From journals to blogs to Facebook status updates, we’re all used to chronicling our lives and putting the things that happen to us into words.
So why not take those words one step further? Instead of just writing about events, explore the emotions and dynamics behind them with creative writing. It’s a great hobby that can produce something as simple as a 17-syllable haiku or as complex as a 900-page novel. And it will ultimately help you become more articulate and creative—great qualities for any professional to have!
Best of all, writing won’t cost you a thing. Unlike many other hobbies, which require (often pricey) special supplies, all you need is a pen and a notebook or the computer you already have.
Here’s how to get started putting your thoughts on paper.
Types of Writing
You can jump into any type of creative writing—fiction, poetry, or creative non-fiction (like essays or memoirs). Beginners most often pick up fiction, but start wherever you feel most inspired, and try a few different forms to see what you like. You can also draft a children’s book, write a song, or just pen pages in your journal.
If you love to dream up stories and plotlines in your head, try your hand at fiction—short stories, novellas, or novels. There are nuanced differences in writing for each type, but your main goal is to tell a story with rich characters and dynamic action. For advice on how to do this, from people who do it for a living, check out The Guardian’s e-book How to Write Fiction.
Poetry, which has been called the most artistic form of writing, is great for those who love structure—and also those who hate it! Free verse has absolutely no fixed rules, while poetry in a set form–haiku or sonnet or anything in between—offers specific guidelines for each word and line. Check out this list of 36 tips for writing poetry from Writing Forward’s Melissa Donovan for ideas on everything from expanding your vocabulary to reading poems aloud.
If you’ve ever thought about sharing the stories in your own life (truth is often stranger than fiction, right?), try creative non-fiction, a growing genre in which the author turns facts into literary stories. Whether you try memoirs, essays, or books, the goal is to be creative and original while remaining true to what actually happened. (Remember the James Frey A Million Little Pieces scandal? That book is now known as “semi-fictional.”) David Sedaris is a great example of a contemporary creative non-fiction writer.
Creative writing is a skill. Sure, some people possess natural talents for spinning tales or turning a phrase and if that’s you, great! But even if it’s not, you can hone your ability through practice.
So, write something every day, even if it’s just a paragraph. Several different online communities and websites exist to help turn the abstract “I want to be a writer” feeling into words on the page: 100words.com and 750words.com are two that help you reach a goal of writing a certain number of words each day.
Entering contests is another great way to motivate yourself to keep writing and improving. Check out Poets & Writers for a comprehensive listing of contests that you may be the ideal candidate for.
If you’re really ambitious, you might consider participating in National Novel Writing Month, a program that encourages participants to complete a 50,000 word novel in a month! Traditionally, NaNoWriMo occurs in November, but you can certainly practice year-round.
One of the biggest problems beginning writers face is writer’s block. Inspiration for creative writing, regardless of what genre you choose, won’t always spur you at just the right moment, and it can be hard to find until you know how to look. So, you have to practice looking. Look for the beauty and poetics in everyday objects and moments. Start by reading everything, from the classics to the back of cereal boxes, and see where it takes you.
There are also great resources out there to keep new ideas coming. When your creativity has run out, TheStoryStarter.com will randomly generate a lead for a story. Even if you don’t find one that suits your needs—some of them get pretty, well, creative—it’s still a great way to consider plot lines you never would have thought up on your own.
Really, just start writing. Get your thoughts on paper, express yourself, and have fun—because that’s what creative writing is all about. In the words of Ray Bradbury, who knows way more about this than I ever will, “May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories.”