps moving forward, I never get bored and I always have new material in the pipeline.

I’m with you, Meredith! I can see how it would be fun to write a romance novel on the fly, and I’ve heard that mystery writers often use outlines because they need to incorporate plot twists and must keep track of various story threads. Another method is to outline as you write, so you have notes that you can refer back to when necessary. Allowing time to pass between writing, editing, proofreading, and polishing is absolutely essential! We know the brain will read incorrect text correctly, plugging in words and proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. That time away really does give us fresh eyes! I love your strategy for working on multiple projects simultaneously.

Brad

There are good things to be said for the traditional formula, but as you say it isn’t the only method that works. I have written eight novels and dozens upon dozens of short stories and never once sat down to do a brainstorming session to come up with ideas. I do a lot of research, but most of it as I go along during the writing process. The last three steps I think are golden though.

I do have one new organization tip to share though. If your tech savvy enough to do a local install of wordpress on your computer it can become a great writing tool. Not only does it have a simple to use word processor in the form of the posting tool, it allows you to categorize your research and there are plenty of tagging plugins that will allow you to easily cross reference notes and text.

I LOVE the idea of using a local installation of WordPress for research and novel writing. I can imagine all the benefits with links and images, even video. Hmm. I don’t know how to do a local installation, but I’m thinking another option would be to load WP onto a live domain and simply put it in permanent maintenance mode (plugin) or set up some kind of password protection to block it from the public. I definitely need to think about this as a tool. Thanks for the tip, Brad!

Chris Smith

I use Scrivener ( https://www.literatureandlatte.com/ ) for all my writing. It’s great for research and saving web pages, building characters, plotting and planning, all in one place. And best of all you can break down a story into scenes (separate documents) within Scrivener itself – something you can’t do in Word or similar. Wordpress is all very well, but you can’t see all posts/pages at once in a sidebar – something you *can* do in Scrivener. You can download a free trial of Scrivener to see whether it’s for you. Don’t be put off by the complicated look of it – you can use as much or as little of it as you like and there are some very handy videos and tips on using it. I’ve found it’s the best thing for writing blog posts, short stories, novels, scripts, you name it. It can’t hurt to give it a go.

I agree, Chris. Scrivener is amazing. I use it for fiction and poetry, and it’s made the writing process so much smoother. I highly recommend it to all writers. Plus, it’s reasonably priced.

I’m loving reading all these, but I don’t really have a process … I sit at the keyboard and hope something comes out of my fingertips … and if it doesn’t I let myself get distracted by shiny things like Twitter.

(Okay, I never said it was a PRODUCTIVE method.)

Really? I would have guessed that you use outlines at least some of the time. I definitely have to use outlines for longer works of nonfiction, and I always outline website copy when I’m writing for clients. It’s such a good (and productive) way to organize your thoughts, but for fiction and poetry (and many blog posts) I often let it flow freely, and it turns out that method is productive too 😉

Kylee

Hello Melissa, My name is Kylee and I’m 15. Being naturally gifted in journalism, its a dream or fantasy of mine to become an author. For me to get into my ‘zone’ I have to be in a completely serene enviroment for hours. I’ve written short stories and essays but would like to complete the ultimate thrill of Mine: a novel. Its frustrating really, the difficulties of finding my creative writing process. I have difficulties in making a plot complex enough, and character development. I know they are major issues but I’m having trouble perfecting my writing. If you could help me in any way, I’d gladly appreciate it. Thank you.

You’re getting an early start. The best advice I have for you is to read a lot. If you want to be a novelist, then read as many novels as you can. Try keeping a reading journal where you can write down your thoughts and observations about how other authors handle plot and character development. You’ll find that you start to read differently. Instead of reading for enjoyment or entertainment, it also becomes a fun study in your craft. You can visit my Writing Resources section or Books page to check out my recommendations for books on the craft of writing. Good luck to you!

Linda Maye Adams, Soldier, Storyteller

Mine’s pretty simple:

1. Do background research. Mostly stuff for the setting like common plants and animals, names of places, photographs. I’ll also read books to familiarize myself with whatever topic of the book in involved.

2. Start writing.

3. Do spot research as I’m writing. Search for the name of something, looking at pictures of something to help me describe it; etc.

4. Move around the scenes as I write, which is sort of like shaking out the wrinkles in a sheet. I add new things that occur to me, correct typos, etc.

That’s excellent, Linda. It sounds like you’ve nailed your process!

Meghan Adona

I have no writing process, actually. I’m the type of person who thinks while I’m writing, or I think of an image and the story comes out suddenly. I also think before I write, and imagine how the scenes will turn out. I’m a very visual person when it comes to writing. In addition, I found out that when I do plan, my stories never get drafted at all, or they do but I don’t like it. Planning never really works for me. I need to let all my ideas be out of my mind, and not from pre-writing.

All that matters is that you’ve found the process that works for you, and it sounds like you have!

Rod Raglin

Here’s a trick (procedure, technique, system, gimmick) I use when I’m writing a novel. I don’t write linearly. Some parts of the story are more appealing to me than others so depending on my mood (perhaps that should be muse) I jump around. Admittedly, connecting the scenes may take a bit of of revision since I never know where the story will eventually take me, and on occasion I’ve had to trash a significant amount. That’s okay, since my goal is to enjoy myself every time I sit down to write – and I do.

This method works well for a lot of writers. I mostly try to write my own drafts linearly, but I skip around if I’m struck with inspiration.

Every writer experiences different levels of enjoyment during the process. In my experience, most writers encounter a lot of frustration at certain points in the process. So I have come to view writing as rewarding rather than enjoyable. A lot of the work is fun, but a lot of it is difficult, tedious, even maddening. But at the end, it’s all worth it if you can push through the hard parts.

Book suggestion: The Writer’s Process, Getting Your Brain in Gear by Anne H. Janzer.

This book explains the actual psychology behind the creative process and then suggests how to apply it to your work. Some good insights.

Thanks for the recommendation, Rod. I’m always looking for books on the craft of writing to add to my collection.

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  • Creativity Techniques

26+ Creative Writing Tips for Young Writers

So you want to be a writer? And not just any writer, you want to be a creative writer. The road to being a legendary storyteller won’t be easy, but with our creative writing tips for kids, you’ll be on the right track! Creative writing isn’t just about writing stories. You could write poems, graphic novels, song lyrics and even movie scripts. But there is one thing you’ll need and that is good creative writing skills. 

Here are over 26 tips to improve your creative writing skills :

Read a wide range of books

When it comes to creative writing, reading is essential. Reading allows you to explore the styles of other writers and gain inspiration to improve your own writing. But don’t just limit yourself to reading only popular books or your favourites. Read all sorts of books, everything from fairytales to scary stories. Take a look at comics, short stories, novels and poetry. Just fill your heads with the knowledge and wisdom of other writers and soon you’ll be just like them!

Write about real-life events

The hardest thing about creative writing is connecting emotionally with your audience. By focusing your writing on real-life events, you know that in some way or another your readers will be able to relate. And with creative writing you don’t need to use real names or details – There are certain things you can keep private while writing about the rare details. Using real-life events is also a good way to find inspiration for your stories. 

Be imaginative

Be as crazy and wild as you like with your imagination. Create your world, your own monsters , or even your own language! The more imaginative your story, the more exciting it will be to read. Remember that there are no rules on what makes a good idea in creative writing. So don’t be afraid to make stuff up!

Find your writing style

Thes best writers have a particular style about them. When you think of Roald Dahl , you know his books are going to have a sense of humour. While with Dr Seuss , you’re prepared to read some funny new words . Alternatively, when you look at R.L.Stine, you know that he is all about the horror. Think about your own writing style. Do you want to be a horror writer? Maybe someone who always writes in the first person? Will always focus your books on your culture or a particular character?

Stick to a routine

Routine is extremely important to writers. If you just write some stuff here and there, it’s likely that you’ll soon give up on writing altogether! A strict routine means that every day at a certain time you will make time to write about something, anything. Even if you’re bored or can’t think of anything, you’ll still pick up that pencil and write. Soon enough you’ll get into the habit of writing good stuff daily and this is definitely important for anyone who wants to be a professional creative writer!

Know your audience

Writing isn’t just about thinking about your own interests, it’s also about thinking about the interests of your audience. If you want to excite fellow classmates, know what they like. Do they like football , monsters or a particular video game? With that knowledge, you can create the most popular book for your target audience. A book that they can’t stop reading and will recommend to others! 

Daily Exercises

To keep your creative writing skills up to scratch it is important to keep practising every day. Even if you have no inspiration. At times when your mind is blank, you should try to use tools like writing prompts , video prompts or other ways of coming up with ideas . You could even take a look at these daily writing exercises as an example. We even created a whole list of over 100 creative writing exercises to try out when you need some inspiration or ideas. 

Work together with others

Everyone needs a little help now and then. We recommend joining a writing club or finding other classmates who are also interested in writing to improve your own creative writing skills. Together you can share ideas, tips and even write a story together! A good storytelling game to play in a group is the “ finish the story” game . 

Get feedback

Without feedback, you’ll never be able to improve your writing. Feedback, whether good or bad is important to all writers. Good feedback gives you the motivation to carry on. While bad feedback just gives you areas to improve and adapt your writing, so you can be the best! After every piece of writing always try to get feedback from it, whether it is from friends, family, teachers or an online writing community .

Enter writing competitions

The best way to improve your creative writing is by entering all sorts of writing competitions . Whether it’s a poetry competition or short story competition, competitions let you compete against other writers and even help you get useful feedback on your writing. Most competitions even have rules to structure your writing, these rules can help you prepare for the real world of writing and getting your work published. And not only that you might even win some cool prizes!

Keep a notebook

Every writer’s best friend is their notebook. Wherever you go make sure you have a notebook handy to jot down any ideas you get on the go. Inspiration can come from anywhere , so the next time you get an idea instead of forgetting about it, write it down. You never know, this idea could become a best-selling novel in the future. 

Research your ideas

So, you got a couple of ideas for short stories. The next step is to research these ideas deeper. 

Researching your ideas could involve reading books similar to your ideas or going online to learn more about a particular topic. For example, if you wanted to write a book on dragons, you would want to know everything about them in history to come up with a good, relatable storyline for your book.

