The Power of Narrative Writing

narrative writing

What is narrative writing?

Wikipedia defines narrative as “any report of connected events, actual or imaginary, presented in a sequence of written or spoken words, or still or moving images.”

Put simply, narrative is story — a sequence of events with a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Narrative can be true or fictional. It can be relayed in writing, through photographs, in film, and even in song.

Narrative comprises a huge segment of creative writing, so let’s take a look at narrative in action and examine some key traits of narrative writing. Read More

14 Types of Creative Writing

types of creative writing

How many types of creative writing can you name?

When we talk about creative writing, we tend to focus on fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. But there are many other types of creative writing that we can explore.

No matter what you write, it’s good practice to occasionally dip your pen into other waters. It keeps your skills sharp and your writing fresh. Plus it’s nice to take a break from writing the same thing all the time.

Let’s look at fourteen types of creative writing. As you read through the list, identify the types of writing you’ve experimented with and the types you’d still like to try. Read More

Creative Writing Practices: Free Writing

writing exercises in freewriting

Free writing is not your train of thought.

One of the most valuable writing practices I learned in college was free writing.

When you sit down with a pen and paper and let words flow freely, amazing things can happen.

At first, free writing is a bit of a struggle, but if you stick with it, you’ll produce some gems. The trick is to get out of the way, and let your subconscious take over. Most writing exercises ask you to think. This one requires you do anything but that.

Free writing is not like other writing practices; it allows you to generate written material for a variety of projects. It can also help you clear your head or tap into your deeper thoughts. Read More

What is Descriptive Writing?

descriptive writing

How do you use descriptive writing?

Writing description is a necessary skill for most writers. Whether we’re writing an essay or a story, we usually reach a point where we need to describe something by explaining what it looks like or how it works.

But many writers find description challenging to write, and many readers find it boring to read. Before the advent of photographs and film, description was essential. A person in the American Midwest who had never seen a tropical island would need a detailed description in order to visualize it. Nowadays, thanks to technology and modern media, most of us know what a tropical island looks like — no description required. Read More

Six Guidelines for Writing Creative Nonfiction

writing creative nonfiction

Guidelines for writing creative nonfiction.

Here at Writing Forward, we talk about three types of creative writing: poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

With poetry and fiction, there are techniques we can use to invigorate our writing, but there aren’t many rules beyond the standards of grammar and good writing in general. We can let our imaginations run wild; everything from nonsense to outrageous fantasy is fair game for bringing our ideas to life when we’re writing fiction and poetry.

However, when writing creative nonfiction, there are some guidelines that we have to follow. These guidelines aren’t set in stone, and there aren’t any nonfiction police patrolling bookstores, waiting to arrest you if you stray from the guidelines. These guidelines might be considered best practices, except if you violate them, you might find yourself in hot water with your readers.

What is Creative Nonfiction?

What sets creative nonfiction apart from fiction or poetry?

For starters, creative nonfiction is factual. A memoir is not just any story; it’s a true story. A biography is the real account of someone’s life. There is no room in creative nonfiction for fabrication or manipulation of the facts.

So what makes creative nonfiction writing different from something like textbook writing or technical writing? What makes it creative?

Nonfiction writing that isn’t considered creative usually has business or academic purposes. Such writing isn’t designed to entertain or even be enjoyable. It’s sole purpose is to convey information, usually in a dry, straightforward manner.

Creative nonfiction, on the other hand, pays credence to the craft of writing, often through literary techniques, which make the prose aesthetically pleasing and bring layers of meaning to the context. It is similar to fiction in that it usually uses a story structure and is written in prose.

There are many different genres within creative nonfiction: memoir, biography, autobiography, and personal essays, just to name a few.

Writing Creative Nonfiction

Here are six simple guidelines to follow when writing creative nonfiction:

