5 Creative Writing Tips from 5 Creative Writers – Plus Writing Prompts to Improve Your Writing Skills
This creative writing hub is not meant to be tackled in one sitting. It is long. There is a lot to absorb. The exercises may or may not compel you to wander off and bathe in your creative juices for some time. If you are a creative writer or would like to one day proudly wear that title, bookmark this page right now so you can come back to it again. I have learned a lot from these well known writers and their creative writing tips. I know other creative writers will find them just as useful.
This is just one of many creative writing hubs to reveal tidbits of knowledge from experienced creative writers...so keep watching for more!
More on creative writing from Stephen King...
#1: Stephen King, from his book On Writing
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day…fifty the day after that…and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but then it’s –GASP!!—too late.”
I relate adverbs to carbohydrates. There are many people who believe carbohydrates are the devil and they avoid them like they would avoid eating a ton of lard. This is because the carb has a reputation for making people fat, just as adverbs have a reputation for making prose weak.
Yet, carbohydrates are essential forms of energy for the body. It is the abuse of carbohydrates and unhealthy forms of the carb that make you fat. The good carbs (like whole grains) give your body energy and increase your health when consumed within reason. Adverbs are the same. Some are okay, but if used too often and in the wrong forms they are damaging to the health of your creative writing.
Creative Writing Prompts:
Pull up a piece of your own creative writing, or even a diary or journal entry will do. Use Word or another processing program to "find" all instances of “ly” in the piece. Many adverbs that take power from a sentence will have this ending. Go through every word that has that ending and try to rewrite the line using a different word. You will find that rewording to get rid of the adverb strengthens many lines.
Your writing will become much tighter if you start to focus on this while writing. According to Stephen King, once you start looking for it, writing without adverbs becomes second nature.
An adverb comes before a verb to explain how an action is performed. For example, consider the following sentence:
I quickly stomped on the ant before it could get into my house.
It may seem like there is nothing wrong with this sentence, but do we need the adverb “quickly” to comprehend the sentence? Doesn’t the sentence already tell us that the stomp must have been quick to prevent the ant from getting into the house?
Reread that sentence without the “quickly” and you will see that more emphasis is then placed on the verb, “stomped.” That is the nature of sloppy adverb usage. While the intention is to strengthen the action of the sentence, they often take away from the power of that action.
Listen to Stephenie Meyer Talk about Seeing Her Book Come to Life
#2: Stephenie Meyer, in an interview by an Oprah show staff member
“…Twilight, I was so raw. I could do that one so much better right now. I would love to go back and rewrite that one.”
It is difficult to imagine the author of the Twilight series saying she would like to rewrite the books, but there is a lesson to be learned here for all creative writers. Do not judge your creative writing based on the first draft! Allow yourself to simply write and get whatever is in your mind out on the screen or the paper. You can go back later and fix your mistakes or make it stronger.
Creative Writing Prompts:
Have you ever had a dream that you remember to this day, even vaguely? Day dreams can count. Take the time to write that out in story form. If a character or plot emerges that you find intriguing, maybe spend more time on it. Think of this as your project just for yourself and allow yourself to write freely, no judging allowed.
During her interview with Oprah, Stephenie revealed that the Twilight series was born from a dream. She was so intrigued by this dream that she started writing it out, just for herself. She did not define herself as a writer at that point, had no idea the fame the story would eventually achieve, and she did not tell anyone she was writing. She simply wrote because she found it fascinating and it allowed her to escape her role as a stay-at-home mother. In the end she realized it was long enough to be a book…and after nine rejections it became the book millions love or love to hate.
We can have sour grapes that a non-writer is now one of the most famous writers of our time, but we have to move past that and see the lesson here. When you find something fascinating or intriguing, just sit down and write. Write for yourself first. You can write for an audience as you work through later drafts. You never know what will come of it.
What Motivates Toni Morrison to Write? She Tells You Right Here...
#3: Toni Morrison, from an interview with The Paris Review
“I was having some difficulty describing a scene in Song of Solomon…of a man running away from some obligations and himself. I used an Edward Munch painting almost literally. He is walking and there is nobody on his side of the street. Everybody is on the other side.”
Creative Writing Prompts:
Find an image online or in a magazine. If it is a picture of a scene, write out a scene describing that place. What vibe does it give when you walk through or drive through the area? Are there people in this place? What are the buildings or houses like? Or are there no signs of human life at all? Are there animals in this place, and are they animals we see every day or something out of another world?
If your image is of a person, create a life for them by writing a scene describing them doing something. It can be something mundane or something shocking. Make them feel real, like you are standing in the window or across the field watching them do this action.
If you are inspired by what you create in this creative writing exercise, turn it into a story or even a novel. Use this seed as your starting point for something creative.
There are a lot of creative writing prompts out there that draw off of pictures or graphics. This is a great way to come up with a starting line or scene for a new work, or even an entire plot. Sometimes I take out a magazine, find a model that looks interested, and create an entire character around what I think their life could be like. I can go from completely blocked to excited over a new short story in a very short period of time. It only takes a good image that gives me a jumping off point.
