Creative Writing For Dummies
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Do you want to be the next best-selling author and dream up a new iconic character? Follow this handy Cheat Sheet, which breaks down the creative writing process into manageable tasks and helps you to develop your writing style and become a confident and accomplished writer.

Gather your creative writing tools

Always be prepared! Here’s a checklist of useful writing aids to have with you as you begin to write – just don’t forget the tea and coffee!

  • A desk or other writing space and a comfortable chair
  • If you prefer to write longhand:
    • A good notebook
    • Your favorite pen
    • A dictionary and thesaurus
  • If you prefer to create electronically:
    • A computer, laptop, or tablet
    • A printer (or access to one)
    • A suitable notes app on your cellphone
    • Software that provides grammar and spellcheck capabilities

How to generate creative writing ideas

Writer’s block affects all writers from time to time. If you feel a bit stuck for inspiration, try these techniques to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Find an image (postcard, photograph, painting) depicting two or more people and write a story about them. Who are these characters? What might they be thinking?
  • Look at any object and write about it – where does it come from, who does it belong to, what memories does it trigger, who might want it and why?
  • Read local news for unusual and interesting stories and develop them as fiction. Take the basic idea but set the story in a different time and place with your own characters.
  • Listen to conversations on the bus, in a coffee shop, or at the supermarket. Jot down a particular exchange and carry it on, seeing where the characters lead you.
  • Pick up a book you really like and open it at a random page. Pick a sentence you like and write it down, and then carry on writing your own story from here, using your own characters and setting.
  • Pick an emotion and create a story around it complete with characters who are feeling that emotion. Pick another emotion and carry on writing. Make the characters move from the first emotion to the second – from hope to fear, from hatred to love.

Writing a solid first draft

Writing a first draft of your creative project – whether a novel, short story, poem, or play – can be a bit daunting. Follow these handy hints to help you organize your thoughts and manage your time:

  • Don’t worry about a great opening line yet. Simply start writing wherever you like. After you know where your story is going, you can go back and rewrite the beginning.
  • Keep the flow going in the early stages — keep writing without stopping, going back, re-reading, or changing what you’ve written. Don’t block yourself by starting to edit before you’ve got a good chunk written.
  • Remember to show not tell — think about how to dramatize what you’re writing about and create visual images.
  • If you become stuck on a particular passage, start somewhere else or write a different scene. You’ll soon get going again!

Rewriting and editing your creative writing project

Rewriting and editing helps to tighten up your work. But it can be difficult — what to chop and when to stop may not be clear, and you may change your mind more than once during the process.

Ask yourself whether you need to take out:

  • Unnecessary information and explanation

  • Passages of dialogue that go on too long

  • Clunky descriptions that give too much detail

  • Clumsy images that don’t really work

  • Too many adjectives and adverbs

You may need to add or expand:

  • Something you know but have forgotten to tell the reader; perhaps the age of the main character

  • More specific descriptive information that shows instead of tells; instead of describing a man as “old,” describe his white hair, slow gait and mottled hands

  • Dialogue of what the characters actually say, rather than summaries

  • Material to add interest or create suspense

  • A better opening or closing line

You may need to move:

  • Dramatic sections to make a stronger opening

  • Early information to where the reader really needs to know it

  • Essential information nearer the beginning of the book

  • Descriptive passages to add tension and suspense to incidents

  • Words, phrases and sentences to make a better rhythm

In your final edit:

  • Check for grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes

  • Ensure you have no continuity errors

  • Pay particular attention to the first and last lines of any section or scene

  • Smooth out any awkward words and phrases

  • Clarify anything that isn’t clear

Ways to develop and improve your creative writing

Here are some top tips for developing your creative writing. No writing is ever a finished product — there are always ways to improve and refine your style. Here are several things you can do:

  • Take a course on creative writing techniques and get constructive feedback on your work from a tutor and other students.
  • Join a writers’ circle to get support, encouragement, and feedback from other writers.
  • Find a good library and use it.
  • Read and re-read good writing — books that have been successful or stood the test of time.
  • Attend book festivals, readings, and bookshop events to see what published authors say, meet other writers, and contact book industry professionals.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Maggie Hamand is a novelist, non-fiction author and journalist. In 1998, Maggie founded the hugely successful Complete Creative Writing Course at the Groucho Club in London, and has been teaching there since: her students have included many published authors. She is the author of two novels, The Resurrection of the Body and The Rocket Man.

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