Do you want to start a writing craft journey, but you’re not sure where to start? You know all of the great reasons to write (for mental health, to express creativity, to inspire or help others, etc.), but you just can’t seem to begin? It’s easier than you think.
Step 1: Get out your Whittler
Carve out time.
While looking at your calendar and considering all of your other obligations (work, school, kids, chores, etc.), decide on a writing craft goal for the next week. Think of it like exercise. Start slow and increase your goal each week. Next, PEN it in. View your writing time as an appointment you can’t miss unless you have an emergency. Note: Laundry and dishes are not emergencies.
Carve out space.
All you really need is a pen or pencil and paper, but you may like a lamp or light, chair, desk or table, computer, and reference books. You can plan to write outside of the home like at a coffee shop, but it is a good idea to have some writing space at home for when you can’t get away.
Keep index cards or notebooks plus pens or pencils everywhere you go (by the bed, by the toilet, in the car) so you can jot down ideas and thoughts when they come (which you know will be when you least expect them). Or carry a digital voice recorder.
Sept 2: Get on the merry-go-round.
Do you already have an idea for a poem, story, creative essay, or another writing craft project? Great. Write it down. Write. Write. Write until there is no more. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc.
Not so lucky? Great. Write. Set the timer and write about anything and everything in your head in no particular order without worrying about writing mechanics. Use prompts from books or websites. Go somewhere and write what you see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. Make lists and then when you write, pick one and go: places lived, old friends, vacations taken, questions you’ve had, heartbreaks, foods you like/dislike, things you know, teachers you’ve had, jobs you’ve held, or one of hundreds of other topics. Ask yourself, “What if…?” and then answer the question. Start with “I want to write about…” and then go into details. When you think you’re done, set the timer for a few more minutes and keep going.
Eventually, an idea for a poem, story, creative essay, play, or other work will come to you.
Step 3: Get it in shape.
Some projects may require research beyond what you already have in your head. If so, get that done first. Good resources include the library, the internet (just be careful of user-generated sites), personal interviews, and observation. Once you have everything you need, put your words in the final form you desire (poem, story, novel, etc.). Leave out stuff from Step 2 you don’t need or want but still don’t worry too much about the nitty-gritty, writing-class type details.
Step 4: Get it good.
This is where you really get down to business. Read through your piece as many times as needed to make it more exciting, interesting, readable, and insightful. If you need help, visit the book store or check out books at the library about whatever form you’re writing in (poetry, fiction, non-fiction) as well as about creative writing in general.
Especially in fiction and creative non-fiction, you can amp up the energy in your writing by using specific but not clichéd words, using dialogue, or by using shorter sentences. You can increase tension by creating a character; giving him or her a big, important problem; putting him or her in danger of not being able to solve the problem; then solving the problem while creating additional little problems that must also be solved before the story ends. Keep the stakes high; continually ask yourself, “Who cares?” In all forms of the creative writing craft, increase the impact of your images by creating pictures with words, involving all of the reader’s senses, and writing active rather than passive sentences.
Deepen insight by showing readers a truth about human behavior or offering a new way to look at something. Keep your point of view consistent unless you have a reason not to, keep your reader in mind as you revise, and show, don’t tell. (Show: “She shuffled her slippered feet across the hardwood floor.” Vs. Tell: “She was tired.”) You’re voice and style in creative writing is uniquely you. The only way to hone it is by practicing and learning by reading other work and writing craft books. The most important thing to keep in mind is your voice is YOU. Find yourself, who you are, what you’re about, how you feel, what you think, and you will find YOUR voice. The most efficient way to do this is to write.
Step 5: Get it in sharing shape.
Read and correct any of the nit-picky mistakes until your eyes glaze over. There are numerous writing craft reference books available if you need to brush up. Remember to:
- Use correct punctuation and grammar (and if you break the rules, have a reason).
- Read your work out loud and word for word and/or have others read it and give feedback.
- Cut “That” out: Read the sentence without “that”; if it doesn’t belong, chop it.
- Remember the power of said: It is a nearly invisible word so think hard before using something else like shouted or whispered. Try to make the dialogue speak for itself.
Step 6: Get it polished.
Once you think you have your work all edited and ready to go, read through it one more time. If it is a book-length piece and you want someone else to publish it, consider professional editing. No matter how good we are, our brains always want to read what we should have written and not what we actually wrote.
Step 7: Get it out there.
If you want your work published in print or electronically, query agents, publishers, and/or magazines as appropriate or publish it yourself. If you’re not interested in publication, you can still share your work with friends and family or start a blog (several are free). Participate in open readings or give your poems and stories as gifts.
Embarking on a creative writing craft journey can be a rewarding, healthful, and life-changing experience. Following these seven easy steps will get you going.