Writing creatively is an enjoyable and rewarding pursuit that can be a hobby, a field of study, and even a career. Anyone can be a creative writer. All it takes is a little creativity, some strong ideas, a command of your written language, and an understanding of how literature is typically structured. By reading extensively and practicing your craft, you can become a talented and well-versed writer in your chosen field.
Becoming a Writer
1. Read extensively.
The best writers are avid readers. When you read a book, you should split your attention between the actual events in the book and the way the author composed that piece of literature.
- Reading helps you develop a firm grasp on how stories are structured.
- By reading, you’re also studying how published authors use language in creative and inspiring ways.
- Reading may also give you new ideas for your own writing, or illustrate to you how a skilled writer handles a certain subject.
2. Think about pursuing writing in college.
While you don’t need to study writing in college to become a writer, it can certainly help. Studying writing allows you to receive instruction and feedback on your work and may open you up to new authors and genres that you hadn’t explored before.
- Find out whether a given school offers creative writing as a major, minor, or an area of study within the English major. There isn’t necessarily one right or wrong approach; it’s more a question of what you would prefer to study.
- Check course catalogs to see what types of writing classes have been offered over the past few semesters.
- Look into the genres offered by a given program. Some only focus on poetry and fiction, while others include creative nonfiction, drama, and/or screenwriting.
- Find out what types of literary opportunities are available at the school itself and the community it’s in.
- Many schools host literary readings, guest authors, and may even offer students a chance to work at a literary journal.
3. Consider getting an MFA degree.
A master of fine arts (MFA) degree isn’t necessary to practice writing. However, an MFA program will build on the fundamentals you learned during the course of your undergraduate studies and help you connect with other writers who are just as dedicated as you.
- Websites like Poets & Writers offer comprehensive MFA program databases that let you compare the genres offered, location of the program, and core faculty.
- Being in a master’s program helps you build a sense of community. You’ll meet and study closely with a small group of likeminded individuals, and you may end up becoming lifelong friends/colleagues.
- Going through an MFA gives you the time to practice your writing and to receive extensive feedback over the course of the program. This will be invaluable if you plan on writing beyond graduate school.
- Some programs are very expensive. However, many programs offer scholarships, grants, and opportunities to teach.
- As you look into graduate programs, ask a program representative from each school about what types of funding they offer and what opportunities (teaching, working at a literary journal, etc.) are available.
4. Take a continuing education class.
There are many writing classes available, both online and in-person. You can find classes and writing workshops for beginners, intermediate writers, and advanced writers through your local community college/university, your local bookstore, or even online.
- Decide whether you’re more comfortable taking a class online or in an actual classroom.
- Look into who is teaching your class. For most writing classes, you should be taught by a published author who has experience in that genre.
- You can find massive open online courses (or MOOCs) through many colleges/universities around the world. Many of these courses are free or very cheap to join, since you won’t receive any college credit or diploma for the coursework.
5. Make writing a lifelong pursuit.
Whether you formally study writing in college/graduate school or pursue it on your own, it’s important to have dedication and work ethic. How you approach writing can determine whether it will remain a lifelong pursuit or something you never seem to pick back up.Make and stick to a schedule. Even if you can only find time for an hour a day, set aside that time and use it to write every single day.
Network with other writers. If you graduated from a writing program, this will be easy; if not, you can meet other writers through social network options like Meetup, or through local writing groups (which you can find online).
Keep reading authors you like and exploring new authors you’re not familiar with.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Try writing in other genres, or experimenting with hybrid genre work.
Mastering a Genre
1. Choose a genre.
The first step to becoming a writer is choosing a genre. There are some talented authors who specialize in two or more genres, but most authors stick with one genre of writing and work to perfect it. There’s no right or wrong answer, and no genre is more published than the others, so go with what you love the most.
- Think about which genre you like the best. Do you tend to lean towards poetry, works of fiction, or nonfiction essays/memoirs?
- There are many sub-genres you can work within, such as comedy, drama, and so forth.
- However, first you’ll need to choose a primary genre.
- One factor that may help you choose a genre is to consider who your target audience is.
- If you want to write stories for children or adolescents, for example, you might choose young adult literature.
- Sometimes the idea you have for your story may determine the best genre for your piece of writing.
- If you attempt to hybridize (combine genres), you’ll need to choose a primary one. It’s okay to blend poetry and nonfiction, for example, but your readers will appreciate some clarity on what it is they’re reading.
- Ultimately, you’ll have to go with the genre you’re most comfortable writing in. Try out multiple genres, read some noteworthy publications from various genres, and decide which one you would enjoy writing the most.
