Jump To Section
5 Tips for Writing More Creatively
From bloggers to novelists to creative non-fiction authors, we all want to find ways to creatively enhance our writing process. No two great writers work exactly alike, but here are some writing tips that might inspire creative thinking in most authors:
- Learn from the best—but don’t copy them. It’s important to read renowned authors as a demonstration of what great writing and great writers can do. Depending on your writing style, seek out highlights of the genre. If you’re looking to write young adult literature, consult some YA touchstones like the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, the Goosebumps universe of R.L. Stine, or the poignant coming of age novels by Judy Blume. If you’re looking to write science fiction, study the work of Isaac Asimov or Neil Gaiman. If you aim to write fantasy novels, consult The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. If horror is your thing, try H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. But don’t confuse the voices of these authors for your own voice. Use your favorite books as jumping-off points. To be truly creative, you must hone in on ideas, styles, and a point of view that are all unique to you.
- Create a character based on someone you know. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have said that they came up with the story idea for The Big Lebowski by creating a hardboiled detective thriller that featured their real-life friend as the detective. Many authors have mined the traits of a best friend, family member, or co-worker as part of a great book idea. So the next time you’re around people you know well, jot down a few observations about their behavior—either mentally, in a notebook, or on your phone—and see if it prompts any story ideas. A key supporting character, or even the main character, could be a composite of people you know.
- Use the snowflake method to brainstorm. The snowflake method, created by author and writing instructor Randy Ingermanson, is a technique for crafting a novel from scratch by starting with a basic story summary, then layering in additional elements. It works well for all sorts of creative writing. To begin using the snowflake method, think of a big-picture story idea and describe it with a one-sentence summary. For example, the sentence could be something like: “Two teenagers discover a secret cave that contains treasures hidden by a group of criminals.” The snowflake method then requires you to build that sentence into a paragraph, using that paragraph to create various character descriptions. From there, you use those descriptions to create a series of storylines that involve those characters—and each of those storylines traces back to the basic idea at the center of your “snowflake.”
- Find an environment that encourages creative flow. When it comes to creative flow, the real-life existence of a writer often follows a cycle of boom and bust. Once you’ve hit upon a “boom” period, let the ideas flow and don’t let up. Writing workshops or even writer’s retreats often engender such creative bursts. They do this by sharing writing exercises designed to boost creativity and by providing a space where writers are surrounded by their peers. If you’ve never participated in intensive writing programs, consider doing so. Even an online creative writing course can offer valuable writing techniques on everything from character development to nonfiction narratives to poetry writing.
- Try freewriting. This creative writing technique is the practice of writing without a prescribed structure, which means no outlines, cards, notes, or editorial oversight. In freewriting, the writer follows the impulses of their own mind, allowing thoughts and inspiration to appear to them without premeditation. Allow your stream of consciousness to inspire the words on the page. The first time you attempt to freewrite, you may end up with mostly unusable material. But with writing practice, you can use your freewriting practice to refine your technique and ultimately unleash your creativity.
8 Creative Writing Tips From Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is known throughout the literary world for her riveting imagination, which manifests vividly in her novels, short stories, and plays. Here are some great tips from Joyce on how to infuse your own writing with creativity:
- Sharpen your powers of observation by journaling. Journaling is an effective way to heighten the degree to which your attuned to the world around you. When writing in your journal, push yourself to describe the places you visit—who populates them, how they look, what they smell like, what sort of food or plant life or architecture you see. Record dialogue you overhear or conversations you have with the people you meet. Becoming familiar with how people speak and the subjects that move them in conversation will help both with writing creative dialogue. You’ll find yourself relying on this information as you set off to write the first draft of your novel or short story.
- Write at odd hours. Scheduling your writing time is important, but it’s also a worthwhile practice to write at odd and spontaneous hours, when your mind and mood are altered.
- Keep writing sessions short. Joyce encourages writers—whether they’re self-publishing or full-time published authors—to give themselves writing assignments consisting of no more than 40 minutes to write. A limited time frame gives you the freedom to not fuss over your work and to write into the rush of creativity.
- Write when you’re feeling ill at ease. Believe it or not, Joyce encourages aspiring authors to write when they’re incredibly tired, busy, or even feverish. After allowing a new mental state into your process, you might look over what you’ve done and see something with new potential.
- Capture your daydreams. Allow yourself to daydream about your stories and take notes. Go on a walk, Joyce says, and then return home and write down any thoughts about a particular story: characters, details, dialogue. If you repeat this action for a few days, you’ll likely have the disjointed outline of a story.
- Get outside and move around. Getting out of the house and moving—going for a walk or run—has been a part of Joyce’s process for years. Many writers have found physical activity to be a way to both activate new ideas and facilitate the creative processing that physicality and distance create. “In running the mind flies with the body; the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain,” Joyce wrote for The New York Times in 1999. Many writers, including Haruki Murakami, Malcolm Gladwell, and Don DeLillo, have felt a similar connection between exercise and writing.
- Make checklists of details. When an idea for a story starts percolating in your mind, do some research. Think about your setting and motivations for writing, and then make a checklist of details you might want to include in your story. When Joyce set a novel in the nineteenth century, she made many notes—not all of which she used—on the kind of furniture, objects, and other things that might populate this world. Then she marked off the details that she included in the book as if she were completing a checklist.
- Be bold with form. The most important rule to remember in fiction is a simple one: Don’t be boring. Experimenting with form—surprising yourself and readers with structure—will pay off. For instance, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides uses the nameless, plural narrator of a group of local boys, simply referred to as “we,” to tell the mysterious, dark story of five sisters in town. By making this stark decision, Eugenides amplifies the mystery, loneliness, and voyeurism in his subjects. In Eric Puchner’s short story “Essay #3: Leda and the Swan,” an intimate portrayal of desire, womanhood, and broken family relationships takes the form of a high school essay on Greek mythology, emphasizing the narrator’s own troubling innocence and doubling down on the melancholic mood and feeling of fate in the story’s ending.
Want to Learn More About Writing?
Whether you’re creating a story as an artistic exercise or trying to get the attention of publishing houses, mastering the art of fiction writing takes time and patience. No one knows this better than Joyce Carol Oates, the author of some 58 novels and thousands of short stories, essays, and articles. In Joyce Carol Oates’s MasterClass on the art of the short story, the award-winning author and Princeton University creative writing professor reveals how to extract ideas from your own experiences and perceptions, experiment with structure, and improve your craft one sentence at a time.
Want to become a better writer? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons on plot, character development, creating suspense, and more, all taught by literary masters, including Joyce Carol Oates, Malcolm Gladwell, R.L. Stine, Neil Gaiman, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, David Baldacci, and more.