Create Writing Goals

How do you know if your writing is improving over time? Simple – Just create writing goals for yourself. Examples of writing goals might include, to write 100 words every day or to write 600 words by the end of next week. Whatever your goals make sure you can measure them easily. That way you’ll know if you met them or not. You might want to take a look at these bullet journal layouts for writers to help you track the progress of your writing.

Follow your passions

Writing can be tedious and many people even give up after writing a few words. The only way you can keep that fire burning is by writing about your true passions. Whatever it is you enjoy doing or love, you could just write about those things. These are the types of things you’ll enjoy researching and already know so much about, making writing a whole lot more fun!

Don’t Settle for the first draft

You finally wrote your first story. But the writing process isn’t complete yet! Now it’s time to read your story and make the all-important edits. Editing your story is more than just fixing spelling or grammar mistakes. It’s also about criticising your own work and looking for areas of improvement. For example, is the conflict strong enough? Is your opening line exciting? How can you improve your ending?

Plan before writing

Never just jump into writing your story. Always plan first! Whether this means listing down the key scenes in your story or using a storyboard template to map out these scenes. You should have an outline of your story somewhere, which you can refer to when actually writing your story. This way you won’t make basic mistakes like not having a climax in your story which builds up to your main conflict or missing crucial characters out.

It’s strange the difference it makes to read your writing out aloud compared to reading it in your head. When reading aloud you tend to notice more mistakes in your sentences or discover paragraphs which make no sense at all. You might even want to read your story aloud to your family or a group of friends to get feedback on how your story sounds. 

Pace your story

Pacing is important. You don’t want to just start and then quickly jump into the main conflict because this will take all the excitement away from your conflict. And at the same time, you don’t want to give the solution away too early and this will make your conflict too easy for your characters to solve. The key is to gradually build up to your conflict by describing your characters and the many events that lead up to the main conflict. Then you might want to make the conflict more difficult for your characters by including more than one issue in your story to solve. 

Think about themes

Every story has a theme or moral. Some stories are about friendship, others are about the dangers of trusting strangers. And a story can even have more than one theme. The point of a theme is to give something valuable to your readers once they have finished reading your book. In other words, to give them a life lesson, they’ll never forget!

Use dialogue carefully

Dialogue is a tricky thing to get right. Your whole story should not be made up of dialogue unless you’re writing a script. Alternatively, it can be strange to include no dialogue at all in your story. The purpose of dialogue should be to move your story forward. It should also help your readers learn more about a particular character’s personality and their relationship with other characters in your book. 

One thing to avoid with dialogue is… small talk! There’s no point in writing dialogue, such as “How’s the weather?”, if your story has nothing to do with the weather. This is because it doesn’t move your story along.  For more information check out this guide on how to write dialogue in a story .

Write now, edit later

Writing is a magical process. Don’t lose that magic by focusing on editing your sentences while you’re still writing your story up. Not only could this make your story sound fragmented, but you might also forget some key ideas to include in your story or take away the imagination from your writing. When it comes to creative writing, just write and come back to editing your story later.

Ask yourself questions

Always question your writing. Once done, think about any holes in your story. Is there something the reader won’t understand or needs further describing? What if your character finds another solution to solving the conflict? How about adding a new character or removing a character from your story? There are so many questions to ask and keep asking them until you feel confident about your final piece.

Create a dedicated writing space

Some kids like writing on their beds, others at the kitchen table. While this is good for beginners, going pro with your writing might require having a dedicated writing space. Some of the basics you’ll need is a desk and comfy chair, along with writing materials like pens, pencils and notebooks. But to really create an inspiring place, you could also stick some beautiful pictures, some inspiring quotes from writers and anything else that will keep you motivated and prepared. 

Beware of flowery words

Vocabulary is good. It’s always exciting when you learn a new word that you have never heard before. But don’t go around plotting in complicated words into your story, unless it’s necessary to show a character’s personality. Most long words are not natural sounding, meaning your audience will have a hard time relating to your story if it’s full of complicated words from the dictionary like Xenophobia or Xylograph .

Create believable characters

Nobody’s perfect. And why should your story characters be any different? To create believable characters, you’ll need to give them some common flaws as well as some really cool strengths. Your character’s flaws can be used as a setback to why they can’t achieve their goals, while their strengths are the things that will help win over adversity. Just think about your own strengths and weaknesses and use them as inspirations for your storybook characters. You can use the Imagine Forest character creator to plan out your story characters. 

Show, don’t tell

You can say that someone is nice or you can show them how that person is nice. Take the following as an example, “Katie was a nice girl.” Now compare that sentence to this, “Katie spent her weekends at the retirement home, singing to the seniors and making them laugh.”. The difference between the two sentences is huge. The first one sounds boring and you don’t really know why Katie is nice. While in the second sentence, you get the sense that Katie is nice from her actions without even using the word nice in the sentence!

Make the conflict impossible

Imagine the following scenario, you are a championship boxer who has won many medals over the year and the conflict is…Well, you got a boxing match coming up. Now that doesn’t sound so exciting! In fact, most readers won’t even care about the boxer winning the match or not! 

Now imagine this scenario: You’re a poor kid from New Jersey, you barely have enough money to pay the bills. You never did any professional boxing, but you want to enter a boxing competition, so you can win and use the money to pay your bills. 

The second scenario has a bigger mountain to climb. In other words, a much harder challenge to face compared to the character in the first scenario. Giving your characters an almost impossible task or conflict is essential in good story-telling.

Write powerful scenes

Scenes help build a picture in your reader’s mind without even including any actual pictures in your story. Creating powerful scenes involves more than describing the appearance of a setting, it’s also about thinking about the smell, the sounds and what your characters are feeling while they are in a particular setting. By being descriptive with your scenes, your audience can imagine themselves being right there with characters through the hard times and good times!

There’s nothing worse than an ending which leaves the reader feeling underwhelmed. You read all the way through and then it just ends in the most typical, obvious way ever! Strong endings don’t always end on a happy ending. They can end with a sad ending or a cliff-hanger.  In fact, most stories actually leave the reader with more questions in their head, as they wonder what happens next. This then gives you the opportunity to create even more books to continue the story and keep your readers hooked for life (or at least for a very long time)! 

Over 25 creative writing tips later and you should now be ready to master the art of creative writing! The most important tip for all you creative writers out there is to be imaginative! Without a good imagination, you’ll struggle to wow your audience with your writing skills. Do you have any more creative writing tips to share? Let us know in the comments!

Creative writing tips

Marty the wizard is the master of Imagine Forest. When he's not reading a ton of books or writing some of his own tales, he loves to be surrounded by the magical creatures that live in Imagine Forest. While living in his tree house he has devoted his time to helping children around the world with their writing skills and creativity.

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Creative Writing 101

You love to write and have been told you have a way with words. So you’ve decided to give writing a try—creative writing.

The problem is, you’re finding it tougher than you thought it would be.

You have a great story idea , but you’re not sure how to turn it into something people will read.

Don’t be discouraged—writing a compelling story can be grueling, even for veterans. Conflicting advice online may confuse you and make you want to quit before you start.

But you know more than you think. Stories saturate our lives.

We tell and hear stories every day in music, on television, in video games, in books, in movies, even in conversation.

  • What is Creative Writing?

Creative Writing is prose that tells a story featuring someone who wants something.

That person runs into trouble and begins an adventure, a journey, or a quest, faces obstacles, and is ultimately transformed—for the good or for the bad.

While Creative Writing can also educate and/or entertain, but it does its best work when it emotionally moves the reader.

  • Elements of Creative Writing

Writing a story is much like building a house.

You may have all the right tools and design ideas, but if your foundation isn’t solid, even the most beautiful structure won’t stand.

Most storytelling experts agree, these 7 key elements must exist in a story.

Plot (more on that below) is what happens in a story. Theme is why it happens.

Before you begin writing, determine why you want to tell your story.

What message do you wish to convey?  What will it teach the reader? 

Resist the urge to explicitly state your theme. Just tell the story, and let it make its own point.

Give your readers credit. Subtly weave your theme into the story and trust them to get it.

They may remember a great plot, but you want them thinking about your theme long after they’ve finished reading.

2. Characters

Every story needs believable characters who feel knowable.

In fiction, your main character is the protagonist, also known as the lead or hero/heroine.

The protagonist must have:

  • redeemable flaws
  • potentially heroic qualities that emerge in the climax
  • a character arc (he must be different, better, stronger by the end)

Resist the temptation to create a perfect lead. Perfect is boring. (Even Indiana Jones suffered a snake phobia.)

You also need an antagonist, the villain , who should be every bit as formidable and compelling as your hero.

Don’t make your bad guy bad just because he’s the bad guy. Make him a worthy foe by giving him motives for his actions.

Villains don’t see themselves as bad. They think they’re right! A fully rounded bad guy is much more realistic and memorable.

Depending on the length of your story , you may also need important orbital cast members.

For each character, ask:

  • What do they want?
  • What or who is keeping them from getting it?
  • What will they do about it?

The more challenges your characters face, the more relatable they are.

Much as in real life, the toughest challenges result in the most transformation.

Setting may include a location, time, or era, but it should also include how things look, smell, taste, feel, and sound.

Thoroughly research details about your setting so it informs your writing, but use those details as seasoning, not the main course. The main course is the story.

But, beware.

Agents and acquisitions editors tell me one of the biggest mistakes beginning writers make is feeling they must begin by describing the setting.

That’s important, don’t get me wrong. But a sure way to put readers to sleep is to promise a thrilling story on the cover—only to start with some variation of:

The house sat in a deep wood surrounded by…

Rather than describing your setting, subtly layer it into the story.

Show readers your setting. Don’t tell them. Description as a separate element slows your story to crawl.

By layering in what things look and feel and sound like you subtly register the setting in the theater of readers’ minds.

While they’re concentrating on the action, the dialogue , the tension , the drama, and conflict that keep them turning the pages, they’re also getting a look and feel for your setting.

4. Point of View

POV is more than which perspective you choose to tell your story: First Person ( I, me ), Second Person ( you, your ), or Third Person ( he, she, or it ).

Determine your perspective (POV) character for each scene—the one who serves as your camera and recorder—by deciding who has the most at stake. Who’s story is this?

