Being able to write creatively is essential if you want to be read or published. Most writers start out thinking they can write. Some can. Many realise after initial attempts that there’s an endless litany of lessons to be learned. Plot, Structure. Theme. Characters. Setting. Tropes. Editing. And they are just the big topics.
When wanting to develop your writing skills, there are two avenues to follow, or are there?
- hunt for a tertiary education eg Masters in Creative Writing
- hit the search engines and see what turns up
Many published authors are disparaging of getting formal qualifications as a writer. Some are published because they wrote their seminal book as part of their degree. Can you teach creative writing? Yes, insomuch as there are conventions and techniques to be learned. Yes, insofar as gaining the discipline to produce a body of work. The question is how many people start a creative writing qualification compared to those who publish as a result? Is there a set of statistics to validate the value of a degree in writing?
Tap ‘creative writing’ into an accepted search engine and you will return over 1. 5 billion results. Amongst those will be articles, blog posts, videos, and courses on how to write creatively. Narrow that search to ‘learn how to write fiction’ and you will find more than 500 million references. That is a lot of rabbit holes to chase down to find the nugget you seek. There has never been a better time to learn to write well in terms of the volume of information and resources available to you. There has never been a more confusing time to learn how to write well given that very same volume of information and resources. What tends to happen is you dig around the results from your search and before you know it you either lose hours stuck in the web of usefulness or you find as you dig deeper there is so much more for you to learn. Either way, what you are not doing is the very thing you seek to do: write.
By all means, if you have time or money to invest in digging deep into the web offerings or a formal qualification, take that path if it suits you. Let me give you alternatives.
- Write as often and for as long as you can. Each time you write creatively you will develop your craft. Freewriting is a good way to kick this habit off. Simply commit to writing for ten minutes at a time without lifting the pen off the page. After a time you will notice the difference in your writing and will spot a few story ideas.
- Read as much as you can, even if it’s just a page a day, peferably in the style you enjoy – crime, romance, historial, memoir. Each read will implant a sense of structure and style in your mind which will spill onto the page as you write. Highlight passages that grab you, note sentences that strike you, jot down ideas that come to you. This is learning, not copying. You are teaching yourself by reading published authors.
- Spend time in your local library. Check the books on their shelves in the writing and literature section – take one or two home and learn from them. Borrow Stephen King’s ‘On Writing”, Anne Lamotte’s ‘Bird by Bird’, Stephen Zinsser’s ‘On Writing Well’, Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones’ to name a few. Ask your librarian about Book Clubs – they often run quite a few and will encourage you to read widely. Most libraries also have access to Historical Resources to explore local history or family history – both great sources of inspiration for writing ideas.
- Find a couple of easy,low-risk writing competitions which give you prompts to write to and a deadline to end on. Books or websites with writing prompts are good but it’s too easy to procrastinate without a time limit. Writer’s groups often have writing comps and exercises to improve your writing – at Port Writers there are exercises at most meetings, a friendly rivalry Port500 trophy comp and a semi-annual competition.
- Join your local writing group – you will get access to workshops, talks, craft development and feedback amongst other things. The cameraderie in writing groups is only limited by your preparedness to get involved. You may or may not find someone who writes in your genre but all chances to improve your writing don’t come packaged in neat little bundles. You have to untie them to find what’s inside, but all are learning opportunities. Port Writers has been helping local writers to write creatively since 2015.
Learning how to write is best achieved by finding what works from those who have gone before, and writing as often as you can. Keep in mind though, once you start writing, there is no end to the learning. There is always something to pick up along the way and play with. And if it’s not fun, why do it? Enjoy!
This article first appeared at melaniewass.com and has been reproduced with permission of the author.