My name is Dr. Jeff, and I am one of the editors at FirstEditing. Before my editing career, I was an academic, conducting historical research and publishing in peer-edited journals. I would spend hours in archives, poring over documents for the minutest details that perhaps might have been overlooked by previous historians. I would compile all of these facts and figures into articles written in the very elevated, academic style that appeals to other academics.
Outside of academia, of course, this type of writing does not have a wide readership.
Non-academics are often turned off by the way in which academics write. The elevated style does not grab readers and make them want to continue reading, especially when works of history are often hundreds of pages long. Though I enjoyed the research, I knew that there were better, more accessible ways to connect with readership.
Creative writing, a term encompassing creative fiction and creative nonfiction, prose and poetry, allows writers and authors a much greater breadth of freedom to express themselves in a variety of styles, modalities, and forms. It does not somehow imply a lesser form of writing; creative writing often requires more skill, talent, and practice. Authors are not simply following an agreed-upon format to ensure publication.
There are two basic types of creative writing:
● Creative fiction → writing based on stories, characters, and plot concocted in
an author’s imagination. Subtypes include: novels, novellas, and short
stories. Could be any length, set in any time or place imaginable. Let your
mind run free!
● Creative nonfiction → writing based on something in real life. It could be from
the past, present, or future, but the narratives are based on true events.
Subtypes include: essays, memoirs, biographies, autobiographies, etc. The
best creative nonfiction uses emotions to draw readers into a particular story.
Creative writing, like any style of writing, takes time, effort, and patience. While some
people are born with innate writing talent, it is a skill that anybody can develop with enough practice and work. That being said, here are a few pieces of advice from an experienced editor:
1. When in doubt, draw from your own life or experiences.
Have you ever had an awkward first encounter with someone? It’s always hard trying to
make small talk and figure out how to interact with one another. When I was younger, my mom taught me always to ask people about themselves (this is a good practice outside these situations as well, of course). People love talking about themselves!
The same tactic applies to writing. If you’re struggling to create the world you can
envision in your mind, take a step back and use what you have around you. You know what kinds of experiences you have had; work them into the story! Did you once have a strange interaction that was, in retrospect, hilarious? I’m sure it would fit in your story!
Not all writing requires reinventing the wheel. Use what you know!
2. Practice, practice, practice.
Writing is hard. It’s always difficult to open the computer and see the blank screen, with
the cursor blinking, seeming to mock the challenge ahead of you. The only way to defeat the feeling of frustration destined to appear every time you begin a new document is to practice overcoming it. Eventually, your “writing muscles” will strengthen to the point that you won’t even notice it anymore!
I have a young child who is at the age where he is learning to do “normal” tasks for
himself. Do I watch through my fingers as he tries to clean up after himself and have to repress the urge to take over when I see him struggling to cut paper? Of course! But I know that these actions, like writing, require repetition. No one can do the work for you.
3. Read voraciously
The only way to know what type of writing you want to start is to understand what’s out
there. And to do that, you must read. Read widely and broadly. Read different styles, lengths, genres. Push yourself outside your reading comfort zone.
If you don’t, if you base your own writing only on your limited experience with perhaps
one or two genres, what you create will be one-dimensional and lacking in the depth that comes from having a wider palette of literary knowledge. You might eventually come back to what drew you to writing in the first place; that’s fine. But you will only know what’s out there if you look.
4. Trust your circle
Believe me, I know that there is little in life more frightening to a writer than opening up one’s compositions to scrutiny. But…if you don’t let people tell you what works and what doesnt, what literary devices you deploy well and which you need to retire, than you will never evolve into the best author you can be. I strongly advise, later in your process, choosing a professional editor, but the best, first line of defense is your friends and family.
I recommend this especially if you have people in your life whom you can trust to give
you the honest truth. Because, and I want you to understand this, much of what even the most talented, experienced writers create on a first draft needs considerable revision. The most valuable weapon in a new writer’s arsenal is a brutally honest support team.
Creative writing, in which you can express yourself freely on the page, can be incredibly
rewarding. You can take a world only you can see and, with a few clicks on your keyboard, use your words to paint a picture. Or, if it’s more your speed, you can give the world a peek into your life, or describe long-ago locales that, if not for you, they might never know.
Creative writing makes literature brighter, lighter, and more interesting.
Good luck, and happy writing!