The cardinal rule is that you’re limited to one perspective character per scene, but I prefer only one per chapter, and ideally one per novel.

Readers experience everything in your story from this character’s perspective.

For a more in-depth explanation of Voice and POV, read A Writer’s Guide to Point of View .

This is the sequence of events that make up a story —in short, what happens. It either compels your reader to keep turning pages or set the book aside.

A successful story answers:

  • What happens? (Plot)
  • What does it mean? (Theme: see above)

Writing coaches call various story structures by different names, but they’re all largely similar. All such structures include some variation of:

  • An inciting incident that changes everything
  • A series of crises that build tension
  • A resolution (or conclusion)

How effectively you create drama, intrigue, conflict, and tension, determines whether you can grab readers from the start and keep them to the end.

6. Conflict

This is the engine of fiction and crucial to effective nonfiction as well.

Readers crave conflict and what results from it.

If everything in your plot is going well and everyone is agreeing, you’ll quickly bore your reader—the cardinal sin of writing.

If two characters are chatting amicably and the scene feels flat (which it will), inject conflict. Have one say something that makes the other storm out, revealing a deep-seated rift.

Readers will stay with you to find out what it’s all about.

7. Resolution

Whether you’re an Outliner or a Pantser like me (one who writes by the seat of your pants), you must have an idea where your story is going.

How you expect the story to end should inform every scene and chapter. It may change, evolve, and grow as you and your characters do, but never leave it to chance.

Keep your lead character center stage to the very end. Everything he learns through all the complications you plunged him into should, in the end, allow him to rise to the occasion and succeed.

If you get near the end and something’s missing, don’t rush it. Give your ending a few days, even a few weeks if necessary.

Read through everything you’ve written. Take a long walk. Think about it. Sleep on it. Jot notes. Let your subconscious work. Play what-if games. Reach for the heart, and deliver a satisfying ending that resonates .

Give your readers a payoff for their investment by making it unforgettable.

  • 14 Types of Creative Writing 

Novels are fiction by definition. Lengths typically fall between 75,000 to 100,000 words. The author must create a story that can carry an entire book.

Novellas usually run between 10,000 and 40,000 words and typically follow a single character’s point of view. Otherwise, they tend to feature the structural and narrative elements of a full-length novel. Example: Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.

Short Story

Short stories, including super short micro or flash fiction—which can be as short as just a few words, are usually between a thousand and five thousand words and thus must telescope the creative writing techniques and properties of a novel. This creative writing type gained popularity during the 19th century in literary magazines, and many such magazines still carry short stories.

Narrative Nonfiction

Also known as Creative Nonfiction, this form displays techniques and literary styles such as story and tone to convey emotion in nonfiction narratives. A common example is a personal essay.

Biographies capture the stories of individuals whose lives can provide a lesson to readers.

Autobiography

An autobiography is written by the author, about the author, following a chronological account of their life.

As opposed to an autobiography, a memoir emphasizes takeaway value to the reader and is thus theme-oriented. Readers should be able to see themselves in the anecdotes chosen to show life transformation. Creative writing techniques similar to those in a novel will bring the story to life.

Poets use traditional structures such as rhyme, rhythm, and subject matter to tell their stories. They can also experiment with prose-poetry or free verse.

Song lyrics

Song lyrics are another form of poetry, the aim being to tell a story in the fewest, most evocative words possible.

Speeches require creative writing to keep audiences engaged.

A blog is usually based on the writer’s own life and interests. The best ones tell stories readers relate to and interact with.

Journaling, usually intended for the author’s eyes only, can become, in essence, a creatively written diary.

Screenwriting

Screenwriting is a form of scriptwriting specific to television shows, films, and other visual media. Screenwriting relies heavily on dialogue to tell a story, but not exclusively. The writer must include action and response takes.

Playwriting

Playwriting is a form of scriptwriting specific to theater productions, again relying heavily on dialogue and action. Playwriting also requires stage direction suggestions for lighting, sound, and actors.

  • 11 Creative Writing Tips

In How to Write a Novel , I cover each step of the writing process:

Come up with a great story idea .

That may sound obvious, but make sure it’s compelling enough to draw you back to the keyboard every day.

Determine whether you’re an Outliner or a Pantser or a Hybrid.

If you’re an Outliner, you prefer to map out everything before you start writing your novel.

If you’re a Pantser, you write by the seat of your pants, putting, as Stephen King advises, interesting characters in difficult situations and writing to find out what happens.

I cover both types and how to structure a novel here .

And though I’m primarily a Pantser, I never start writing a novel without an idea where I’m going — or think I’m going.

Create an unforgettable main character.

Resist the temptation to create a perfect character, even if it’s a superhero. Main characters must exhibit human flaws to make them relatable.

For more on character development, check out my blog posts Your Ultimate Guide to Character Development: 9 Steps to Creating Memorable Heroes , How to Create a Powerful Character Arc , and Character Motivation: How to Craft Realistic Characters .

Expand your idea into a plot.

Regardless of whether you’re a Panster or an Outliner, you need some semblance of a structure.

Dean Koontz calls this the Classic Story Structure (in his How to Write Best-Selling Fiction ):

  • Plunge the main character into terrible trouble
  • Everything the character does to get out of trouble makes things worse until…
  • All appears hopeless
  • The qualities the main character develops trying to fix the trouble make him heroic enough to succeed in the end

Conduct your research.

The best fiction must ironically feel believable.

You must research to add flavor and authenticity.

One caveat : Resist the urge to show off your research by loading your story with every esoteric fact you’ve learned. Add specifics the way you would season food. It enhances the experience, but it’s not the main course.

Choose your Voice and Point of View.

Point of View (POV) is more than simply deciding what voice to use:

First Person ( I, me ), Second Person ( you, your ), or Third Person ( he, she, or it ).

It also involves deciding who will be your perspective character, serving as your story’s camera.

The cardinal rule is one POV character per scene .

For a more in-depth explanation, read my post A Writer’s Guide to Point of View .

Start in medias res (in the midst of things).

Grab the reader by the throat on page one.

Avoid what’s called throat clearing—too much scene setting and description. Get to the good stuff—the guts of the story .

The goal of every sentence, in fact of every word , is to compel the reader to read the next.

Intensify your main character’s problems.

Do not give him a break. Remember, conflict is the engine of fiction.

(For more on conflict, read my post Internal and External Conflict: Tips for Creating Unforgettable Characters )

Your main character’s trouble should escalate with his every attempt to fix it.

Make the predicament appear hopeless.

You’ll be tempted to give your protagonist a break, invent an escape, or inject a miracle. Don’t do it!

This darkest, bleakest moment forces your hero to use every new skill and muscle gained through battling those obstacles.

The more hopeless the situation appears, the more powerful your climax will be.

Bring it all to a climax.

This is where your hero faces his toughest test yet. The stakes must be dire, the prospect of failure catastrophic.

The tension that has been building throughout crescendos during an ultimate confrontation, and all the major book-length setups are paid off.

Note: the climax is not the end. The real conclusion ties up loose ends and puts the journey into perspective.

Leave readers wholly satisfied.

A great ending :

  • Honors the reader for his investment of time and money.
  • Aims for the heart.
  • Keeps your hero on stage till the last word.

Don’t rush it.

A fully satisfying ending drops the curtain with a resounding thud.

  • More to Think About

1. Carry a writing pad, electronic or otherwise. I like the Moleskine™ notebook . 

Ideas can come at any moment. Record ideas for:

  • Anything that might expand your story

2. Start small. 

Take time to learn the craft and hone your skills on smaller projects before attempting to write a book . A book is not where you start; it’s where you arrive.

Journal. Write a newsletter. Start a blog. Write short stories . Submit articles to magazines, newspapers, or e-zines.

Take a night school or online course in journalism or creative writing. Attend a writers conference.

3. Keep perfectionism in its place. 

Reserve it for the editing and revision stage.

While writing, take off that perfectionist cap and just get the story down. At that stage, perfectionism is the enemy of progress.

  • Time to Get to Work

Few pleasures in life compare to getting lost in a great story.

Learn how to write creatively, and the characters you birth have the potential to live in readers’ hearts for years.

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how to start writing a creative writing

Before you go, be sure to grab my FREE guide:

How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps

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  • July 10, 2024

How to Start Writing a Story: A Beginner’s Guide

Julia mccoy.

Creator and Co-founder

Learning how to start writing a story, whether you dream of being a novelist or simply want to entertain friends with anecdotes, can feel daunting.

One crucial thing to remember is you don’t have to start at the beginning. You can begin writing at any point that compels you. Some writers prefer to let the story unfold organically, writing whatever scene pops into their mind. Others prefer to outline plot points first.

There’s no “right” way to start writing a story.

This guide will discuss how to begin in a way that hooks your reader from the first sentence and leaves them wanting more.

We’ll cover techniques for developing your ideas, crafting an engaging opening, and building a world that captivates your readers.

Table Of Contents:

Seeking inspiration, hook the reader, spark curiosity, the element of surprise, the power of imagery, plotting your story, don’t aim for perfection, aim for intrigue, starting in medias res, character development, putting it all together: final tips, finding your story idea.

Before you even think about writing the first line, you need a story idea.

Finding inspiration is easier than you think. It can be found anywhere – from personal experiences and observations to news stories, historical events, or even writing prompts.

Actively seeking inspiration can unlock creative writing ideas.

Thinkwritten, for example, offers 365 creative prompts . Work your way through them and see what sparks your imagination.

Pick up a newspaper or magazine and see if any interesting reports grab your attention. Maybe an intriguing crime sparks an idea for a mystery, or a human-interest piece inspires a heart-warming drama.

Browse visually-driven platforms like Pinterest and Instagram for striking photographs that could become the catalyst for your next masterpiece.

Consider joining a writing group for feedback and to workshop your story ideas.

Essential Components of a Story

The real trick to writing a good story is knowing which ingredients to include. While a simple recipe for success doesn’t exist, you can employ a few helpful strategies to write a captivating opening.

In an age of short attention spans, it’s more important than ever to hook the reader from the first line.

Make them laugh, make them gasp, make them wonder — just make sure you make them want to continue reading.

Your opening sentence sets the stage. Don’t be afraid to surprise your reader by starting with the unexpected.