2. Learn the ins and outs of your genre.
Once you’ve chosen a genre, you should strive to become an expert in that genre. Read as much as you can by published authors working in your genre of choice, and take a look at some craft books that discuss the finer elements of writing within a certain genre.
- Search online for the most popular works of the genre you’re considering. For example, if you’re thinking of writing poetry, you might use Google or Bing to search for famous/influential works of poetry.
- Read as much as you can by as many authors as you can. Many writers believe that you have to be an extensive reader and know the genre well before you can attempt to master that genre.
- Try reading craft books on your genre of choice. You can search online, in a bookstore, or at your local library for books on writing poetry, fiction, or nonfiction.
3. Make time to write and stay on schedule.
Writing takes a lot of practice. It doesn’t come easy, but it does get more familiar the more that you practice it. Set aside some time every day, every other day, or every week to work on your craft without interruption or distraction. Remember that you won’t pick it up overnight, so be patient with yourself and keep working until it all comes together.
- Some writers set a minimum word count or page count for themselves. Others simply set aside the time to write and work at their own pace.
- There is no right or wrong way to practice writing. The important thing is that you set aside time for writing and put your pen to the paper (or your hands on the keyboard).
1. Keep a journal.
Journals are a writer’s best friend. If you’re out at a coffee shop, in a bar, or riding public transportation, you will witness all kinds of fascinating displays of humanity. By watching other people in their day-to-day interactions, you can generate plenty of ideas for characters. You might also have a sudden and brilliant realization, in which case you’ll want to write it down right away so you don’t forget it.
- Write down observations you make, people/places/things you see and hear, and the thoughts that occur to you every day.
- You can fill your journal with ideas as they come to you, or simply use it as a place to gather your thoughts when you’re outside the house.
- When you keep a detailed journal, it’s much easier to jump into writing during your designated writing time. You’ll have ideas, snippets of conversation you’ve overheard, or thoughts that struck you, and you may be able to turn those items into stories or poems.
2. Compile a research file.
Researching people, places, and things that interest you can be very productive for writers. You may generate ideas, or simply have researched information at your fingertips if you decide to write about that subject.
- A research file allows you to compile bits of historical texts, literary texts, and newspaper columns in one place.
- Research is valuable for genres outside of nonfiction. You may use a research file to develop a piece of historical fiction with accurate details, or even in poetry as a sort of “word bank” to draw unusual phrasings from.
3. Try using writing prompts.
Writing prompts are a great way to get your writing wheels turning. Prompts can help you break through writer’s block, generate ideas, or just stay in practice with your writing.
- You can buy books of writing prompts or rent one from your local library.
- There are many, many writing prompts available online for free. Search for “writing prompts”.
Writing Your First Work
1. Develop the necessary narrative components.
Every piece of writing, no matter what genre you choose, will need certain elements. Fiction will require elements that may not be required or essential in nonfiction and vice versa, but as a general rule, a good piece of narrative writing should have enough components to engage a reader in a logical and interesting reading experience.
- Every piece of narrative writing (fiction and nonfiction) needs a strong central premise.
- This is not necessarily the plot of your story/essay, but rather, what that plot means (for example, that power corrupts people or that adversity makes you stronger).
- Narrative writing also needs dynamic characters. These should be realistic, imperfect characters who change with time and experience (just like real people).
- To keep your narrative from spiraling out of control, it’s best to work within a confined space. It can be a temporal, physical, or situational space, but the writing should make clear to the reader why each character is involved in the story and its setting as the work unfolds.
- Every piece of narrative needs a protagonist (usually the main character). It’s essential that readers identify with him/her, or at least find the character interesting and engaging enough to keep reading.
- A good piece of writing should have an interesting antagonist whom the protagonist struggles against. It’s important that this character (who is not necessarily a villain) is well-developed, because liking the protagonist may not be enough of a reason for readers to want him/her to defeat the antagonist.
- The antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a person. An antagonist can be the main character (struggling against himself, his memory, his desires, etc.), God/gods/goddesses, nature, or more abstract concepts like time.
- There has to be change in the main character(s)’ situation. Someone who starts out aggressive should become more understanding/calm, a drunk should find (at least) moments of sobriety by the end, and so forth.
- Conflict is essential in any narrative piece of writing. Conflict is often person against person (usually the protagonist against an antagonist), but it can also be a person against him/herself, or even a person against his or her situation.
2. Work on the elements of a poem.
If you’re writing poetry instead of prose, the rules of narrative won’t apply to you so much. Instead, you’ll want to focus on what makes a poem succeed as a piece of writing.
