When you’re sitting down to write, a blank page is full of potential but it can also be daunting to look at. Whether you’re a novice writer or you’re a seasoned writer wanting to sharpen your skills, there’s always room for growth. Four simple steps will help you boost your creative flow and improve your technique.
“Wait,” you might be wondering, “How is reading going to help me write better?” While you can’t remember back to when you learned your first language, you probably know that you didn’t spontaneously start talking without hearing others speak first.
Current research indicates that babies don’t precisely mimic what they hear when they start talking. Rather, they figure out what works and what doesn’t work by hearing language, picking up on the rules of that language, and testing them.
For example, a toddler might use the word “feets” because she knows that most plural words end with “s.” She might also use the word “dog” to describe all small, fluffy animals. It isn’t until later that she will realize that the “s” rule sometimes doesn’t apply to plural words and that different types of fluffy, small animals have different names.
Creative writing is its own language. Although its rules are more variable than the rules of most spoken languages, they do exist. By reading and studying the writing voices of prolific writers, you will start to internalize some of the techniques that work and you will begin to recognize the methods that don’t work as well.
For example, you might notice that language doesn’t have to be abundant, flowery, and obscure to pack a creative punch. In fact, most of the great writers – think Jack London and Ernest Hemingway – use simple, everyday language to convey meaning.
Set a goal to read a wide array of creative writing, ranging from personal essays to fantasy novels. Reading many voices will help you find your own voice, even if you only plan to write in one genre.
Write Every Day
The best way to get better at writing creatively is to write. This tip may seem pathetically intuitive, but it is a tip that many would-be writers neglect to follow. You don’t need to write 20 pages of an epic novel every day to be an excellent writer; you just need to write.
More creative ideas will come your way if you actually set your pen to paper – or set your fingers to the keyboard if that works better for you. Devote a specific chunk of time to writing every day. Even if you start out with a set writing time of 10:30 to 10:35 p.m., designating five specific minutes to write is more effective than saying, “I should really write something today.”
If writer’s block is a serious problem for you, type “daily writing prompt” into a search engine. Dozens of writer-friendly websites have prompts that will get your creative juices flowing. Stream-of-consciousness writing is another way to spark creativity.
To use this technique, tell yourself that you will write nonstop until a timer goes off – you decide how much time you want to put on the clock – even if all you can write is, “I don’t know what to write I don’t know what to write I don’t know what to write.” Ignore proper punctuation and other strict writing rules to improve your flow.
You will also boost your creative output if you actively seek out inspiration.
For example, carry around a pen and notepad and write down intriguing observations. Another way to inspire yourself: go to a bookstore or a library, glance at book titles, and write down a list of the most interesting titles you can find. Write down two or more titles and find a way to link them in your own story.
Show, Don’t Tell
If you have ever taken a creative writing course, you have probably heard the rule, “Show, don’t tell!” at least five times. The problem is, you might not know exactly how to make that rule work for you in your own writing.
The main difference between showing and telling is how much you invite your reader into the moments you describe. Telling the reader, “John and Sarah cuddled for two hours. John had never felt this way before. Needless to say, Sarah made him upset when she told him to leave,” gives the reader pertinent information, but it doesn’t help the reader feel what John is feeling and it doesn’t help the reader understand John’s motivations.
To transform this telling into showing, you might write, “John had spent the past two hours pouring his heart out to Sarah while cradling her like she was the most precious stone in the universe. Every inch of his body trembled with anticipation that had been building in him since high school. When Sarah told him to leave, her words cut through his heart like a steak knife.”
Consider your reader’s five senses when you’re deciding how you will bring him into your characters’ world. Is a faucet dripping in Sarah’s kitchen? What does Sarah’s hair smell like? Would your characters’ actual voices enhance the “showing” in this situation? If John and Sarah haven’t exchanged any words yet, dialogue may be the best way to make this moment more vivid for the reader. Perhaps John’s voice sounds gravelly because he is choked up.
Get Regular Feedback
When you write in a diary, you are writing for yourself. In that situation, you are your most valuable critic. When you write creatively for others, they are the ones who should be giving you feedback. Getting negative critiques can be rough, especially if you are emotionally attached to a piece that someone else has just slammed.
However, you won’t have much room to grow if you don’t know whether others enjoy what you’re writing.
Keep in mind that “good writing” is subjective in many ways. Consider your audience when you’re deciding whom you will share your writing with. If your mother only enjoys reading “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books, she might not be the most efficient critic of your novel about zombies in an alternate dimension.
Join a writing group or sign up for a creative writing class that specifically focuses on your genre. Depending on where you live, you may find writing courses that are as broad as “Creative Writing 101” or as specific as “The ABCs of Short Stories for Children.”
Ultimately, you have the final say about what you write. Take or leave others’ suggestions. One harsh opinion – even if it is from an experienced writing professor – doesn’t necessarily mean that a piece of writing is garbage-worthy.
You will end up jeopardizing the quality of your work if you completely abandon your own voice to satisfy others’ tastes.