Creative writers can use images in a variety of ways. You may use it as a visual to help describe something, as Toni Morrison relates in the above quote from her interview with The Paris Review. You can use it as a jumping off point as I related in the last paragraph, changing the details at a later point if the story turns in a new direction. You can also use images as a tool to visualize your characters and put a face to them.
When writing long fiction I often find magazine or online pictures that closely resemble my characters and hang them on a cork board by my desk. If I need to determine what a character would do in a certain circumstance, I stare at their picture, think about their character, and the answer always comes to me. It is amazing what seeing the face of a character can do to strengthen a story!
More on Metaphor from Ray Bradbury...
#4: Ray Bradbury, in an interview with the Paris Review
“I write metaphors. Every one of my stories is a metaphor you can remember. The great religions are all metaphor. We appreciate things like Daniel and the lion’s den, and the Tower of Babel. People remember these metaphors because they are so vivid you can’t get free of them…”
I tend to naturally write with metaphor. I find it interesting and fun! For instance, you can read my hub relating really powerful lines a writer loves to babies, or my other hub where I relate lucrative employment opportunities to butterflies in a garden. The word “garden” even becomes metaphor for a person or a person’s opportunity. You bring the butterflies to your garden...or bring employment opportunities to yourself.
A metaphor is a comparison between two things, but you speak about one thing as if it is equivalent to the other. For example, yesterday I walked into the kitchen and found my daughter eating yogurt as if she has never had it before. I patted her on the head and said, “my hungry pup.” She laughed and told me I was crazy, because she is too young to understand metaphor. I was relating her to our puppy who woofs his food down in just a couple minutes, as if someone might steal it from him.
Creative Writing Prompts:
Try your hand at writing metaphor. You don’t have to start out with an entire story. Think of two things that could be related in some manner, and write a scene where you talk about one of those things as if it were the other. Get creative. Try it over and over until you start to get the hang of it. You don’t have to sustain this technique for an entire story, but every creative writer should know how to use it for impact in certain portions of their work.
If you find this one challenging, start by writing metaphor sentences. Think of two things that can be related in some manner, and write a sentence that pulls them together.
It is challenging to think of creating an entire story that really speaks to something not directly spoken on the page. You may write a fictional story about a woman making a very difficult decision while sending a message about a sensitive issue being debated in our culture. This is something to just keep in the back of your mind, so when the opportunity to turn a story into a metaphor comes along you will realize the opportunity and take it.
If you have never read a short story by Ray Bradbury and want an example of a story serving as metaphor, you can read one of his stories for free right HERE.
Do not mistake metaphor for simile! Simile also relates two things, but will connect them with the use of "like" or "as," while metaphor speaks as if one thing is the other without those connecting words.
Learn about Characters in Fiction Writing from Joyce Carol Oates
#5: Joyce Carol Oates, in an interview with the Academy of Achievement
“I’m very deeply inculcated with a sense of failure for some reason. And I’m drawn to failure. I often write about it, and I’m sympathetic with it I think, because I feel I’m contending with it constantly in my own life.”
It was interesting to hear such an accomplished writer talk about a theme in her work that has a deep root in her personality and mental focus. I find that there are themes that run through my fictional works as well, and I know that they are sourced from something deep in my past, thoughts that tend to run through my mind all the time, and things that I wish I could shake free from, but somehow cannot.
Creative Writing Prompts:
Think about your own creative writing and identify themes that seem to pour through many of your pieces. These themes do not have to be the main ideas or central themes for entire pieces, but they will be basic themes, people, places or ideas that pop up in some way or another over and over again. What you are drawn to in your work could very well reflect something about what is happening inside your soul. What do those themes say about you on that naked level?
This is why creative writing is so therapeutic! You can work through issues that have troubled you for years just by writing a story where you are exposed and vulnerable. Those tend to be the stories I hide away and do not want to share with anyone. Some I have even destroyed. A reader would never know where the ideas came from or that they reflected back on me so intensely, but it is still uncomfortable to have others read those stories. It opens up a wound. It makes me feel exposed, naked and raw.
I think it is powerful for a creative writer to acknowledge the themes that run through their work and what nakedness it exposes. It teaches you something about yourself. It can hurt and it can heal. I believe that rawness that makes a story or a poem difficult to tell is what makes it great for others to read. It is what brings creative writing to life and allows it to leap from the page and touch others in their own naked, raw places.
Oh, what courage it takes to expose yourself to the world through characters hell bent on pouring salt in your wounds in the name of accepting and moving on with life.
More Creative Writing Tips and Creative Writing Prompts to Come!
Stay tuned for another installment of creative writing tips from creative writing pros. I love reading interviews and pulling out nuggets of knowledge from experienced and novice writers. I will be doing more of these hubs in the very near future, so stay tuned!