- Make sure the poem has a lyrical quality that is pleasing to hear. Common sound devices include alliteration (repeating initial sounds in a line of verse), assonance (repeating vowel sounds), and meter (patterns of stressed/unstressed syllables).
- Strong poems often incite an emotional response. This was historically done with irony (having the unexpected happen, often without a character’s knowledge) and other elements of tragedy, but today a poem can elicit any type of emotion.
- Imagery is one of the most important components of a poem. Your descriptions, symbolism, and metaphors/similes (comparisons) should evoke a clear and unique visual picture in the reader’s mind.
- Make sure your poem is clear and concise. Clarity and concision in poetry means saying as much as possible in as few words as possible.
- Any time you describe something familiar, strive to describe or depict it in an utterly unfamiliar way.
3. Write the first line.
The first line of a story, poem, essay, or book needs to be engaging and interesting. It should deliver enough of the tension or theme of the rest of the work that a reader will want to continue reading through to the end.
There are many ways to start a piece of writing, but some of the most common include opening with:
- an aphorism
- a concise fact that relates (either directly or indirectly) to the events about to unfold in your piece of writing
- a deceptively complex statement/observation
- a striking image that will be further developed throughout the poem, story, or essay
4. Outline your work.
Once you’ve got a good idea of your premise and you’ve decided where/when/how to begin your piece of writing, you’ll need to outline your work. Some writers avoid outlining, while others find it invaluable to the writing process. The goal is to sketch out the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your story/essay/poem.
- Try writing out how you envision your piece of writing unfolding from beginning to end.
- Knowing how a piece of writing begins and ends (as well as its premise) can make writing the body of your work much easier and more well-developed.
- Think about specific details. It’s better to have too much information about a character, scene, or series of events and omit those details than to have a bare-bones story that isn’t complete.
- Get to know your characters. Whether you’re writing nonfiction (and interviewing them) or fiction (and making up the details), you should know as much as possible about each character before you begin to write about him or her.
5. Develop a working draft.
Your working draft should expand on your outline and fill in all the details. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a publishable manuscript – in fact, for many writers, a working draft is just one of many drafts that involve rewriting, rearranging, and reworking the characters, story arc, and series of events. However, your working draft should be as fleshed out and as close to being “complete” as possible.
- A functional draft should have a clear protagonist, situation, opponent, conflict, and resolution of conflict.
- Your scenes should be well developed, and the imagery should be evocative and unique.
- There should be nothing left unanswered in your draft, and all loose ends should be tied up. Everything should be resolved, and if something is deliberately left unresolved, it should be clear and explicit for the reader to understand why.
- There should be no gaps in the plot. Each scene should transition smoothly into the next, the dialogue should follow a logical order of conversation, and all bits of vital information should be clear and present in your draft.
6. Revise and edit your writing.
Once you’ve finished your working draft, you might think that it’s all finished. However, during the editing and revision stages, your writing will need to be fine-tuned, and it may need to be totally broken down and built back up from scratch. During editing, you’ll look for errors in grammar, syntax, structure, tone, voice, and of course spelling. The revision process should be much more thorough. You may need to rewrite some sections of your work and leave out parts that you really liked for the sake of greater clarity and stronger content.
- Try setting aside your writing for a few days, a couple weeks, or even a month.
It’s best to approach your work with fresh eyes so that you’ll catch any obvious gaps that might have been missed. It’s possible that you mentally filled in those gaps without realizing it when the story was actively fresh in your mind.
- Consider having a friend or trusted colleague read through your work. Ask for honest, direct feedback: what isn’t working, what was confusing, whether anything was left unresolved, etc.
- Read through your draft and ask yourself if the current phrasing is how you wanted to express the emotions, images, and premise.
- Think about whether a reader will understand what you’re saying and walk away with the same premise you had when you wrote it.
- Smooth out any missing or rough transitions. You may need to rearrange certain sections of your story/essay/poem, or cut them out altogether.
Sharing Your Work
1. Show your writing to friends.
Once your writing is well-polished and ready to be shared, you should begin by showing it to your closest friends and/or family members. Start out with a small group so that you limit how many people read your story. That way if you need to make any changes, you can do so without other people knowing the details that might cause rifts in your friendships/family/relationship.
- It’s a good idea to show your work to your friends/relatives before publishing it – especially if they are mentioned in your writing in any way.
- If you reveal damaging truths about your friends/relatives or portray them in an unflattering manner, consider changing the characters’ names so that no one is offended.
- Remind your friends/family that the story/essay/poem is about your perspective (or an entirely fictional perspective), not an absolute.
- If your friends/relatives ask you to leave something out of your writing, you should.