For example, take a look at how these authors hooked their readers:

Author/Title Opening Sentence/Excerpt Why it Works
Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer Bernadette was a good monster. The use of a name immediately introduces us to a character (in this case, Bernadette). The fact that Bernadette is a monster piques our interest – what kind of monster is Bernadette, and in what ways is she “good?”
Bubble Troubleby Margaret Mahy It was one of those days. While this sentence initially seems quite simple, it implies that the reader understands exactly what kind of day the narrator is having. This shared understanding draws the reader in, instantly creating a feeling of camaraderie and familiarity.
Magic Box by Katie Cleminson I found a magic box. Instantly, the reader wonders, “What’s in the box?” It’s a classic storytelling technique that piques curiosity from the very start.

Many editors recommend sparking curiosity in the reader. This can be done by asking (or subtly implying) questions that keep them hooked.

Try prompting your readers to ask questions like:

  • Where are we?
  • Why are these characters here?
  • What is going to happen next?
  • Who is involved?

Sometimes starting a story in an unpredictable way can captivate readers. If the reader expects you to zig but you zag, you’ve grabbed their attention.

Literary editor Gareth Watkins often encourages writers to embrace the unusual.

Think of the opening to ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ , or Iain Banks’s ‘The Crow Road’ .

Of course, your opening doesn’t have to be as outrageous as these but always aim for the unusual.

Think about what readers might anticipate at the beginning of your book – then defy those expectations.

Harrison Demchick , an editor with Reedsy, believes strongly in starting with evocative imagery rather than an info dump. By using sensory details that paint a picture for the reader, you instantly draw them into the scene.

Smell, touch, taste, sound, and sight can be implemented effectively to write short stories or long ones.

Every writer approaches story ideas differently. Some writers meticulously plot every scene, crafting a detailed outline before they begin. Others are discovery writers, letting the story unfold organically as they write.

There is no right or wrong way, only what works best for you.

If you’re new to writing stories, consider starting with a loose plot outline. This doesn’t need to be overly complex. A simple framework can provide direction and help you stay on track.

Think of it as a roadmap with key milestones that move your story forward.  As you become more comfortable with the process, you can experiment with different outlining techniques or embrace the freedom of discovery writing.

Whether you meticulously plot or let your creativity guide you, a compelling plot hinges on progress and fulfilling reader expectations. Early in your story, you make subtle promises to your reader, hinting at what’s to come. The events that unfold should build upon these promises, leading to a satisfying conclusion that delivers on the expectations you’ve set.

Consider these key elements as you plot your story:

  • Premise: What is the central idea or conflict driving your story?
  • Character Arc: How will your main character change or evolve throughout the story?
  • Obstacles: What challenges will your characters face, both internal and external?
  • Stakes: What is at risk for your characters? What motivates them to overcome these obstacles?
  • Resolution: How will the central conflict be resolved? Will your characters achieve their goals, or will they face unforeseen consequences?

Plotting your story effectively ensures your narrative has a clear direction, engaging conflict, and ultimately, a satisfying resolution for the reader.

Writing Your Opening Line

Entrepreneurs, founders, business owners, marketers – you know the power of a good story. Your audience is savvy, your time is precious, and that opening line needs to hook them from the get-go.

The pressure of a perfect opening line can be paralyzing. Think of it as a doorway into your story’s world – it doesn’t need to reveal everything, it just needs to entice them to step inside.

Consider these approaches:

  • Start with action: Plunge your reader directly into the heart of the story. Think “The rain hammered down” or “She sprinted through the market square.”
  • Introduce a compelling character: “The old woman with emerald eyes always knew when a storm was coming.” Instantly, we want to know more about this woman and her gift.
  • Pose a question: “Have you ever wondered what lies at the bottom of the whispering well?” Questions invite engagement and encourage the reader to embark on a journey for answers.

Remember, the power of your opening line lies in its ability to create intrigue and compel your audience to keep reading. Experiment, trust your voice, and most importantly, have fun with it!

The Latin term in medias res means “in the midst of things,” and it’s often used to describe stories that begin right in the middle of the action.

Starting a story in media res is an effective way to establish tension and stakes in the first page.

But remember, you still have to introduce your readers to the main characters and setting. Editor Jeanette Shaw cautions writers that “If you go this route, you must be sure your opening action is compelling enough that the reader is prepared to wait for character setup later.”

Take a look at this excellent example from “Lord of the Flies” , a classic example of how to start writing a story in medias res :

“The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him, and his hair was plastered to his forehead.”

Readers get an immediate feel for the setting – a lagoon on what we assume is a very hot day – and the physical description helps establish the boy as someone we can picture.

Still, we want to know more about this boy, and why he’s trailing his sweater.

Honing Your Craft

Once you’ve gotten into the habit of writing stories, it’s a good idea to learn a thing or two from others.

Evening classes and workshops offer a fantastic way to learn, socialize with other writers, and get feedback.

The Open University offers a great deal of flexibility for people seeking more structured learning. This is a great way to practice writing dialogue and other important elements of storytelling.

Think back on the last time you got invested in a great story. Chances are, you felt connected to the main characters. The good news is that there are a plethora of techniques writers use to craft three-dimensional characters.

You’re probably already familiar with the classic character dossier. A character dossier is a collection of details and insights that help flesh out your characters.

Some elements commonly found in a character dossier are physical attributes, backstories, wants and needs, fears and flaws, and relationships.

This kind of deep character work is what separates caricature from true character development.

Author Libbie Hawker wrote an insightful book about using characters to create compelling plots. Knowing how to create an interesting character is just as important as knowing how to start writing a story.

Starting a story is just the beginning of what’s sure to be an amazing journey.

Although figuring out how to start writing a story can sometimes feel more intimidating than putting pen to paper, remember these key things:

  • Use trigger phrases and vivid language that resonates with readers. By making your story relatable, you create an instant connection.
  • Include lots of visual elements. Readers want to feel like they’re stepping inside the story.
  • Think carefully about introducing characters. Avoid crowding the reader with too many characters from the outset; stick with a select few whose presence will move the plot forward.
  • Don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm. Rather than sticking to mundane activities in your first sentence, try something a little more unexpected.
  • Most importantly: Don’t be afraid to experiment, play with different styles, and ultimately, find the approach that best serves your story.

Figuring out how to start writing a story might feel difficult, but always keep this in mind – it’s much easier to start writing when you remember to have fun with the process.

Try not to get bogged down by self-doubt or pressure, and always remember that writing should be enjoyable.

Write because you love to write – the rest will follow.

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how to start writing a creative writing

“Once Upon a Time…” or How to Start Writing

So, you want to start writing? Well, after having written for over 20 years, I can say it is the best job in the world. There is nothing more thrilling than not only seeing your words in print, but hearing from people who have read them. It is one of the most humbling aspects of my whole life.

Life Experience

By the time we have reached 60, we have acquired so much life experience. We have had relationships with hundreds, maybe thousands, of people, perhaps raised a family, had a career. Even if we haven’t experienced the things ourselves, we know about love, wars, crime, health, murders, travel, celebrities, happiness, birth, death. All things people want to read about!

The wealth of knowledge and information we have stored in our minds means we can use them to become first class story tellers. We have accumulated a lifetime of memories, experiences, anecdotes, tales, mysteries and sharing these with others is pure joy.

Fiction or Non-Fiction

There are hundreds of things to write about, but fundamentally, it comes down to fiction or non-fiction, imaginary or real. If you are a creative person, you may prefer to write fiction as you will be able to put on paper the images, characters, etc. that live in your mind.

 If you are the type of person who enjoys research, you may prefer non-fiction. Having said that, I have written both and really enjoy it.

Creative Writing (Fiction)

This will include novels, poetry, plays, and stories for children. The focus is on the creative use of language and using your skills so that your reader can imagine being a character within the book. For example, if you were writing about Little Red Riding Hood, you could start with something like, “It was dark inside the wolf.” This immediately captures the imagination and draws the reader on a journey.

Writing for children is always fun, though can be one of the most difficult, not only in terms of writing, but in getting published too. Everyone seems to want to write for children. (I do too!) You also have to take into account the age and stage of development of a child, use appropriate language and consider the content and length of the story. Generally, the younger children are, the shorter their attention span.

Factual Writing (Non-Fiction)

If you have knowledge and experience in a particular area, you might like to share this with others. For example, you could be a travel blogger or write a cook book. You may decide to write about your career, perhaps you were in the army, music business or a midwife, or any career that people might be interested to read about.

You could also choose to write a biography about someone, or even an autobiography or memoir about you.

Enjoy the Process

The process of writing can sometimes be exasperating, especially if you are writing a long piece. Sometimes, I just stare at a blank page for hours and not write a single word; other times, I am unable to stop writing! I have absolutely no idea why, but I have learnt that if I can’t write today, that’s ok. There is always tomorrow. :)

Just Start Writing

So just begin at the beginning. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect (very unlikely in my experience!), you can always go back and change whatever you like. Most of the time, I edit two or three times, sometimes more.

I am sure when William Shakespeare, Mark Twain or JK Rowling started writing they never imagined where it would lead. Who knows, you might have millions of readers, a few hundred, or even just the most important reader, You. What matters is that you are putting down on paper something which, for the moment, is just inside your head. Once that is done, someone could be reading it, hundreds of years from now.

Now there’s a thought…

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Would you like to be a writer? What would you like to write about? Have you ever had your writing published?

guest

I have written five non-fiction books, all about retirement. My books have been published by mainstream publishers (AARP, Wiley, Rodale, Hallmark). This is a second career – my first was teaching Anatomy & Physiology, Microbiology and Health Psychology. My suggestion – be sure you have what I call the 5 Ps:

  • Passion: You have an interest and competency in the area (a publisher wants to know you’re qualified to write the book)
  • People: There are many people who want/need/will purchase your book (a publisher wants to know there’s a large audience to buy your book – in my case, there are more than 70 million Boomers)  
  • Platform: You have ways to promote your book (website; Twitter; LinkedIn, Facebook, Interviews; Speaking engagements – perhaps for free at first). This is important. YOU are your own best advocate for your book. The publisher wants to know you will promote your book.
  • Preparation: Educate yourself before jumping in. I purchased a book that taught me how to write a great book proposal (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published by Sheree Bykofsky).
  • Persistence: You are willing to persevere in spite of setbacks.

lilybradshaw88

Hi Jan, Thanks for joining the conversation. Thank you too for sharing the 5p’s, that is some very good advise! Lily x

Ava

Occasionally over the years I’ve put pen to paper to get my solo travel journey across the US due en but haven’t gotten past a few pages.

