Useful Tips To Improve Your Creative Writing Skills
It’s here – the end of my second year of university! It feels like an age-old saying, but I truly can’t believe where the time has gone. The past few months have flown by, and I’ll soon be going on my Study Year Abroad to Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada (stay tuned for some blog posts on that!).
As a way of culminating the year together, I thought I would make a blog post compiling some of the most useful tips and general advice about creative writing, a discipline that often feels very murky and difficult to decipher.
I started at Warwick back in 2020, having little experience of being taught creative writing as a discipline. Creative Writing was something that wasn’t particularly touched upon in English lessons in my pre-university life. When I came to university I was so surprised by the wealth of information that tutors offered: tips on structure, character development, narrative pace were abundant and finally provided a concrete way of improving my writing style and focusing upon tangible, clear ways to do it.
Below are some of the various tips that I’ve learned over the past two years at Warwick. Feel free to take and leave whichever ones you choose – what may work for one writer may not for another – but I’d definitely recommend trying out the tips at least once to get a feel for how they can change your writing.
- An ending must be inevitable and surprising. This is a great sentiment that I always come back to when reviewing my endings. It can be easy to make an ending fulfill one of these two criteria: inevitability can come from the way in which you precede and build up to the final moment, which you’ve often thought about for a while and therefore have made feel inevitable. But this can often mean that the ending can feel predictable, if it is too obviously foreshadowed. That’s where the criteria of being surprising comes into play. Consider how you can build up to your ending in subtle, nuanced ways that leave your reader feeling satisfied.
2. Take out thought verbs in first-person narration. These are words such as ‘wonder’, ‘think’, ‘imagine’ and ‘decide’. For example: ‘I think about what I want for breakfast this morning’, or ‘I decide to take the dog for a walk. These words, when placed in the context of first-person narration, can be redundant and take us out of the mind of the narrator. By very nature of first-person narration, we are already in the character’s mind, so these verbs don’t necessarily serve a purpose unless you are writing in a way to demonstrate the narrator’s detachment from the events around them.
3. Don’t underestimate the power of reading to enhance your creative writing. When I was much younger, I’d read an entire Jacqueline Wilson book in an hour and devour any book I could get my hands on. I was the true definition of a bookworm. However, as I grew older, I spent less time reading as I focused on my studies more and more, believing that I didn’t need to read for pleasure in order to write well.
Of course, you don’t need to read lots of books for pleasure to be able to creatively write. But, I think there is a key correlation between continually improving and writing to a very high standard, and reading for pleasure. You don’t need to read a book a week, or even a book a month: but finding books that you love and reading them is the best way to enhancing your own writing.
At the end of my first year of university, I accidently fell in love with reading all over again after an impromptu visit to Waterstones. I started to discover genres that I liked and nuanced styles and forms that interested me, all of which gave my brain immense ‘food-for-thought’. I found that my writing style improved. I was becoming less melodramatic and not relying on layering multiple images and metaphors, something that I had wanted to improve for a while. My writing was gaining clarity, and I also fell in love with one of my oldest and most favourite hobbies.
4. Write what you want to write, and not what you think others will like to read. It is so crucial to not fall into the rabbit-hole of writing in genres or styles of what is exclusively ‘popular’ or ‘trending’. Whilst it can be tempting to write what you believe may appease the masses, I always feel that there needs to be a distinct connection between the author and what they are writing: both for the benefit of the author, and for the audience who can clearly feel that vibrant connection that the writer has to their work.
5. Don’t forget that you can experiment with form in prose! Before starting university, I had never considered the possibility of writing in any other form than standard prose or poetry. Now, I’ve realised that there are lots of super interesting categories of experimental forms that prose writers use, such as fragments and stream-of-consciousness writing. I’d highly recommend checking out Little Scratch by Rebecca Watson, Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill and The White Book by Han Kang as examples of what you can formally achieve with prose writing!
6. Constructive criticism isn’t there to catch you out or belittle your writing abilities. Perhaps one of the most difficult pieces of advice to truly internalise as a creative writer is the art of not taking criticism personally. Sharing your writing with others can feel exposing, frightening and vulnerable. These were all emotions that I first had during my very first workshop session in my first year. But the best way to approach the feedback that you are given is with an open mind.
Criticism of your writing can feel personal, as often our writing can feel like an extension of ourselves after the level of detail and attention that has been worked into it. But it is important to remain calm and collected, noting each piece of feedback and considering how you could incorporate this into your piece during the editing stage.
Don’t only focus upon the improvements that people have offered to your piece – take the time to appreciate what people enjoy, and make sure to do more of that! Take each piece of feedback equally: as one of my tutors said, even if one person finds a particular image or sentence confusing or feels that it isn’t working, it’s always good to go back and see if it can be edited.
I hope you found these tips useful, and as always, if you have any questions please feel free to send me a message on here!