  1. Get your facts straight. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing your own story or someone else’s. If readers, publishers, and the media find out you’ve taken liberty with the truth of what happened, you and your work will be ridiculed and scrutinized. You’ll lose credibility. If you can’t help yourself from lying, then think about writing fiction instead.
  2. Issue a disclaimer. Most nonfiction is written from memory, and we all know that human memory is deeply flawed. It’s almost impossible to recall a conversation word for word. You might forget minor details, like the color of a dress or the make and model of a car. If you aren’t sure about the details but are determined to include them, be upfront and plan on issuing a disclaimer that clarifies the creative liberties you’ve taken.
  3. Consider the repercussions. If you’re writing about other people (even if they are secondary figures), you might want to check with them before you publish your nonfiction. Some people are extremely private and don’t want any details of their lives published. Others might request that you leave certain things out, which they feel are personal. Otherwise, make sure you’ve weighed the repercussions of revealing other people’s lives to the world. Relationships have been both strengthened and destroyed as a result of authors publishing the details of other people’s lives.
  4. Be objective. You don’t need to be overly objective if you’re telling your own, personal story. However, nobody wants to read a highly biased biography. Book reviews for biographies are packed with heavy criticism for authors who didn’t fact-check or provide references and for those who leave out important information or pick and choose which details to include to make the subject look good or bad.
  5. Pay attention to language. You’re not writing a textbook, so make full use of language, literary devices, and storytelling techniques.
  6. Know your audience. Creative nonfiction sells, but you must have an interested audience. A memoir about an ordinary person’s first year of college isn’t especially interesting. Who’s going to read it? However, a memoir about someone with a learning disability navigating the first year of college is quite compelling, and there’s an identifiable audience for it. When writing creative nonfiction, a clearly defined audience is essential.

Do You Write Creative Nonfiction?

I know most of the readers here write fiction and poetry, but I suspect there are quite a few who either write creative nonfiction or want to try their hands at it. If you are writing creative nonfiction, do you have any guidelines to add to this list? Are there any situations in which it would be acceptable to ignore these guidelines? Got any tips to add? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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What’s in Your Creative Writing Notebook?

writing notebook

This is my favorite writing notebook.

I’ve been collecting writing notebooks and journals since I was a teenager. Most writers I know tend to accumulate a lot of stationery and office supplies: notebooks, pens, paper clips, and other odds and ends that we can use to manage and organize our writing projects.

Over time, these writerly goodies pile up.

I now have a sizable collection of creative writing notebooks and journals. Some are completely filled up. Others are still blank. A few are only partially used.

Good Old-Fashioned Paper

These days, writers use computers for most of their writing. But most of us readily admit there’s still something about good old-fashioned pen and paper that gets creativity flowing. It’s difficult to brainstorm on a computer; jotting down notes and random thoughts is cumbersome; and it’s almost impossible to doodle in the margins.

When you work with paper, more of your senses are engaged. When more of your senses are engaged, creativity flows more freely. You have to use your mind and your hands together. It’s a tactile experience.

I get lost in my writing when I’m composing scenes on my computer, but the real magic happens when I’m working out problems and developing ideas in my writing notebook.

Paper Preferences

Most writers will develop a preference for a particular type of writing notebook. Some of mine are pretty and whimsical. Others are simple and functional. I always go through lots of spiral notebooks for my business writing, but when it comes to creative writing, I prefer either composition notebooks or hardbound journals.

Composition notebooks are cheap, so I feel like I can be free and messy, which is essential when I’m brainstorming and plotting elaborate stories. A lot of my ideas get scratched, and it’s not a big deal when they’ve been scrawled in one of these cheap writing notebooks. Since they’re not precious, it’s easier to dive in and start writing without feeling intimidated by the blank page.

For poetry, I prefer to work in a hardbound sketchbook with unlined pages. I like to doodle and draw when the mood strikes. Occasionally, I write sideways, upside down, or even in circles (a technique for breaking through writer’s block). It takes me a while to fill up a poetry journal, so it has to be tough and able to withstand lots of use. Since most of my poems never get transferred to the computer, the paper must be archival quality; there’s less yellowing and tearing with higher quality paper. I’ve found the Watson-Guptill Sketchbook to be the ideal choice for my poetry journals with Moleskines coming in a close second.

What’s in Your Creative Writing Notebook?

The other day I was going through all my notebooks and journals. I found some good ideas I’d forgotten about along with plenty of ridiculous ideas that I’m glad I abandoned. I also went through the notebooks and journals that I haven’t used yet and found myself wondering about the poems, stories, and ideas that will someday fill their pages.

Do you ever go through your old creative writing notebooks and journals? Once you’re done with them, do you store them somewhere, or do you keep what you want to use and throw away the rest? Do you have a favorite brand or style for your writing notebook, and do you keep a decent supply on hand, or do you run to the store whenever you need a new one? What, exactly, do you write in your notebooks? Do you develop stories, draft poems, or keep a journal about your life? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

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10 Essential Lessons You’ll Learn in a Creative Writing Workshop

creative writing workshop

What can you learn in a creative writing workshop?