Hi Ava, thanks for joining in. Keep at it, I am sure there are many famous authors who wondered if they should continue! Lily x

Kathleen

I have dabbled in short stories, children’s books. But my favorite is Haiku poetry. Plan on putting together a book of my poems.

Beth

Love the haiku form!

Hi Kathleen, thanks of joining in. You should do it! I love writing for children :) Once they are written down and published you never know who might read them, or what might happen! Lily x

Ilene marcus

I love this. I started writing for myself five years ago and I’m so happy to be a sixtyandme – blogger also!

Hi IIene, thank you for joining the conversation. Writing is such a wonderful thing to do isn’t it! It brings me so much joy, as does writing for Sixty and Me :) Lily x

Tags Writing

Lily Bradshaw

Lily Bradshaw

Lily Bradshaw has had an interesting and varied career. Twenty years working as a psychotherapist and part time lecturer, followed by 20 years of writing educational courses. Now she is enjoying semi retirement writing books and articles that interest her, mostly about having fun and enjoying life. She has spent the last 2 years travelling solo.

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How to Teach Creative Writing | 7 Steps to Get Students Wordsmithing

how to start writing a creative writing

“I don’t have any ideas!”

“I can’t think of anything!”

While we see creative writing as a world of limitless imagination, our students often see an overwhelming desert of “no idea.”

But when you teach creative writing effectively, you’ll notice that  every  student is brimming over with ideas that just have to get out.

So what does teaching creative writing effectively look like?

We’ve outlined a  seven-step method  that will  scaffold your students through each phase of the creative process  from idea generation through to final edits.

7. Create inspiring and original prompts

Use the following formats to generate prompts that get students inspired:

  • personal memories (“Write about a person who taught you an important lesson”)
  • imaginative scenarios
  • prompts based on a familiar mentor text (e.g. “Write an alternative ending to your favorite book”). These are especially useful for giving struggling students an easy starting point.
  • lead-in sentences (“I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Somehow overnight I…”).
  • fascinating or thought-provoking images with a directive (“Who do you think lives in this mountain cabin? Tell their story”).

student writing prompts for kids

Don’t have the time or stuck for ideas? Check out our list of 100 student writing prompts

6. unpack the prompts together.

Explicitly teach your students how to dig deeper into the prompt for engaging and original ideas.

Probing questions are an effective strategy for digging into a prompt. Take this one for example:

“I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Somehow overnight I…”

Ask “What questions need answering here?” The first thing students will want to know is:

What happened overnight?

No doubt they’ll be able to come up with plenty of zany answers to that question, but there’s another one they could ask to make things much more interesting:

Who might “I” be?

In this way, you subtly push students to go beyond the obvious and into more original and thoughtful territory. It’s even more useful with a deep prompt:

“Write a story where the main character starts to question something they’ve always believed.”

Here students could ask:

  • What sorts of beliefs do people take for granted?
  • What might make us question those beliefs?
  • What happens when we question something we’ve always thought is true?
  • How do we feel when we discover that something isn’t true?

Try splitting students into groups, having each group come up with probing questions for a prompt, and then discussing potential “answers” to these questions as a class.

The most important lesson at this point should be that good ideas take time to generate. So don’t rush this step!

5. Warm-up for writing

A quick warm-up activity will:

  • allow students to see what their discussed ideas look like on paper
  • help fix the “I don’t know how to start” problem
  • warm up writing muscles quite literally (especially important for young learners who are still developing handwriting and fine motor skills).

Freewriting  is a particularly effective warm-up. Give students 5–10 minutes to “dump” all their ideas for a prompt onto the page for without worrying about structure, spelling, or grammar.

After about five minutes you’ll notice them starting to get into the groove, and when you call time, they’ll have a better idea of what captures their interest.

Did you know? The Story Factory in Reading Eggs allows your students to write and publish their own storybooks using an easy step-by-step guide.

The Story factory in Reading Eggs

4. Start planning

Now it’s time for students to piece all these raw ideas together and generate a plan. This will synthesize disjointed ideas and give them a roadmap for the writing process.

Note:  at this stage your strong writers might be more than ready to get started on a creative piece. If so, let them go for it – use planning for students who are still puzzling things out.

Here are four ideas for planning:

Graphic organisers

A graphic organiser will allow your students to plan out the overall structure of their writing. They’re also particularly useful in “chunking” the writing process, so students don’t see it as one big wall of text.

Storyboards and illustrations

These will engage your artistically-minded students and give greater depth to settings and characters. Just make sure that drawing doesn’t overshadow the writing process.

Voice recordings

If you have students who are hesitant to commit words to paper, tell them to think out loud and record it on their device. Often they’ll be surprised at how well their spoken words translate to the page.

Write a blurb

This takes a bit more explicit teaching, but it gets students to concisely summarize all their main ideas (without giving away spoilers). Look at some blurbs on the back of published books before getting them to write their own. Afterward they could test it out on a friend – based on the blurb, would they borrow it from the library?

3. Produce rough drafts

Warmed up and with a plan at the ready, your students are now ready to start wordsmithing. But before they start on a draft, remind them of what a draft is supposed to be:

  • a work in progress.

Remind them that  if they wait for the perfect words to come, they’ll end up with blank pages .

Instead, it’s time to take some writing risks and get messy. Encourage this by:

  • demonstrating the writing process to students yourself
  • taking the focus off spelling and grammar (during the drafting stage)
  • providing meaningful and in-depth feedback (using words, not ticks!).

Reading Eggs Library New Books

Reading Eggs also gives you access to an ever-expanding collection of over 3,500 online books!

2. share drafts for peer feedback.

Don’t saddle yourself with 30 drafts for marking. Peer assessment is a better (and less exhausting) way to ensure everyone receives the feedback they need.

Why? Because for something as personal as creative writing, feedback often translates better when it’s in the familiar and friendly language that only a peer can produce. Looking at each other’s work will also give students more ideas about how they can improve their own.

Scaffold peer feedback to ensure it’s constructive. The following methods work well:

Student rubrics

A simple rubric allows students to deliver more in-depth feedback than “It was pretty good.” The criteria will depend on what you are ultimately looking for, but students could assess each other’s:

  • use of language.

Whatever you opt for, just make sure the language you use in the rubric is student-friendly.

Two positives and a focus area

Have students identify two things their peer did well, and one area that they could focus on further, then turn this into written feedback. Model the process for creating specific comments so you get something more constructive than “It was pretty good.” It helps to use stems such as:

I really liked this character because…

I found this idea interesting because it made me think…

I was a bit confused by…

I wonder why you… Maybe you could… instead.

1. The editing stage

Now that students have a draft and feedback, here’s where we teachers often tell them to “go over it” or “give it some final touches.”

But our students don’t always know how to edit.

Scaffold the process with questions that encourage students to think critically about their writing, such as:

  • Are there any parts that would be confusing if I wasn’t there to explain them?
  • Are there any parts that seem irrelevant to the rest?
  • Which parts am I most uncertain about?
  • Does the whole thing flow together, or are there parts that seem out of place?
  • Are there places where I could have used a better word?
  • Are there any grammatical or spelling errors I notice?

Key to this process is getting students to  read their creative writing from start to finish .

Important note:  if your students are using a word processor, show them where the spell-check is and how to use it. Sounds obvious, but in the age of autocorrect, many students simply don’t know.

A final word on teaching creative writing

Remember that the best writers write regularly.

Incorporate them into your lessons as often as possible, and soon enough, you’ll have just as much fun  marking  your students’ creative writing as they do producing it.

Need more help supporting your students’ writing?

Read up on  how to get reluctant writers writing , strategies for  supporting struggling secondary writers , or check out our huge list of writing prompts for kids .

reading-eggs-story-factory-comp-header

Watch your students get excited about writing and publishing their own storybooks in the Story Factory

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21 Writing Strategies To Help Aspiring Writers Plan, Create, and Finalize Their Work

Including smart ways to break through writer’s block!

Two writing strategies, including a storyboard printable worksheet and a printable student goal setting sheet.

Writing well takes practice and patience, but it’s a skill that offers real benefits both in the classroom and the real world. For many, writing is incredibly challenging, leaving people asking “Where do I even start?” Even experienced authors use a variety of writing strategies to keep themselves on track. We’ve rounded up some of the best writing strategies, with explanations and examples to help aspiring writers plan, organize, get started, and polish their final drafts.

Planning and Prep Writing Strategies

Organization writing strategies, writing strategies to overcome writer’s block, writing strategies to polish your work.

Before you ever put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), writing takes a lot of preparation and planning. Use these strategies to get yourself ready to write.

Mentor Texts

Examples of mentor texts including My Papi has a Motorcycle and Soul Food Sunday

The best writers are the ones who also read voraciously. Reading helps you develop your general language and composition skills by exposing you to correct grammar, syntax, and more. Even more importantly, reading gives you examples of great writing (and often, bad writing). It allows you to explore different writing styles so you can develop your own personal voice. Author and screenwriter Ray Bradbury recommended reading one short story before bed every single night.

Many writers, especially students, use mentor texts as examples of the type of writing they want to emulate. Reading a few of these in the style of the piece you’re working on can inspire and guide you along the way. These texts can be books, magazines, articles, poems, essays, and more. Here are some of our favorite mentor texts in various styles:

  • Opinion Writing Mentor Texts
  • Narrative Writing Mentor Texts
  • Procedural Writing Mentor Texts

To write convincingly about a topic, you must know it well, whether you’re working in nonfiction or fiction. If you decide to set your short story in Greece in the 19th century, you’ll need to know what life was like then. Writing about a main character who loves skateboarding means knowing the terminology and language of the culture. Deep knowledge on a topic adds realism and authenticity to any form of writing.

Regardless of what you’re researching, it’s important to use reliable primary sources. The Internet makes researching easier than ever before, but it can be harder to know whether your sources are trustworthy. Dedicated writers take time to verify their sources, and it’s especially important to teach young writers how to do so .

