A lot of young people first come to creative writing because they have a burning desire to express themselves. Emotions are running high, ideas are flying, and opinions are in full supply. What better way to get it all off your chest than writing it down?
Self-expression is the heart and soul of all forms of creative writing from fiction and poetry to memoirs and essays. We combine our inner thoughts and feelings with what we perceive in the outer world and put it into words.
When we balance what’s happening inside with what’s happening outside, real magic happens: that’s the sweet spot where we connect with readers.
For some of us, self-expression couldn’t be easier. Give us a pen and a piece of paper and our ideas will come pouring out. For others, putting thoughts and feelings into clear, coherent sentences and paragraphs is a challenge. Everything comes out garbled, and only the writer can make sense of it. Read more
Creative writing includes more than just fiction and poetry. Creative nonfiction is a wide category of creative writing, which includes several genres.
Creative nonfiction is a relatively new field; only in recent years have works of creative nonfiction received the kind of attention from critics and readers that fiction and traditional nonfiction have enjoyed for decades.
It’s likely that creative nonfiction will continue to gain strength as a dominant force in the world of writing. The world wide web is growing at an astounding rate, and much of the content on the Internet is considered creative nonfiction. Take blogs, for example; many would be considered creative nonfiction. Read more
People ask me all the time whether I think a formal education is necessary to a successful writing career. A degree certainly helps, but no, it’s not necessary. There are master writers who did not finish high school and plenty never went to college.
I want to be clear: I fully support higher education. If you pull me aside and ask whether I think you should go to college, I’m going to say yes, of course you should! At the same time, I encounter plenty of writers (and other professionals) who are insecure because they feel they need that degree to back up their abilities. That’s just not so. If you want to write, you should write, regardless of whether you have a degree.
Keep in mind that while a degree is helpful (and you certainly learn a lot of valuable things in college), it’s neither a license to write nor a guarantee that you’ll be successful. Whether you pursue higher education or not, it is important to study the craft of writing. You can read books, join a writing group, or take a creative writing class. Read more
When I’m working on a story, I try not to think about technique too much. I focus on forging ahead without overanalyzing every step in my creative writing process.
My top priority is to get the ideas out of my head and onto the page.
However, during revisions and between projects, I often evaluate how I approached a project so that I can better understand my own creative process.
Hindsight is 20/20. I might decide that I didn’t do enough character sketches and therefore have to do more extensive rewriting. On the other hand, I might determine that I spent too much time writing down every idea and detail when I could have focused on the narrative and gotten it done more quickly. Read more
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines lifestyle as “a particular way of living: the way a person lives or a group of people live.”
Dictionary.com defines it as “the habits, attitudes, tastes, moral standards, economic level, etc., that together constitute the mode of living of an individual or group.”
A lifestyle is something you build for yourself from all the elements that make up your daily life: your thoughts, dreams, actions, routine, work, family, friends, food, hobbies, habits, and interests.
So is creative writing a lifestyle? Read more
Do you ever feel like you’re in a writing slump?
You can’t find a project worth committing to, or you have so many ideas, you can’t choose just one. You fill your notebooks and journals, but you can’t find a sense of purpose in what you’re doing. Maybe you spend a lot of time thinking about writing but can’t find the time to actually write.
Sometimes, the best plan is to make a plan. Instead of writing in circles or fretting about your projects (or lack thereof), stop and think about what you want to achieve or explore with your writing. Make a list of ideas for creative writing projects that you can sink your teeth into and then choose one and see it through to the end. You’ll come out of it with a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Read more
Young and new writers often ask whether they need a creative writing degree in order to become an author or professional writer.
I’ve seen skilled and talented writers turn down opportunities or refuse to pursue their dreams because they feel their lack of a degree in creative writing means they don’t have the credibility necessary to a career in writing.
