New to creative writing?- try this

Getting started

This page is all about getting your creative writing off the ground. I’ll run through a few things that I’ve found useful and then give you a challenge…

The ‘rules’

I’ve never been comfortable with the use of the word ‘rule’ being applied to creative writing. I’d go as far as to say that its use put me off writing for years. It confused me; as soon as I was shown a so-called rule, I’d have an example thrown at me where it was not used. I guess that to my small, grey and compliant personality (son of a lawyer, working life in health and safety) I felt rules were there to be followed, when of course in creative writing they often are not.

It was years before it clicked for me; there is one ‘golden rule’ and the rest are just guidelines, conventions, offered up to help us maintain it. And what is this golden rule?

The Golden Rule: Write in such a way as to allow your reader to stay engaged with the story we are telling.

All the other stuff, from grammar to head-hopping, is all there to help us keep the reader engaged. You’ll no doubt be able to think of a book you’ve read where something has grated with you and suddenly you’re back on the train with a book in your hands and not dodging bullets or sharing kisses with your new fictitious friend. The golden rule is to keep the reader engaged in your world. Nothing else matters.

So, I’m going to leave the word ‘rule’ to apply to the gold and use the term ‘conventions’ for the rest….

I’m going to give you a few of the conventions that relate to the beginning of a novel and then give you a writing challenge to get you going. But first…

You need to get tooled up

The best thing about this hobby is that it doesn’t need to break the bank. You only need four things for your entire writing career. Here they are in order of importance;

  • time
  • space
  • a notebook
  • a pen

Time

You need to be writing regularly.

Take a moment to think about what you can commit to – in terms of improving your writing skills, once or twice a week for fifteen minutes is going to work better than an hour or more once a month. Give yourself a regular slot for writing. I’ve put this one upfront as I really do think it’s essential.

When I started out I made a commitment that for 5 days a week I would write at least one word of my novel after work. This might sound a bit strange but it worked for me. I got the idea from a guy who turned up to work everyday in a beautiful TR4A…

tr4a

He’d built (or re-built) the car from scratch, doing all the work himself. He told me that he’d promised himself to put at least one nut onto one bolt every evening. He explained that this wasn’t too onerous, he didn’t feel that he had a mountain to climb, and of course once he’d gone out to the garage and put that nut in place he might as well do a little more while he was out there. Pretty soon (I think about 18 months) he had a stunning classic car on his drive. I then had to look at holiday snaps of him and his wife touring around the Dolomites in the car – but that was a small price to pay for the story…. car / novel, nut / word…as I said, it worked for me and it gave me a first draft.

The other point that I think is worth making is this; it turns out that for most of us, being ‘creative’ is not about waiting for the muse to be upon us or taking psycho-active substances.

You have to practice being creative. Think of it as being like getting fit at the gym (physiologically there is some evidence that it’s really like this). You need to take your brain to the writer’s gym and give it a work out, and you need to do this regularly. Not once a month, or for a few weeks after the New Year.

Here’s the thing; before you read on you need to make a commitment. A commitment to yourself. Give yourself permission to dedicate some specific time of the day or week to your writing.

Invest in yourself, you deserve it.

Space

For some this can be pretty tricky. You don’t need so much by way of space, but you do need some. I can’t write in front of the TV, so I go to another room, close the door, and do my thing. I’ve no idea what you’ll need by way of a space to write. But I do know that you should give this some thought.

A notebook

The most important piece of equipment, and one which is absolutely essential for the writer in me, is my notebook.

Get a notebook.

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Nobody knows where ideas come from or when they’ll arrive, but come they will and when they do you will reach for your trusty notebook and jot them down.

Seriously, get yourself notebook.

I have a general one for ideas as they jump into my head, and a notebook dedicated to each of the novels I’m thinking about. Get a notebook.

A pen

(The pointy end is where the novel comes out).

Here are the rules. I mean conventions…

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to give you some ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’s’ (that’s way too many apostrophes) that apply to the start of your novel or story …when you’re writing your great work you can (obviously) ignore these, but just for me, for now, let’s say that you must use them. Think of it as developing a bit of discipline.

Don’t

  • you must not start with your character waking up

This is boring, lazy and a cliche.

  • you must not describe the physical appearance of your character by having them look in the mirror.
  • do not start at the very beginning of your story.

The Sound of Music lied to you….(and Dickens was a genius).

Do

  • Think about the first line of your story very carefully. It needs to hook in your reader. It must raise a question or at least an eyebrow.
  • End your opening scene with a hook (I’ll blog about this in detail in the future – basically you need to encourage your reader to turn to the next scene straight away).

Like I said, ignore the conventions by all means when your writing your ‘thing’, but have a practice at sticking to them first before you chuck them out….

It’s time you put pen to paper…

Time for fun!….give me the first 250 to 1000 words of a story applying all the do’s and don’t’s above. Take one or more of the following. Have fun.

Start your story with one of the following lines:

She never thought a knife could look so beautiful…

‘At least the dog was laughing,’ he said…

Write the start of a story about a woman who wants to be a clown….

Start a story with a description of your backyard / window box / smallest cupboard…

I hope you got something out of this page and enjoy writing a few lines. Please leave comments – lets learn from each other…

If you have enjoyed being given a starting point for your writing – go and take a look at  The Writing Reader   http://www.thewritingreader.com/blog/ (@WritingReader on twitter).  She tweets an opening line or picture as a writing prompt most days – lost of fun to be had!

Please drop by again….until then…all good things to you…and remember – jazz  is always ‘hot’ (if it’s any good).  Adam

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