1 Write about what you know
Beginning writers always get told ‘write what you know’, but it’s good advice. Use settings, characters, background, and language that you’re already familiar with and create new stories from the world that you already know. This is like using research you’ve already done. And remember, your background, what you bring to the act of writing, is as valid as what anyone else can bring.
2 Write about what you don’t know
Use your imagination to create new situations, new characters, new relationships, even new worlds. Choose to write about a different period in history, or a place that you’re not familiar with. Where your imagination needs help, fill in the gaps with research. The best thing about being a creative writer is creating.
3 Read widely and well
Writers love reading. Make yourself familiar with the published landscape of writing in your chosen field, whether it’s modern poetry, literary fiction, thrillers, short stories, or fantasy. Nothing encourages good writing like reading good writing.
4 Hook your readers
Nobody is forced to read your novel or short story, so it’s important to hook readers right away. Your opening sentence or paragraph should encourage them to continue, perhaps by making them laugh, or exciting their curiosity, or just making them want to find out what happens next.
5 Get your characters talking
We find out about the people we meet through what they say to us, how they say it, their choice of words, their accents, their verbal habits. Readers should be able to do the same with fictional characters. People on the page really start to live when they start exchanging dialogue. Writing dialogue needs a lot of work – making it fresh and authentic, editing repeatedly to get it right – but it’s worth the effort.
6 Show rather than tell
Too much description, too many adjectives and adverbs, can slow up your narrative and cause your readers to lose interest. Where possible, it’s better to show you readers what a person, the atmosphere in the room, the relationship between your characters is like – show, that is, by what they say, how they interact, what they do. It’s more effective than telling the reader through wordy piles of information. This is a tricky one. You have to do some telling so it’s important not to become obsessive about avoiding it.
7 Get it right first time
Try to get your first draft as near perfect as possible. Few writers manage this kind of quality the first time but no one ever wrote great literature by aiming low. On the contrary, aim for the best and do your best from the very start.
8 Keep polishing
If you don’t get it right first time, you can do what most writers do – polish and perfect through the editing process. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that editing is the same as proofreading; it’s about much more than correcting errors. Rather, editing involves carefully going through your work to see what to leave out, what to change, finding out what you have to do to improve your writing, make it sharper, tidier, better.
Editing can be hard work. It’s said that Ernest Hemingway took the last page of A Farewell to Arms through nearly 40 drafts, so don’t give up if you feel you’re getting nowhere.
9 Make the most of your opportunities
Many aspiring writers claim they simply don’t have the time to make the most of their ideas. Yet, if you analyse a typical day, there are always those intervals – using public transport, waiting for a friend, time spent in the waiting room of the doctor or dentist – when it’s possible to pull out a writing pad, a laptop, a tablet and just write. Identify your opportunities – five minutes is enough to get a few sentences down – and use them.