2. Attend literary events and open mic nights.
Reading your work aloud to an audience that wants to hear it is a great way to get feedback on your work and put your writing out there for others to enjoy. You can find literary events and open mic nights near you by searching online or looking through the events section in your local newspaper.
- It’s important to attend other writers’ literary readings/events, in addition to performing at your own events.
- Going to literary events to hear other writers read their work can help you build a stronger community or even network with likeminded individuals.
- Virtually every town has some type of literary events on a regular basis.
- You don’t need to move to New York City just to be part of a writing community. You can find out about local readings online or ask someone at an independent book store in your town about upcoming events and opportunities.
3. Join a writing club.
Whether you’re in school, are a recent graduate, or never attended school, you may benefit from joining a writing club. Writing clubs help you meet other writers in your area, spend time talking about writing each week, and get feedback on your work.
- You can find writing clubs near you by searching online, or by reading posters at your local bookstore.
- There are also many writing clubs available through social media outlets like Meetup.
4. Consider getting an agent.
If you’ve written a book-length manuscript, you may be thinking about ways to get it published. You can always self-publish your book, but if you’re interested in reaching a larger publisher, you may need an agent.
- An agent can help you with editing your manuscript, negotiating contract agreements, explaining the terms of a contract, and selling/promoting your work.
- Compile a list of authors you admire who write in a similar style and genre as you, and search online to find out who those authors’ literary agents are.
- Send a query letter to each agent you’re considering. Each agent will have different requirements for queries (including how long of an excerpt to send from your manuscript), so read their websites and familiarize yourself with what each agent wants.
- Keep your query letters brief – no more than three pages, and under one page. Make sure your letter is well-written and free of any typos.
- The first paragraph of your letter should let the agent know why you’ve chosen him/her to reach out to. Mention any authors you admire that that agent has represented, and let the agent know you share similar tastes.
- The second paragraph should include a three or four sentence summary of your book (without too much detail).
- The third paragraph should include a short biography of yourself, including any relevant information about your work (which literary journals have published your work, for example).
- If the agent’s website requests an excerpt, send one with your query letter. If not, wait for a response.
5. Find a publishing market that’s right for you.
Finding the right market for your writing can help you get your writing out to a larger audience, earn publication credits to your name, and may even help you get a book deal. That’s because many agents and publishers read through literary journals and other publications to find writers who shows potential and promise.
- Know your audience. If you’re writing sexually-explicit science fiction, for example, you may need to work within a more specialized market.
- There is a market for any type of writing. It just takes some searching to find literary journals and other publications that are the right fit for your style, content, and general premise.
- You can find literary publications online by searching for “fiction literary journals,” “nonfiction literary journals,” or “poetry literary journals.”
- You may also find copies of literary journals at a small, independent book store. This can help you become familiar with the type of writing typically published by those journals to see if your work would be a good fit.
- When you go to a journal’s website, they should have a section with writing guidelines, and may even post excerpts from published pieces. This can also help you determine if your work fits with their aesthetic.
- If you’re ever in doubt, try sending a query letter. This is a professional letter/email sent to the editor(s) in which you pitch your piece of writing, summarize it or quote a small section of it, and ask the editor if she thinks it might be a good fit for that journal.
- You can also try sending out your work and seeing what the response is. There’s no harm in trying, but be aware that some literary journals do charge a small reading fee for submissions that you send them.
6. Send out your work for publication.
Once you’ve found a journal that you think would be a good fit for your work, it’s time to send your work out. Every journal has different specifications for manuscripts, so it’s important to read the journal’s submission guidelines and follow them precisely if you want to make a good impression.
- Make sure your word count falls within the desired word count.
- Check whether you should include any identifying information (like your name or the piece’s title) on the actual manuscript, or just in the cover letter.
- Some journals prefer numbered pages, while others don’t care either way. They may also request that physical copies be stapled or unstapled, so make sure you’re sending an acceptable manuscript.
- If you’re sending your story/essay/poem by mail, make sure you include a self-addressed, stamped envelope so they can send you a reply. You should also make sure you don’t send in your only copy of a manuscript, as many journals recycle or discard them after reading.
- Write a strong, courteous cover letter. Include your contact information, the title and genre of your submission, a short biography of yourself, and a brief writeup of why you’re interested in that journal and what makes your submission a good fit.
- Note that some journals take six or more months to respond, while others respond within days. Some accept simultaneous submissions (submissions sent to more than one journal at the same time), while others strictly prohibit the practice.
- Don’t be discouraged. Take rejection and feedback with a thick skin and keep submitting your work, no matter what anyone else tells you.