When I look back over all my years of formal education, from preschool through college, only a few classes stand out as truly educational in a life-changing way.

In sixth grade, we did a section on space, which fascinated me. I retained a lot of what I learned. Later, I took astronomy and learned even more about the universe. A class on women writers exposed me to a whole world of literature I didn’t know existed. And two writing workshops (poetry and creative writing) put me on the path to becoming a professional writer.

The main difference between a regular class and a workshop is that a workshop is interactive. You work together with your fellow students, critiquing each other’s work, asking questions, and exchanging insights. Whatever you can learn from a single instructor is multiplied by all the knowledge and wisdom you gain by sharing ideas with a roomful of your peers.

What You Can Learn from a Creative Writing Workshop

I only took one creative writing workshop, and I’m sure they are not all equal. You can usually sit in on the first couple of sessions to see if a class or workshop is right for you before you commit. If you find a good workshop, you’ll reap the benefits:

1. Discover yourself and your path. One day, while sitting in creative writing workshop, I was overcome by the strangest sensation. The best way I can describe it is that I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. It was the moment I knew without a doubt that I would be a writer.

2. Find out what your writing strengths are. The best part about receiving critiques from your peers is that they tell you what you’re doing right, which is reassuring. When you know that your writing skills have a solid foundation, it’s easier to accept that you still have work to do.

3. Accept the weaknesses in your writing. No matter how good your writing is now, there are things you can do to improve it. When ten of your classmates agree that certain elements in your prose need touching up or that you need to hit the grammar books, all you can do is accept it and dig your heels in.

4. Learn to handle critiques of your work. The first few critiques might be a bit rough, but once you see how all the suggestions make your writing so much better, you’ll start looking forward to them. You’ll learn how to separate yourself from your work, and you’ll be able to not only handle but actually embrace (and look forward to) critiques. This will also prepare you for the real-world critics and their reviews.

5. Help others improve their work. When other writers put your suggestions into action or express appreciation for your ideas and recommendations and then tell you that your feedback helped them make their writing better, it feels good, especially when the entire arrangement is reciprocal.

6. Meet people who share your passion. There’s nothing like sitting in a room surrounded by people who are just as excited about writing as you are. It’s not only inspiring, it’s comforting. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, some of whom may become lifelong friends, writing partners, or your future writing group.

7. Improve your writing. This, of course, is the main reason most people take a creative writing workshop. The ultimate goal is to become a better writer, and a workshop will definitely do the trick. You’ll also put a lot more effort into everything you write because you know it will be scrutinized, and this builds excellent writing habits.

8. Adopt new writing techniques. Between the instructor and your peers, you’ll discover all kinds of interesting new writing tools and techniques, often simply through the course of discussion as well as through observing everyone’s work.

9. Get access to a mentor. The person running the workshop should be knowledgeable and experienced in the world of writing. Maybe the instructor is a published author, or maybe it’s someone who’s worked as an agent, editor, or publisher. This access to a mentor is priceless. Take advantage of it!

10. Gain experience and get a lot of creative writing practice. This is one of the most valuable benefits of a creative writing workshop. When writers work on their own, they tend to procrastinate, get distracted, and generally don’t finish most of the projects they start. But in a workshop, you’re forced to get it done. This gives you lots of great experience and practice, and it also builds good writing habits.

Thinking About Taking a Creative Writing Workshop?

I definitely recommend taking a creative writing workshop if you can find a good one that suits your schedule, budget, and writing needs. If you’ve already taken a creative writing workshop or class, share your experiences by leaving a comment. Did you learn or gain anything? Would you do it again?

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The Writer: A Short Film

the writer short film

Still from The Writer, a short film.

Today’s post on Writing Forward is a special treat. It’s a short film called The Writer. As you have probably guessed, it’s a about a writer.

There are only a handful of films about writers, but not nearly enough for those of us who labor at the craft of wordplay and storytelling. It’s always exciting when a new film comes out that explores what it means to be a writer.

And that’s exactly what this short film does.

The Writer

A writer imprisoned in a mysterious house has everything he needs; food, drink and affection. Yet, he yearns to escape from the harbored life and venture into the wilderness outside. But there are a few things standing in his way: the other occupants of the house.

