How to get started with creative writing

by Anita Naik

Have you always wanted to try your hand at creative writing but felt afraid to start? Do you dream of writing a novel but don't know where to begin? If so, you're not alone. Eighty-one per cent of people feel that they have a book in, so here's how to get started with creative writing.

Creative writing is any writing that isn't academic, journalistic, or technical. So, it could be novel writing, poetry, playwriting and scriptwriting, to name but a few. It encompasses several different genres and styles across fiction and non-fiction writing (memoirs and autobiographies).

While the definition is vague, creative writing is any writing that uses the writer's imagination. Even if you don't have dreams of becoming an author, creative writing is beneficial to your vocabulary, essay writing skills and your ability to listen and take feedback.

Here's how to try your hand at creative writing

Read more books

To become good at creative writing, you need to have references to draw from. That are references you admire, dislike and find challenging, and the only way to do this is to read far and wide. Try to read more than the books you like and open yourself up to different genres, world literature and authors you haven't heard about.

On top of this, read actively. As you read, determine how specific effects and emotions are achieved by writers. Why do you love a particular character in a book and dislike another? What literary devices encourage you to keep reading and why?

If you're stuck on where to start, try Goodreads, which allows you to connect to reading fans worldwide. Millions of books are rated here with reviews and scores, under genres, prizes, ages, book clubs and more.

You can also learn much about creative writing from other authors, such as how they get inspiration, motivation and ideas. One excellent book on this subject is On Writing by Stephen King.

This is down to the fact that part of creative writing involves having your work critically reviewed. Taking constructive criticism and improving your writing is an essential skill that will benefit you whether you are a student or an adult learner.

Start today

When it comes to creative writing, it's easy to imagine you have to read books on how to write creatively and participate in workshops before you begin. While these ideas are good, the truth is anyone can start creative writing whenever they want, so why not start today.

The more you get into the daily habit, the easier it will be to write. Unsure of what to write, why not use creative writing prompts? Pinterest has some excellent ideas for prompts, from short story ideas to first sentence prompts and ideas for stories. Remember, you are doing this for yourself, so you don't need to show anyone what you write at this stage, though as you get more confident, asking for feedback is critical to improvement.

Silence the critic within

It's tough not to be critical when you start something new. Anne Lamott advises in one of the seminal books on writing, Bird by Bird: "What I've learned to do when I sit down to work on my first draft is to quiet the voices in my head."

It's nerve-racking enough to start writing, so don't let your self-criticism stop you before you even begin. Aim to write a complete draft or ten pieces of writing before you even start re-reading your work and editing it.

Find a writing mentor

Writing tutors, teachers and mentors are invaluable when you start creative writing. They are not only there to help and advise you but also are the best people to go to for constructive criticism that can help you to improve your writing style.

Tutorials also open up the realm of writing for pleasure, but can also help if you are studying creative writing at school, or degree level. So whether your creative interests lie in writing short stories or novels, or you want to develop your CV or broader written skills, creative writing tutors are for you.

Top 5 creative writing tips

1. Join Grammarly.com this site can help you improve your written work, plus it has a range of good blog posts on everything from How to get started writing to How to generate ideas.

2. Inspire yourself in everyday life and what's happening around you. You need a great deal of imagination to excel in creative writing, so work on this area as much as possible.

3. Decide who you are writing for. Every piece of writing has to have an audience, which means you have to define this from the start to get the tone right.

4. Often the most valuable exercise when you start creative writing is to compare some bad writing with some good and articulate the difference between the two and how you can learn from this.

5. Consider joining a writers' group. These groups aim to motivate and inspire everyone, from beginners to would-be novelists.