Taking good notes is vital when you’re researching. For some people, this means bookmarks and annotated text. Others prefer outlines or mind maps. Learn about smart note-taking strategies and choose a few that work best for you.

Immerse Yourself

Take your research a step further by truly immersing yourself in the time and place you’re writing about. Visit places in person if you can, or try virtual online tours through sites like Google Earth. These virtual field trips are a good option if you can’t get there yourself.

Meet or talk with people who have personal experience with your topic. Eat the foods of a country or culture, and listen to its music. Explore lots of visual sources, like pictures and videos. You can even hang some of your favorite images around your workspace for inspiration. The more familiar you are with a topic, the more comfortable you’ll feel writing about it.

Know Your Audience

Imagine you’re writing about whales. You’ve done lots of research and have plenty of interesting information to share. But the way you share it will vary a lot depending on who you’re writing for. If your audience is your teacher, you’ll probably want to use technical terms and cite your sources. But if you’re writing a book for little kids, your writing will be more descriptive and the language much simpler.

Ask defining questions like these:

  • Who will read what I’m writing?
  • Why are they reading it?
  • What kind of language will they understand?
  • What might they already know about this topic?
  • What will these readers really care about?
  • How will their personal experiences affect them as they’re reading?
  • What style and tone of writing are they likely to enjoy most?

Character Profiles

Fiction writers need to create believable characters, with fully developed personalities. Some writers envision entire backstories for their characters that never make it onto the page. But these backstories inform their writing, driving their characters’ actions and choices. Try some of these ideas to develop strong characters:

  • Create a family tree or relationship map of your characters
  • Draw the characters, or describe their physical looks in detail
  • Write timelines of your characters’ lives
  • List their personality or character traits
  • Describe a character’s hopes, dreams, and ambitions
  • Determine the character’s voice: how they talk (words and phrases, syntax, etc.) and any accents, dialects, or code-switching they use

Start at the End

It sounds a little strange, but consider writing the final sentence or paragraph of your work first. After all, when you plan a trip, you almost always have a final destination in mind. How you get there may vary, but you’re ultimately striving toward a particular goal.

If you’re working on a nonfiction essay or research paper, writing the end first allows you clarify exactly what ideas you want your reader to walk away with. Then, you can work backward to fill in the details that support those ideas. Write your first paragraph last, and you’ll find it much easier to sum up your ideas and prepare the reader for what’s to come.

Fiction writers can do this too. In fact, many mystery writers start at the end, determining the solution to their mystery first. This allows them to build up the story around that resolution, ensuring the narrative hangs together. Picture your characters at the end of the story, then decide how you’ll get them there.

One of the hardest parts of writing can be keeping everything in order, especially when you’re writing longer pieces. Writers also need to manage their time to ensure they hit any deadlines or due dates they might have. These writing techniques can help.

Establish a Routine

Every famous author has had their own particular writing routine or habits. Stephen King sat in the same place each day , with his papers arranged carefully around him. E.B. White never listened to music while he wrote (although other distractions didn’t bother him). Hemingway wrote first thing every morning , as early as possible. Simone de Beauvoir wrote a little in the morning and then again in the evening.

Each one is different, but one thing is the same: They almost always followed the same routine and habits. This kept them focused and ensured they could meet the goals they set. Set aside a specific time for writing each day, and figure out the setting and habits that suit you best. Think about when you’ve been most productive, and try to replicate that as much as possible.

Set Writing Goals

goal setting worksheet

We often teach students to set S.M.A.R.T goals : specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. These are ideal for writing, especially when you have a longer or more complex piece to finish. They also work if you just want to get a little better at your craft.

If you have a deadline or due date, start with that in mind and work backward. Be sure to allow time in your schedule for items like research, planning, a first draft, revision/editing, second draft, feedback, and a final draft. When you’re writing your first draft, consider breaking it into even smaller sections that will help you meet your goal and keep you on target. (Stephen King writes six pages a day; John Steinbeck was happy with just one.)

Outline or Story Map

For longer pieces, writers turn to outlines and story maps, creating the overall structure of their composition before they start writing in sentences and paragraphs. Some do this using the traditional outline structure , starting with the main points and filling in key details. Others like the sticky note method, where they write one fact or plot point on each note and move them around as needed.

When you map things out in advance, it makes the writing process itself much simpler. For nonfiction pieces, it ensures you don’t leave out any important information. In fiction, a story map helps you plan a narrative arc that hangs together and drives the story along. When you have an outline or story map in place, you can focus on finding the words to share these ideas with your audience.

Writing Template

Hamburger Writing Graphic Organizer Template.

A template can be a real benefit, especially for beginners or young students. It lays out the various sections and guides the writer through the process of completing each one. Think of a template kind of like training wheels; they help inexperienced writers feel a little more comfortable and keep them from missing important steps while they write. Check out our huge collection of free printable writing templates for elementary students.

Examples of video project toolkit templates on blue background

If you’re a visual person, try a storyboard instead. This method uses a blank comic-book-style template to sketch out the action scene-by-scene. You don’t necessarily need to be a strong artist to use a storyboard, as long as you can get your ideas across in your drawings. Find a free storyboard template for younger students here.

Once you have your sketches, go back and add some text underneath. This might be dialogue, descriptive terms, or facts you want to include in that section. This text provides a terrific jumping-off point to begin writing in earnest.

It happens to everyone: the horror of the blank page—and a blank mind. The deadline clock is tick-tick-ticking, so you know you’ve got to do something, and do it pretty quick. Take a deep breath, then see if one of these writing strategies can help you break through.

Free-Write (Brainstorm)

This is all about just putting something down on the page. It doesn’t need to be good, it doesn’t need to follow grammar or spelling rules, it doesn’t even necessarily need to make sense! Just start letting words flow from your brain through the pen or keyboard and onto paper. In the same way that the physical act of smiling can actually make us feel happier, the physical act of writing or typing can sometimes get the creative juices flowing at last.

Write about anything, even the fact that you don’t have anything to write about, in a stream-of-consciousness style. When you feel up to it, transition into writing a bit about your topic or plot. Even if you only manage to write one good sentence or phrase you can use, it’s still progress.

Writing Sprints

Set a timer and just WRITE. Keep your pen (or fingers on the keyboard) moving the entire time, no matter what. If you’re really stuck, just write or type the same word over and over again until something shakes loose. Or combine a writing sprint with a writing prompt (see below) and let your words run free.

Short sprints of 5 to 10 minutes are great for warming up before a longer writing session. But you can also try longer sprints (up to an hour or so), where you purposely block out all other distractions. Turn off or mute your phone, set your device to distraction-free mode, shut the door or put on noise-cancelling headphones, whatever it takes. For the duration of your sprint, your only job is to write.

Writing Prompts

Computer and tablet screen with short story prompts.

Use prompts to spark creativity and overcome writer’s block. Whether they inspire you to write a lot or a little, they get you into a creative mood and strengthen your writing muscles. We’ve got lots of writing prompts and topics to tackle:

  • Short Story Starters and Writing Prompts
  • Inspiring Picture Writing Prompts
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A vignette is a short, descriptive piece that tries to bring the reader fully into one single moment. It doesn’t need a plot; rather, it tries to capture the mood and atmosphere with lots of evocative detail. Vignettes are a great way to jump-start your writing, establishing the setting of your piece or a particular scene you want to describe. Learn more about using vignettes here.

Having trouble figuring out your characters’ motivations, voices, or relationships? Try dialogue. You can approach this several different ways. One is to imagine and write a conversation between two or more characters in your story on any topic. You may or may not use this dialogue in your finished work; the point is to help you hear each character and their personality more clearly.

Another option is to have an imaginary conversation with a specific character out loud. Pretend you’re talking to them, and when they “respond,” speak aloud their voice as you imagine it in your head. Then, try to put those words into writing to see how they translate to the page.

Rough Draft

Initial drafts can actually be pretty freeing, because you’re not working toward perfection. Instead, you’re trying to get all your ideas onto paper for the first time, in sentences and paragraphs. Don’t worry too much about word choice, spelling, or even grammar at this point. Instead, just keep on writing. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to go back to revise and edit.

A rough draft might wind up being much shorter or longer than your final version. Some people like to write down anything and everything they’ve researched or planned for. Then, they condense and trim their text in later drafts. Others like to lay out the overall structure, then return to add more details and depth. Both of these methods are valid, so use whichever works best for you.

With your initial draft finally on the page, it’s time to edit, revise, and make it the best it can possibly be! These techniques and strategies will help you get there.

Captivating Opening Sentence

A strong opening sentence draws the reader in from the beginning. Try writing multiple versions to see which you like best. To ensure your opening is truly meaningful, share it with someone on its own, without the rest of the text for context. Ask what they think your writing will be about based on that single sentence, and if it interests them enough to want to read the rest.

Even nonfiction writing deserves amazing opening sentences. Darwin began On the Origin of Species by saying, “When on board H.M.S. ‘Beagle,’ as naturalist …” The book itself has a lot of dry technical writing, but that opening sentence evokes a sense of time and place, of adventure in far-off places, and it draws the reader in.

Avoid starting your writing with conventional phrases like “In this paper I will prove that …” or “I’m going to tell you about …” Thesis statements are important, but they’re rarely interesting enough to really intrigue the reader. Take a cue from Virginia Woolf, who opened A Room of One’s Own with: “But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction—what has that got to do with a room of one’s own? I will try to explain.”

Very few writers write a first draft that’s ready to be turned in or published. Instead, they revisit and refine their drafts multiple times, a process known as revision. When you revise, you focus on the overall structure and clarity of your work. Ask yourself questions like these:

Nonfiction Revision

  • Is/Are my main point/s clear?
  • Have I completely proven all the points in my thesis statement?
  • Did I use facts to back up my assertions or opinions?
  • Have I included citations or quotations that support my writing?
  • Are there any areas where my writing is vague or needs to be clarified?
  • Have I addressed any counterarguments and acknowledged alternative views?
  • Does the overall structure make sense?
  • Do my paragraphs transition well from one to the next?
  • Should I add headings or subdivisions to make the paper easier to follow?
  • Is my language and tone appropriate?
  • Have I varied my word choice, refraining from repeating words or phrases over and over?
  • Does my conclusion effectively and clearly sum up my paper?
  • How will the reader feel when they finish reading this work, and does it match how I want them to feel?

