Ten tips to kickstart your creative writing

April 26, 2016
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Do you have a pile of angsty poems or flowery prose tucked away somewhere? Perhaps in high school you fancied yourself a bit of a Charlotte Bronte or T.S. Eliot, but have since lost the inspiration.

Here are ten writing exercises you can try this week to kickstart your creative writing again.

Lightning writing

Half the challenge of writing is getting started. Set yourself the task of writing whatever comes into your head for the next 10 minutes. Don’t worry about constructing perfect sentences; the purpose here is to simply get reconnected with writing again.

If you don’t know where to start, use an online tool to generate writing prompts and opening sentences.

Describe a place

Go to a place you find interesting and write a description of what you see, hear, taste, smell and touch. Move away from clichéd images and instead help the reader to experience the environment afresh. For example, we often write about the wind “whispering”, but is that what it really sounds like? Come up with new ways of describing the place.

Describe a painting

You can do the same exercise by describing an artwork rather than a real-life place. This literary technique, called ekphrasis, allows writers to paint a vivid picture through words. Find a painting that inspires you and write a detailed description of the scene it portrays. Imagine you’re writing for someone who has never seen it.

Get inspiration from those around you

The people around you can provide great inspiration for your writing. Sit in a busy place like a café or bus stop, and spend time watching those who walk by. Where have they come from? Where are they going? What frightens or inspires them?

Try listening in on strangers’ conversations and writing down exactly what you hear. If that sounds a bit creepy, remember that many writers have used this technique to capture authentic dialogue. Just be discreet about your literary eavesdropping.

Create a story about an object

Choose an everyday object like a key, teacup or old book and create a fictional story around it. Imagine who first owned the object and how it eventually came to be in your possession.

Alter a pre-existing story

Select a well-known story like a fairy-tale or Shakespearean play. Think about how you could radically alter the story by telling it through the perspective of a minor character. Write the story from this alternate view, aiming to challenge some of the gendered or racial assumptions in the original tale.

Write in a new form

One way of stretching your creative writing skills is to use a different form. If you usually write free verse poetry, for instance, try a highly structured form, such as haiku or sonnet. If you always write short stories, work on a play script instead.

Experiment with other writers’ styles

Try adopting the literary style of famous writers. Even if their approach seems quite foreign to you, the very attempt at experimenting with it will open up new possibilities in your writing.

For example, try adopting the clear, controlled prose style of Ernest Hemingway. Cut out all adverbs (“quickly”, “extremely”, “fast”), avoid complicated words and long sentences, and include lots of dialogue. There is even a Hemingway app you can use to check your efforts.  

Other writers whose distinct styles you can try to emulate include the stream of consciousness of Virginia Woolf, or the experimental punctuation and sentence structure in the poetry of E.E. Cummings.

Keep a writer’s notebook

Keep track of your writing ideas by carrying a notebook with you. You can include observations, plans, questions or words you come across while reading. Ideas will often strike at unusual times, so keep your notebook handy.

Join a writers’ group

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to share it with others. Consider joining a writers’ group on campus or in your local area. Your new writer friends will offer you feedback on your ideas and, most importantly, help you feel you’re not alone in your writing journey. 

Melinda Cooper

Melinda loves reading on rainy days, drinking cups of tea and making things. She is doing a PhD in English at the University of Sydney. 

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