Creative writing is anything where the purpose is to express thoughts, feelings and emotions rather than to simply convey information.
Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.
Writing practice is what you do when you sit down in front of blank paper and just start writing, without intending to do anything with the result. It’s an enjoyable pastime for me, especially when I do it with friends and compare notes.
There are a few rules for writing practice:
- Keep the pen moving. Try not to think and plan too much once you start writing.
- Don’t edit. Don’t stop and cross things out. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar and especially don’t edit ideas.
- Keep your writing. Write in a book consistently until you fill it up.
There are reasons for these rules. Keeping the pen moving helps you avoid the editor. It gets something out on paper, which is encouraging. It doesn’t matter if you start writing “I don’t know what to write about next, maybe I’ll write about my mother, no I would rather write about ice cream…” as long as you keep the pen moving.
Editing stifles creativity. Save editing for later. The editor in each of us causes us to reject the truly creative ideas because they are seen as “different, wrong”. You can always go over something later and fix the spelling or grammar — don’t do it during practice.
The book is excellent because it makes you keep your old writing around. Regardless of how you feel about the quality of your old writing, keep it. A horrible rambling self-pitying rant may have a couple gems in it: seeds of good ideas, a balanced sentence, or a certain tone which you’d like to bring back later. You can also use your old writing when you do more exercises later: for example, you can start a character in one exercise, then weeks later go back and start figuring out a plot around that interesting character. Finally, the book gives you a sense of accomplishment. I felt so proud when I filled my first book of writing. I’m betting I’ll feel even prouder when I line up a shelf full of completed writing book
Random stimulation is a great aid to creativity. Why? It probably has something to do with the way our brains work. The human brain is very good at tasks like making connections and seeing patterns. When you take two or three random words and force them together into the same writing session, you force your brain to make connections and see patterns. Imagine, all your neurons firing in a completely new way just because you took three random words and thought about them!
The important thing to remember with random stimulation is not to reject the random offerings. If you wait for a word or an idea which already fits, you will not come up with something new. The most creative ideas sometimes come from the words which fit worst.
But where can you get that random stimulation?
Random word combinations
Start with two or three random words. For example, the words could be “fireman” and “blockbuster”. Now, use these words to inspire you to start writing. Plan to include these two words in the writing somewhere. Try going for 10 minutes.
Sometimes when we do these random word stimulations, the result doesn’t actually include one of the words. Sometimes the writer still plans to include the word and is working up to that in the mini-plot that is developing on the paper, but we stop when about 10 minutes is up anyway. Sometimes the writer intended to use the word but the plot twisted in a new direction and the word became inappropriate. Sometimes the word is not used but still can be seen to inspire the piece. It doesn’t matter, because the stimulation still works to get you writing creatively.
Where can you get random words from?
- If you’re writing in a group, get each person to write a few words on separate pieces of paper. Put the pieces of paper in a hat and pass it around. Each person takes out a few pieces and might get one or more of their own words, but might not.
- Do lists of related words. Do a column of professions, a column of verbs associated with farming, a column of colourful things, a column of adjectives used to describe animals, or whatever other subjects you like. Then without looking at the columns, decide to take “the fifth word from column A, the third from column B and the twelfth from column C” or some other combination. Take these words and use them.
- Ahead of time, go through a dictionary and write down words. Every 50th page, write down the first word defined on the page. Fill a page with words in this way, then you have a resource of random words that you can use again and again.
Writing of any sort is hard, but rewarding work – you’ll gain a huge amount of satisfaction from a finished piece. Being creative can also be difficult and challenging at times, but immensely fun.
Tips and tricks for beginners
- Do some short exercises to stretch your writing muscles – if you’re short of ideas, read the Daily Writing Tips article on “Writing Bursts”. Many new creative writers find that doing the washing up or weeding the garden suddenly looks appealing, compared to the effort of sitting down and putting words onto the page. Force yourself to get through these early doubts, and it really will get easier. Try to get into the habit of writing every day, even if it’s just for ten minutes.
- If you’re stuck for ideas, carry a notebook everywhere and write down your observations. You’ll get some great lines of dialogue by keeping your ears open on the bus or in cafes, and an unusual phrase may be prompted by something you see or smell.
- Work out the time of day when you’re at your most creative. For many writers, this is first thing in the morning – before all the demands of the day jostle for attention. Others write well late at night, after the rest of the family have gone to bed. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
- Don’t agonize over getting it right. All writers have to revise and edit their work – it’s rare that a story, scene or even a sentence comes out perfectly the first time. Once you’ve completed the initial draft, leave the piece for a few days – then come back to it fresh, with a red pen in hand. If you know there are problems with your story but can’t pinpoint them, ask a fellow writer to read through it and give feedback.
- HAVE FUN! Sometimes, we writers can end up feeling that our writing is a chore, something that “must” be done, or something to procrastinate over for as long as possible. If your plot seems wildly far-fetched, your characters bore you to tears and you’re convinced that a five-year old with a crayon could write better prose … take a break. Start a completely new project, something which is purely for fun. Write a poem or a 60-word “mini saga”. Just completing a small finished piece can help if you’re bogged down in a longer story.