Fiction Revision

  • Does the story have a clear beginning, middle, and end?
  • Is there a strong narrative arc?
  • Have I left any plot holes or unresolved conflicts that may feel unsatisfying?
  • How is the pacing? Does the story move along well, or does it get bogged down in places?
  • Do my characters speak with clear, individual voices?
  • Have my characters grown and changed as the story progressed?
  • Do the characters’ voices feel authentic?
  • Have I added realistic details without relying too heavily on description to carry the story? (“Show, don’t tell.”)
  • Does the setting feel real? Can I picture myself living in that place and time?
  • Is the conflict interesting enough to draw in the reader and hold their attention?
  • How do I want the reader to feel when they finish the story? Have I accomplished that?

Once you’re happy with the overall structure and writing itself, it’s time to get down to the technical nitty-gritty. That means details like grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling. In other words, the time has come to proofread your work.

Word-processing programs or apps like Grammarly can help you catch a lot of these errors, making this job easier. But the final edit is ultimately down to you, so proofread and correct, then proofread again. Do your best to make your writing as technically perfect as you can, so the reader isn’t distracted by spelling mistakes or other minor problems.

One fantastic way to revise and edit is to read your text aloud, to yourself or others. Maya Angelou often read her writing out loud to her husband in the evening. “Hearing it aloud is good,” she explained. “Sometimes I hear the dissonance; then I try to straighten it out in the morning.”

Reading aloud is also ideal for catching errors like missing words or confusing sentences. You likely read much faster in your head than you do out loud, so this method forces you to slow down and focus. This is one of our favorite writing strategies for those who have trouble with attention to detail.

Peer Review

Experienced writers welcome feedback from others. Read the acknowledgements in any book, and you’re likely to find the author thanking their peer writing group or editors for substantially improving their text.

Some people find it hard to take feedback on writing, since it can feel very personal. Remember this: If you’re writing something only you will ever see, then you don’t need to worry about others. But if your writing is intended for an audience, you have to let that audience see your work to find out if you’ve truly managed to convey your ideas.

You don’t need to incorporate every suggestion or change your peers, teacher, or editor suggests. But feedback ultimately makes writing stronger and better. Seek it actively and use it wisely, and you’ll find it’s one of the most valuable writing strategies of all.

What are your favorite writing strategies to share with students? Come exchange ideas in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook .

Plus, must-have anchor charts for teaching writing of all kinds ..

Writing strategies that help students and other writers get started, stay organized, polish their work, and even push through writer's block!

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Writing Creatively to Make Sense of the Times We Live In

Journalist katrin schumann talks about why she writes fiction..

Updated July 12, 2024 | Reviewed by Davia Sills

  • Studies show that the act of all kinds of writing hones our reflective abilities.
  • Creative writing stretches our imagination, increases emotional resilience, and alleviates stress.
  • Writers of nonfiction examine complex issues that are relevant to our times.
  • Novelists examine the issues using characters as a vehicle for empathy.

Studies show that the act of writing hones our reflective abilities, stretches our imagination , increases emotional resilience , and alleviates stress . In my conversation with journalist-turned-novelist Katrin Schumann, we discuss how creative writing, in particular, is a worthy pursuit to understand the issues of our time. Schumann is the author of the nonfiction books Mothers Need Time Outs Too and The Secret Life of Middle Children, as well as the novels The Forgotten Hours and This Terrible Beauty .

You’re a trained journalist and the author of nonfiction books. Why, in the last few years, have you focused on writing fiction?

Writing nonfiction has been a way for me to examine complex issues that are relevant to our times, including psychological ones, but I’ve found that in recent years, I’ve been drawn to fiction because it allows me to get closer to the subject. In exploring thorny issues like loyalty and trust or co-dependency , I’m able to do more of a deep dive in fiction. The form allows me to sit with the complexities, to live in the gray areas with my characters.

I can’t always do this with nonfiction, where I’m approaching the topic from a specific angle, seeking solutions. In fiction, I have space to explore nuances that fascinate and confuse me and try to make sense of the inevitable contradictions. It’s messier and more delicate than nonfiction. For me, this feels more true to the human experience.

All writing involves deep reflection. Do you find the act of writing fiction to be a different kind of therapy?

Yes. Spending years creating characters and situations that grapple with serious, real-world problems lets me explore my own difficult experiences. For instance, I’d been wrestling with the aftermath of dealing with a narcissist when I started writing my first novel. By fictionalizing those challenges, I was able to find the courage to linger in the dark areas, examining them from all angles in order to find where the light might get in.

I discovered greater empathy and resilience in myself while also being able to acknowledge the trauma I’d been through. It’s using my imagination, combined with researching some very real and current psychological challenges, that ultimately feels most powerful to me and an effective way to reach readers.

How does fictionalizing the story give you more latitude or depth in exploring topics? You write about things like self-reliance and depression, and I’m wondering why not just write articles about it.

I write to figure out my own issues and to learn, but also to share. For me, fiction writing makes me work harder and go deeper. I’m trying to change people’s minds and hearts in subtler ways. I’m reflecting on experiences I’ve had, wrestling with what they mean, and how we can all learn from them and come out the better for it.

Yet, I don’t want to be prescriptive; I want people to draw their own conclusions. I research deeply about whatever topic I’m tackling.

To write my last novel, I studied the history of neuropsychology, dissecting studies on substance abuse . I conducted interviews. For all my books, I gather and study facts and figures, but with novels, I take that a step further. I put those facts and figures into play with my imagined characters to explore what happens. I imbue the impersonal with empathy and allow readers to try to figure out how they feel about how the characters contend with the issue. This approach leads me to meaningful personal discoveries while also taking the reader along on the emotional journey.

How do you decide whether to approach a topic in a nonfiction book or in a novel?

The more I’m personally involved with the topic, the more I want to explore it in fictional form. Ironically, for fiction, I feel like I should have an even better understanding of some of these psychological challenges than if I were covering them through straight nonfiction reportage. I first have to understand the topic and its history so my story is not only realistic but feels authentic.

I want readers to trust me, which means I have to be thorough. It’s my aim to take them on a ride that’s compelling as well as informative. And I love learning something new when I’m immersed in researching and writing fiction.

If writing fiction is about wrestling with your own demons, why not simply journal?

Cross-section through a cluster of maize leaves

Journaling is, without question, a beneficial reflective activity. Yet what differentiates this kind of work from journaling about our problems or writing blog posts is that novelists are committing more time and energy to the deep dive on a specific topic. My last novel took almost three years to write, and during that time, I was reading everything I could get my hands on about the topic in order to distill it so that readers might find it relevant to their own lives.

At that stage, it’s not really about me anymore; it’s about the human condition. And in the end, that’s what readers relate to, I think. It’s what makes them call their friends and say, “I just finished this great book. You’ve got to read it.”

More about Katrin Schumann 's work

Lynne Reeves Griffin R.N., M.Ed.

Lynne Griffin, R.N., M.Ed. , researches family life and is a novelist.

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Researching the history of creative writing

Article by Megan M.F. Everhart Photo illustration by Jaynell Keely July 16, 2024

UD student documents trends in storytelling and advice for aspiring writers from the Great Depression through World War II

Margaret Armstrong, an undergraduate student at the University of Delaware, remembers sitting in her fiction writing class and hearing her professor tell the class there weren’t any restrictions on what the students could write. No topic was off limits. She also knows that aspiring writers in the early 20th century heard vastly different advice about how to be successful. 

Armstrong, an honors English and Spanish double major, is a 2024 Summer Scholar researching the evolution of advice for “good” writing, getting published and having your work seen, through examining archival issues of Writer’s Digest , an industry publication that began in 1920 aimed at helping writers improve their craft.

Her project covers the first 25 years of Writer’s Digest , from 1920 through the World War II era, tracking how advice to aspiring writers reflects American culture, economics and politics of the time, and how it shaped American writing. 

Project beginnings

Last spring, Armstrong began working with Siobhan Carroll, associate professor of English, on her research project examining the development of character agency in novels from 1791-1859. To establish relevance between her research and modern scholarship, Carroll wanted to know how writers in the early 20th century understood the concept of character agency, the term for how a character’s motivation and actions direct the story, and she tasked Armstrong with reading old issues of Writer’s Digest magazine.

While Carroll asked Armstrong to document advice and trends specific to character agency, she was also free to note other ideas she found in the old issues, and this is where things got more interesting. Magazine issues from 1920-1945 said little about character agency, but Armstrong identified trends in plot development, Hollywood influence, government propaganda and censorship in the issues spanning 1920-1945.

“Margaret has a good eye for the archive. She’s curious about what she reads and is able to make connections on her own,” Carroll said. “It became very clear that she was starting to take ownership of the project and think about what was happening in the world of creative writing.”

From Hollywood to the War Department

The earliest Writer’s Digest issues from the 1920s spoke about “photoplays,” a term for silent movie scripts. With their lack of dialogue, photoplays were purely driven by plot and action. As Armstrong found, this emphasis on action carried over to other genres, as writers were encouraged to immediately place their characters in situations that would cause conflict. Character motivation wasn’t an important element, as characters would merely react to the situation writers placed them in. 

Hollywood’s influence was also apparent in the 1930s, but the advice concerned censorship, as Writer’s Digest of the era echoed Hollywood’s Hays Code, implemented in 1934, that urged “moral” and “wholesome” storytelling, with prohibitions against excessive alcohol use and overt sexual situations, especially for female characters. 

By the 1940s, Writer’s Digest included articles written by the U.S. War Department urging writers to include pro-American, anti-German themes in their work. It’s hard to imagine a modern government agency encouraging such blatant propaganda, but Carroll explained that writers face similar pressures today. 

“Realistically, censorship is all around us. The majority of writers want to sell their work, and that makes them attentive to what will be easy to get published versus not,” she said. “News sources and social media offer writers important direction on what is acceptable or not. It’s internal censorship.” 

Action and impact

Armstrong has already applied some of the advice for writing she has found, including lists of stock characters and formulas of successful stories from genres like pulp fiction and crime stories, to her own creative writing.  