Meanwhile, plenty of writers with no education, minimal writing skills, and scant experience in reading are self-publishing, freelance writing, and offering copywriting services en masse. Read more
Every once in a while, we writers need a break from our regular writing routines. Whether we spend our work week crafting copy for clients or dedicate late-night hours pounding out chapter and verse, we occasionally need respite from the monotony.
We get burnt out in the middle of a long project and need to step away so we can gain perspective and recharge our creativity. Sometimes we need to rejuvenate between projects. When a major project is finished, we need to find our next big idea.
But we also want to keep writing. A short vacation from writing practice starts with good intentions but ends with wondering how months or years slipped by without getting any real writing done.
One great way to continue writing while taking a break from our work is by engaging in creative writing activities. These are activities that remind us that writing is fun, meaningful, and invigorating, and they keep our writing skills sharp. Read more
Creative writing belongs to the arts, and the arts are an odd bunch.
People pursue artistic endeavors for different reasons. For some, it’s a hobby. For others, a livelihood. For most, it’s a hobby they dream of turning into a livelihood.
It’s a worthwhile dream and a lofty one too. But what does it take to get there? How much fun are you allowed to have, and just how much work must you do to turn your passion into a full-time job?
This post was originally published back in 2009, but I’ve updated it to add some new resources. Enjoy!
You don’t have to search far to find creative writing tips. There are tons of books, websites, and magazines that will let you in on the secrets of creativity and good, strong writing.
But if you want the inside scoop on what it takes to be a successful author, wouldn’t it be best to get it straight from the source–from a published author, an agent, or the editor of a major publication or publishing house?
These experts can share proven techniques that will help us improve our writing, get our work in front of an audience, and build a readership.
I was recently reading a novel, and a few chapters in, I realized I had mixed up two of the main characters. In fact, I had been reading them as if they were a single character. I’m a pretty sharp reader, and this has never happened before, so I tried to determine why I’d made the mistake. Was I tired? Hungry? Not paying attention?
I went back and reviewed the text and noticed that these two characters were indistinct. They were so alike that without carefully noting which one was acting in any given scene, it was impossible to differentiate them from each other. They were essentially the same character. Even their names sounded alike.
This got me to thinking about the importance of building a cast of characters who are unique and distinct from each other.
We sometimes talk about stock characters in literature. You know them: the mad scientist, the poor little rich kid, the hard-boiled detective. These characters have a place in storytelling. When readers meet a sassy, gum-popping waitress in a story, they know immediately who she is. They’ve seen that character in other books and movies. Maybe they’ve even encountered waitresses like her in real life. These characters are familiar, but they’re also generic.
When we use a stock character as a protagonist or any other main character, we have to give the character unique qualities so the character doesn’t come off as generic or boring. It’s fine to have a sassy, gum-popping waitress make a single appearance in a story, but if she’s a lead character, she’s going to need deeper, more complex development so the readers no longer feel as if they already know her. She has to become new and interesting.
Stieg Larsson did this brilliantly in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the sequels that made up the Millennium trilogy. At first the protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, seems like a surly punk, the kind of character we’ve seen a million times before. As the story progresses and Lisbeth moves to center stage, we learn there’s more to her than meets the eye. She’s antisocial (it is suggested she has Asperger’s Syndrome) and she’s a computer genius. She’s bold, brave, and tough. She’s not just some surly punk. She is a moral person with unique challenges–one of the most intriguing characters in contemporary fiction.
Cloned characters are often taken from source material, sometimes as an homage and other times as a blatant rip off. Such characters are particularly problematic when they feature prominently in a story and have no traits that differentiate them from the character upon which they are based. Do you want to read a story about a boy wizard named Hal Porter who wears glasses and has a scar on his forehead? Probably not, unless it’s a parody of Harry Potter, whom we all know and love.
You can certainly write a story about a young wizard who is based on Harry Potter, but you have to differentiate your character from Harry. Make the character a girl, give her a hearing aid instead of glasses, and come up with a memorable name that doesn’t immediately bring Harry Potter to mind.
