So you want to be a writer? Creative Writing 101

ja09_books_creative_writingPossess a passion for the written word? Better yet, possess a passion for creating your own combinations of words, ideas, meanings, stories? You’re not alone. Besides being the favorite pastime of this blog’s author, creative writing has enjoyed a renewal of popularity amongst middle and high school students, with good reason. Writing is perhaps one of the greatest channels for creativity, and creativity is quickly earning its place in the classroom as one of the best methods for instruction.

My goal is to help you creative writers out there learn ways to transform your current scribblings into something you might bring in to a college creative writing class. Anyone can write, but few know truly how to write. Here are a few ideas about how to train your creative writing muscle, and train it to do great things.

[Continue reading for writing tips!]

  • Write often. This is the ultimate golden rule of writing. In my own personal experience, I notice how my writing becomes stale or overly wordy if I do not creatively write with habit. You do not have to write a short story a day necessarily. You can journal for example (one of the best methods of keeping up your writing!), or jot down a few sentences. Try keeping a writing journal that is distinct from your day-to-day journal, one which contains ideas, paragraphs, sentences, character names, and anything else that strikes you as writing-worthy.
  • Read short stories. This is equally as golden as the previous rule. That’s right: published, real life short stories. The only way you can learn how to find your own writing style is to learn about the writing styles of professional writers. Some of the best advice I’ve been given has been the following by one of my professors: “Read these essays to learn how not to write.”  But reading short stories can also give you a greater grasp on narrative economy, characterization, and plot devices. Check out some of my personal favorites: The Ceiling, People Like That are the Only People Here, and What You Pawn I Will Redeem.
  • Write what you know. Think about your favorite authors. Where did they get their ideas from? Real life! There is an art to writing what you know as apart from writing autobiography, and certainly you will have to learn this distinction in your future writing years. But you must write from your own experiences. Don’t feel like you have any? I’d dare to prove you wrong. Think about the old lady next door: what’s her story? The broken-down shed in the backyard? The convenience store around the corner? Anything can be written about. Just go out and snatch it.
  • Establish a routine. When are you best able to write? Find a time of day when the juices are flowing best, and stick to it. Some writers write just before breakfast, some just before bed. Stick to a routine—be it journaling each morning for five minutes, or writing a paragraph in the cafeteria each day—and you will be able to track your own productivity along the way. The more you are in touch with your writing self, the more in tune you will be with your style and tendencies.
  • Read writing guides, especially what great writers have to say about their writing. They are greats for a reason; usually they can pass on some great advice. Check out what Joyce Carol Oates, William Faulkner, and Zadie Smith have to say about creative writing. Also consider Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life: a book which changed my writing life!
  • Be open to criticism. It’s hard to hear from a teacher or friend that your story “really isn’t all that great.” Do not be discouraged. As a young writer, you certainly face the daunting task of adding your small words to a very large corpus of competing creative writers. But there is no greater opportunity: you have something unique to contribute. Listen to criticism; apply it if you wish; and your writing will only ever benefit.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, which will focus on writing creatively—far different (believe it or not) from creatively writing!

About the author: Kathleen McGunagle is a senior in Princeton University’s English department and Interdisciplinary Humanities Certificate Program. Concentrating in British Renaissance Literature, she will be writing a thesis this spring on Shakespeare and epistolary culture. Kathleen is an Academic Peer Adviser at Princeton, tutor through Princeton Tutoring, and avid performer. She has recently returned from a year of study at Worcester College, Oxford.

One thought on “So you want to be a writer? Creative Writing 101

  1. Elizabeth R. Bryant

    You CANNOT impress everybody…you are a writer and not a pizza, so be open to criticism is the key 😉 Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips for creative writing . I personally think proofreading is very important for writing. As a writer if you cannot read your work for at least 5 times then no body is going to read it for once. So be clear, simple, direct and interesting!


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