“It’s made me want to start the action off immediately by dropping characters into situations that create conflict for them,” she said. 

She also noted that having relatable characters has always been important. 

“I think everybody wants to read about characters that they relate to in some way,” she said. “In the early research I found that usually meant people want to read about good people and relate to good things. Now I see people relating to more complex characters.” 

Armstrong is used to editing and adapting her own work, skills she’s developed in her creative writing courses at UD, where students share their writing with the class. 

“The whole point is getting comfortable with sharing your work, and receiving and listening to criticism, too. Any feedback is good feedback,” she said. 

She took a similar approach this year as a student editor for Caesura , UD’s student-run literary magazine. The decision of whose work to publish was challenging, but also rewarding. 

“I think it's just good practice to notice what you like and don't like in other people's writing, and then see how that influences your own too. It can also help show you new ideas,” she said.

Armstrong’s work this summer builds on research she began last summer and continued throughout the past academic year. She presented her initial findings at the  Winter Showcase of Undergraduate Research and will present her additional research at the Summer Symposium in August.

Literature, creativity and practicality

Armstrong’s guidance counselor in Clark Summit, Pennsylvania, recommended UD for the Department of English, and Armstrong said it was the right decision. She said she appreciates all the department has to offer and that students can specialize in certain areas or take diverse classes. 

“It’s a very free major,” she said. “We have creative writing classes and literature classes, but there are also really practical options like grant writing.” 

When she’s not writing her own work, Armstrong enjoys horror fiction and the poetry of Pablo Neruda, and her project has sparked an interest in pulp fiction, too. 

“At the end of the day, I want to enjoy what I’m reading, and I think that should be the goal for everybody,” she said. “If you’re focused on reading for some specific reason, are you always enjoying it?”

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How to use writing as a tool to grow your personal brand.

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In today’s competitive landscape, personal branding is more important than ever. Personal branding involves defining and consistently showcasing your unique strengths, values, and expertise to the world, enabling you to differentiate yourself from the competition and making it easier for your prospects and customers to find you.

One powerful tool for achieving this is writing—whether it’s through a blog, LinkedIn newsletter , video content creation, a book, or even an article like this one. Writing is a powerful tool for self-expression and communication, and it’s essential for personal branding—both for telling your story and for growing your visibility and credibility with your ideal audience. Successful thought-leaders like Seth Godin , Dr. Brene Brown , and Dorie Clark have built their brands through impactful writing. Here’s how you can do the same.

Understand Your Brand Identity And Message

The first step in using writing to grow your personal brand is understanding your brand identity. Start by defining your brand—your unique promise of value. Know what sets you apart from others who do what you do and get clear on your unique point of view. Once you have a clear understanding of your brand, develop a consistent message that reflects who you are.

According to Deborah Grayson Riegel, an executive coach, Harvard Business Review contributor, and author of nine books who teaches other coaches and consultants how to build their business through writing and publishing , “Identifying your target audience for writing starts with knowing your niche (the “who” you are writing for), your expertise (the “what” you’re writing about), and your convening power (the groups that are organically drawn to you).

You don’t need to have all three—but where there’s overlap, there’s your strongest audience. For example, let’s say you love working with senior women leaders on their presentation skills, and women in STEM are naturally drawn to you. You could write an article for senior women leaders or one about presentation skills or one for women in STEM. Or you could write a piece that’s specifically for senior women leaders in STEM who need to improve their presentation skills.

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“It might seem like that article is too narrow,” remarks Grayson Riegel, “but the more specific you are, the more your message will cut through the clutter and get to your ideal readers.” Understanding the needs, preferences, and pain points of your readers will help you create content that resonates with them. Tailoring your message to your audience ensures that your writing is relevant and impactful.

Choose The Right Platforms

Choosing the right platforms to share your writing is crucial. Blogging and creating content for LinkedIn are excellent ways to showcase your expertise and engage with your audience. This allows you to create and share content that is both engaging and SEO-friendly.

Guest posting and contributing to industry-related websites and magazines can help you build credibility and reach a broader audience. Look for opportunities to write for established publications in your field to expand your visibility and authority. Contributing to high profile publications can significantly enhance credibility. But that doesn’t have to mean Harvard Business Review, Forbes, or The Wall Street Journal. In her Writing and Publishing for Coaches and Consultants course, Grayson Riegel teaches participants to identify the high-profile publications that their potential clients are reading. For example, one of her clients coaches fundraising professionals, so getting published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy was a better fit (and an easier in) than trying to get into The New York Times.

If video is your medium, guess what? You still need to be an excellent writer. Research shows that video has emerged as “the king of content,” and so your content needs to be well-planned and well-written.

All videos start with a script, or at least a series of bullets to spark your speech. In an interview , Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes , said, “No matter what form your content ultimately takes, it always starts with a story, and it starts with being able to articulate that through some concise and cogent writing.”

Grayson Riegel, who has over 110,000 subscribers on YouTube, concurs. “Building your video brand is one of the best ways for your clients and prospects to get a three-dimensional picture of who you are and why they’d want to buy what you’re selling. Those three dimensions could be boring, disorganized, and useless if you haven’t planned what you’re going to say. Or they could be engaging, motivating, and captivating.” That comes from good writing.

Develop Your Writing Style

You might be thinking that generative AI has solved the writing challenge. After all, isn’t ChatGPT your full-time ghostwriter?

ChatGPT and writing-focused GPTs, like Write for Me , are powerful tools for supporting your writing, but they don’t remove you from the process. Finding your voice is essential in developing your writing style. Authenticity is crucial in writing because it builds trust with your audience. Develop your unique writing style by being honest, sharing personal experiences, and writing in a conversational tone. To build a following or fans, being a skilled/differentiated writer is essential and understanding exactly how and when to use AI is a must. Grayson Riegel teaches her clients to use AI as a thought-starter, but not as the end product. For example, she suggests, “You can ask ChatGPT to generate a list of 10 reasons why managers are reluctant to give feedback to their direct reports. But then it’s your job to cull that list down to the top 3-4 reasons that would resonate most with your readers and then populate those reasons with your own examples, evidence, and experience.”

Create Valuable Content Consistently

Thought leadership pieces allow you to share your perspectives on industry trends and developments. Writing opinion pieces showcases your expertise and establishes you as a thought leader. And sharing personal stories helps you connect with your audience on a personal level, building relatability and trust. Focus on content that delivers value to your ideal audience.

Consistency is one of the three critical Cs of branding (clarity and constancy are the other two). It’s the key to building a strong personal brand. Maintain a regular writing schedule and ensure consistency in tone, style, and messaging across all your content. This helps create a cohesive brand identity that your audience can recognize, relate to, and trust.

Grayson Riegel’s consistent approach to writing and publishing has contributed to her bottom line. “A single article that resonates with my prospects and clients can become a webinar or a workshop, then a keynote, then a self-paced online course,” she shares. “I’ve written several pieces that have generated five- and six-figures worth of business alone.”

And in order to know if your content is hitting—or missing—the mark, encourage interaction with your readers. Invite them to comment, share, and discuss your content. Responding to feedback and engaging in conversations helps build a relationship with your audience. Use writing to foster a sense of community around your brand and encourage reader contributions and guest posts. Grayson Riegel says you know you’re doing something right when your core audience reaches out to you with a topic and says, “I think you should be writing about this!”

Measure And Refine Your Strategy

Finally, measure the performance of your writing efforts. Track metrics like views, shares, comments, and conversions to understand what works and what doesn’t. Gather feedback from your readers and make improvements based on their responses. Stay updated with industry trends and new writing tools and adjust your content strategy accordingly.

Writing is a skill every professional needs to master. It’s essential for delivering value to your audience and growing your personal brand.

William Arruda is a keynote speaker , co-founder of CareerBlast.TV and co-creator of BrandBoost - a virtual, video-fueled course to help you grow your self-awareness and amp up your personal brand.

William Arruda

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July 13, 2024

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AI makes writing easier, but stories sound alike

by Issam AHMED

Tools like OpenAI's ChatGPT can help individuals with their creative writing, but also decrease originality on a collective level, a study shows

Books and movies of the future could all start to feel the same if creative industries embrace artificial intelligence to help write stories, a study published on Friday warned.

The research, which drew on hundreds of volunteers and was published in Science Advances , comes amid rising fears over the impact of widely available AI tools that turn simple text prompts into relatively sophisticated music, art and writing.

"Our goal was to study to what extent and how generative AI might help humans with creativity," co-author Anil Doshi of the University College London told AFP.

For their experiment, Doshi and co-author Oliver Hauser of the University of Exeter recruited around 300 volunteers as "writers."

These were people who didn't write for a living, and their inherent creative ability was assessed by a standard psychology test that asked them to provide 10 drastically different words.

The scientists then split them randomly into three groups to write an eight-sentence story about one of three topics: an adventure on the open seas, an adventure in the jungle, or an adventure on another planet.

Participants were also randomly placed into three groups that received varying levels of AI assistance.

The first group got no help, the second was provided a three-sentence story idea from ChatGPT, and the third could receive up to five AI-generated story ideas to help them get going.

Individual benefit, collective loss

After completing their stories, participants were asked to assess their own work's creativity through measures including how novel it was, how enjoyable, and how much potential the idea had to be turned into a published book.

An additional 600 external human reviewers also judged the story on the same measures.

The authors found that, on average, AI boosted the quality of an individual writer's creativity by up to 10 percent, and the story's enjoyability by 22 percent, helping particularly with elements like structure and plot twists.

These effects were most significant for writers who were judged during the initial task to be the least creative, "so it has this kind of leveling the playing field effect," said Doshi.

But on the collective level, they found AI-assisted stories looked much more similar to each other than those produced without any AI help, as writers "anchored" themselves too heavily to the suggested ideas.

Hauser said this created a "social dilemma." On the one hand, "you make it easier for people to get in; lowering barriers is good." But if the collective novelty of art decreases, "it could be harmful down the line."

Doshi said the research also showed that, just like introducing pocket calculators to children too early could prevent them from learning how to do basic arithmetic, there was a danger that people could rely too much on AI tools before developing underlying skills in writing, music or more.

People need to start thinking about "where in my workflow can I insert this tool to get the most benefit, while still inserting my own voice into the project or outcome."

Journal information: Science Advances

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