As the book I was recently reading demonstrates, we also have to watch out for cloning characters within our own stories. For most writers, this is a bigger problem than cloning characters out of other authors’ stories.
Think about it: you are the creator of all the characters in your story. You might have based them on people or characters you know and love (or loathe). You might have conjured them from your imagination. But they are all coming from you: your thoughts, your experiences, and your voice.
While I’ve never mixed up two characters in a book I was reading before, I have noticed that characters who act, think, and speak similarly are common. And while a cast of characters who are similar to each other in every way imaginable doesn’t necessarily make a story bad, a cast of characters who are noticeably distinct from each other is way better.
Nature vs. Nurture
Cloning is the practice of making a copy of something, an exact replica. You can clone a human being (or a character), but once the clone comes into existence, it will immediately start changing and becoming different from the original. Its personal experiences will be unique. By nature, the original and the clone are exactly the same, but nurture (or life experience) will cause the clone to deviate from the original.
Here are some tips to make sure your characters are unique and not clones of each other or any character or person they are based on:
- Give your characters distinct and memorable names. Avoid giving characters name that sound alike. Don’t use names that start with the same letter and are the same length, and don’t use names that rhyme.
- Unless you’re writing a family saga, make sure your characters don’t all look alike. Try developing a diverse cast of characters.
- Characters’ speech patterns will depend on where they’re from, but individuals also have their own quirky expressions and sayings. Use dialogue to differentiate the characters from each other. Maybe one character swears a lot while another calls everyone by nicknames.
- Create character sketches complete with back stories. If you know your characters intimately, you’ll be less likely to portray them as a bunch of clones.
- To help you visualize your characters, look for photos of actors and other public figures that you can use to help your imagination fill in the blanks.
Are You Cloning?
The main problem with the book I mentioned at the beginning of this post was that there were two characters who were essentially functioning as a single entity, at least for the first four or five chapters, which is as far as I got in the book. The best fix for that problem would have been to combine the two characters into a single character, something I have had to do on one of my fiction projects that had a few too many names and faces.
I can’t help but wonder if the author ever bothered to run the manuscript by beta readers, and since the book was traditionally published, I wondered how the cloned characters made it past the editor.
How much attention do you pay to your characters when you’re writing a story? What strategies do you use to get to know your characters and make sure they are all unique? If you have any tips to share, leave a comment, and keep writing!
If creative writing is your passion, then you’d probably enjoy a career in which you could spend all day (or at least most of the day) pursuing that passion.
But creative writing is an artistic pursuit, and we all know that a career in the arts isn’t easy to come by.
It takes hard work, drive, dedication, a whole lot of spirit, and often, a willingness to take big financial risks — as in not having much money while you’re waiting for your big break.
When we think of people who make a living through writing, novelists and journalists come to mind immediately. But what other jobs are out there for folks who want to make creative writing the work that puts food on the table?
The Creative Writing Career List
Here’s a list of 20 creative writing jobs that you can consider for your career path. I’m not making any promises. You have to go out and find them yourself, but these are jobs that exist. You just have to look for them and then land them.
- Greeting Card Author
- Comic Book Writer
- Creativity Coach
- Writing Coach
- Advertising (Creative)
- Songwriter (Lyricist)
- Freelance Short Fiction Writer
- Creative Writing Instructor
- Legacy Writer (write people’s bios and family histories)
- Travel Writer (if you travel)
- Article Writer (write, submit, repeat)
- Video Game Writer (includes storytelling/fiction!)
- Personal Poet (write personalized poems for weddings, funerals, childbirths, etc.)
- Blogger (don’t tell me you don’t have a blog yet!)
- Creative Writing Consultant
Now, I’m not saying you’re going to make a whole lot to live on with some of these creative writing jobs but if you do what you love, the money (i.e. the success) just might follow. You’ll never know unless you try, right?
Do you have any creative writing careers to add to this list? Share your ideas by leaving a comment.