This film is a story about overcoming obstacles that hold you back from pursuing your dreams. Fear, self-doubt, distraction and laziness can cripple you, stopping you in your tracks. You can only blame your shortcomings on so many external things, until you realize the biggest obstacle in the way is yourself.

Take a quick break and watch this intriguing short science-fiction film all the way to the final revelation and payoff. Enjoy The Writer!


The Writer is produced by Woolly Rhino Productions, directed by Mike Rominski, and written by Mike Rominski and Kellen Berg. It stars Nathan Tymoshuk.

Self-Expression in Creative Writing

self expression

Do you use creative writing for self-expression?

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.

Freedom and Self-Expression in Creative Writing

Sometimes, self-expression can come across as little more than navel gazing, narcissism, or pontification. If we’re writing strictly for personal reasons, it doesn’t matter whether we write clearly or in a way that interests other people, but if we want to write professionally, to connect with an audience, our personal expressions must be clear and they must go beyond ourselves; they must resonate with readers.

Grammar and vocabulary matter: We need to communicate clearly when we’re writing for an audience. Personal shorthand, rambling, and bad grammar have to be reigned in. When it’s difficult to put our thoughts and feelings into words, we need a bigger vocabulary. If we study the language and rules of written communication, then our written self-expression will be coherent and more likely to draw an audience.

Honesty is the best policy: The best writing is full of truth. Even fiction and poetry, however abstract or fantastical, contain a kind of honesty that comes from the writer being forthright. That means we must embrace who we are. We have to be ourselves. Don’t write what you think people want to hear and don’t hold back your personal truths.

Connect with readers: We’ve all read essays and poems that were all about me, me, me (me being the writer). You can certainly write a great piece about yourself (your thoughts, ideas, or experiences), but in order for people to find value in your writing, it has to include them in some way. You can write drafts for yourself, but during revision, give some thought to your readers. Why should they read this? How will they benefit from it?

Know your purpose: Why do you write? Do you have ideas you want to share? Are you trying to influence people’s opinions? Will you help people see the world from a fresh perspective? Is your goal to enlighten or entertain? A little of both? When you know why you’re writing, you’ll have a much better chance at writing something worthwhile.

How Do You Express Yourself?

I’ve come across a lot of writers who insist on the sheer pleasure or therapeutic value of self-expression through creative writing. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s healthy to give yourself a personal writing space that isn’t influenced by the thought of someone else reading what you’ve written. It’s also good writing practice, because there’s freedom in writing without inhibition. But what if you want to take your writing to the next level? What if you’re ready to turn your self-expressions into poems, stories, or essays that people will read?

When you write, do you think about how readers will respond? Do you plan your creative writing projects with an audience in mind or do you focus on self-expression? How much of yourself do you put into your writing?

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Exploring Nonfiction Genres for Creative Writing

nonfiction genres

Nonfiction genres are growing!

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 genres 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.

What is Creative Nonfiction?

How can you tell the difference between a literary novel and any other kind of novel?

A work is usually considered literary because of the way it’s written. A literary novel is more than simple storytelling. The writer pays special attention to language, word choice, rhythm, and voice. Creative nonfiction is factually accurate writing that does the same thing; it pays attention to the craft of writing.

According to Wikipedia:

Creative nonfiction (also known as literary or narrative nonfiction) is a genre of writing truth which uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not primarily written in service to its craft.

Unlike fiction and poetry, nonfiction genres depend heavily on research, facts, and credibility. While opinions may be interjected and often the work depends on the author’s own memories, the material must be verifiable and accurately researched and reported.

Due to the factual nature of creative nonfiction, ethics come into play. In recent years, some memoir authors have been criticized for straying from the truth. There may be some wiggle room here. Since a memoir is not considered journalism, a writer may decide to take creative liberties with the facts; however, this may cause an uproar among critics and may even lead to a controversial reception of the work.

Creative Nonfiction Genres and Sub-Genres

These are just a few of the genres that qualify as creative nonfiction:

  • Memoir and biography
  • Food and travel writing
  • Personal essays
  • Literary journalism

If you think of more creative nonfiction genres, feel free to share them in the comments.

Creative nonfiction genres continues to grow and become more widely accepted and recognized as valid forms of nonfiction literature.

Have you written creative nonfiction? How strictly do you feel a memoir or other work of creative nonfiction should stick to the facts? Do you feel that nonfiction genres should focus on content and not creativity? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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