Thursday, January 6, 2011

Top 5 Creative Writing Tips

A friend on Facebook recently asked me: What do you think are the 5 best creative writing tips/hints/prompts etc?

Of course, I think it's impossible for anyone to narrow it down to just five tips, but here's my best attempt:
  1. Write first; revise later. Many writers think too much in the draft process (trying to make their first drafts perfect) when they should be writing. I believe in using outlines for fiction and nonfiction, but writers should let themselves get carried away with their writing as much as possible. Get your words on paper or on a screen, because you can make it perfect during revision.
  2. Show; don't tell. This is one of those golden rules of writing. If you have a character who is mad, don't write something like this: Joe was mad. Instead, show Joe's anger through his actions and/or dialogue. Maybe something like this: Joe slammed the door, stomped over to the couch and plopped down without looking at anyone.
  3. Start the story in the right place. Note: You may not know where the right place is until after you've completed the first, second, third, etc., drafts. I could give you a list of places not to start your story (such as in a dream sequence or right as someone wakes up for a normal, boring day), but then, you'll probably just try to prove me wrong. At least, that's what I'd do.
  4. Get a few trusted readers. This is very important. If you're the only person reading your writing, then you are working in a complete vacuum. Having a few trusted readers can help you identify trouble areas in your manuscript and even give you new ideas to incorporate into your writing. You don't have to incorporate all feedback, but it forces you to consider how others are reading your writing.
  5. Read. Whether writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc., it's important to read if you want to be a good writer. Plus, you should read everything--good and bad--that you can and identify why things work or don't work for you. Incorporate techniques used in poetry in your nonfiction; use nonfiction to find ideas for your fiction; etc.
Those are my personal top 5, but I'm sure other writers have their own. Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Final Tip: Don't worry too much about the business and marketing side of things until you've spent a good deal of time writing. While the business side of things can be very important down the road, writers who want to build a career out of writing should put writing first. Your writing is your product and service; so make sure it's top notch before worrying about all that other stuff.


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Suze said...

Write first, revise later- so simple and yet such a challenge to execute. I wish I could bind and gag my (inner) editor for a solid three months so I could get a full draft out. I've been oscillating for about seven months, now, and am strongly, strongly desiring to quit spinning my wheels.

Why is it that we can't just assimilate solid advice and carry it out without drama?


Andrea (Andee) Beltran said...

Thank you for the tips, Robert, especially the final one. I needed to hear that today. :)

Marisa Birns said...

Yes, the final one is so important and a really enjoyable aspect of being a writer.

Starting the story in the right place is hard but, as you shared, finding it will be better after several drafts. After all, whenever I revise, revise, revise, I usually find the story I meant to write. :)

Peg Lewis said...

Three others work for me:

NEVER tell your story to anyone, until it is all written. Once you tell it, it's out of you, never to return. Might as well have that be on 'paper'.

Write every day. I'm not sure it matters what you write or how much, as long as some writing is going on. A journal page works for me.

Your characters have lives of their own and are fairly bossy, but that doesn't mean that they can't be edited. Revise revise revise. (And probably shorten shorten shorten.)

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Peg - All three of those are good tips.

Marisa - I agree. I think many writers feel they have to write the final draft on the first try. But that is never the case (at least not nowadays).

Andrea - Glad to help.

Aurora - That's the thing about advice. You might know what to do, but then there's the whole act of execution. The good thing about writing is that you can keep trying until you reach the finish line. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that final tip, the best one of them all!

Denise2012 said...

Good advice and tips for writers. I admit I have a tenacity to revise more than write. I sometimes brainstorm story ideas, characters or plots during the drafting stage for my stories.

Annette Gendler said...

Find a regular time to write. My writing didn't take off until I started to get up early in the morning to have an hour or so to write before the kids get up. And I'm by no means a morning person. But now writing comes first in my day (Monday - Friday), and I begin the day having done something that makes me feel good. Most of the time, anyway.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

Denise-I don't think there's anything wrong with brainstorming ideas, but it's not good to let the brainstorming stall the actual writing. I know I'm guilty of that myself at times.

Annette-That's great advice, Annette. Carving out a routine time to write (especially for prose) can pay off big. It's the same as carving out a routine for exercise.

Amber said...

The best advice I ever received on writing was, "Quit while you're hot or on a roll." Some explanation required? Want to avoid writers block? Don't write yourself out. Want to avoid editing and revising while writing? Have too much to say. In other words when you're really on a roll, that's when it's time to put down the pen and walk away. That way your brain keeps working on it and when you return, you're ready to write! Not stare at the screen blankly or be tempted to "fix" things.