As writers, we all want to expand our writing toolkit and improve our creative writing skills. However, as restrictions for lockdown are easing up, it’s’s easy to slip back into mundane routines and claim “having no time” as the new excuse. So, how could you balance the necessity of daily life and the smoldering drive to improve your creative writing skills at the same time?
Here are 3 ways to improve your creative writing skills after lockdown.
Contrary to popular opinion, all story elements are all second to one main component: It has to serve the story’s theme.
According to K.M. Weiland, the award-winning published author of “Outlining Your Novel,” the plot is an external metaphor for the heart of the story. Without it, you would fail to pull the disparate parts of your story–plot, character, worldbuilding, etc.– into a seamless whole with a cohesive focus.
In the beginning, you’re brainstorming general sketches of the outline since you’re still figuring out the whole picture. You don’t want to impose too much linearity on the process just yet. Draw from your own experience, ask questions, follow the answers, discard what doesn’t work, and answer whatever new problems that arise.
I recommend listening to various music that matches the type of story you want to tell. For example, I like telling serious stories about spirituality and purpose in life, so for an upcoming webcomic, I’ve been working with my friend, I listened to a cover of Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro. As I keep working, I realized I wanted to tell the story of a man living in a tribe with spirits. The message is one that balances hope and reality. Drawing from my experience of pursuing writing and facing adolescence, I soon discovered that the protagonist needs to learn how to compromise his dream of being a spirit communicator while dealing with the responsibilities of becoming chief of his tribe.
Afterward, I would represent my theme externally through symbolism. The protagonist’s father’s death would represent how one must face adulthood, and there is no use in escaping. His love interest, a spirit, would represent the temptation to pursue his dream without having a back-up plan. As he leans into the temptation and falls into oblivion, his mother rescued him, giving a second chance to rethink his priorities. At the end of the story, he teaches the next generation how to communicate with spirits while moving the tribe underground to prevent spirit attacks. The story should be weaved in a way that your message could be understood.
If you’re having difficulty, here are 5 questions to help find your stories” theme:
Finding your stories’ theme is a complicated process with seemingly no end, but preserving will allow you to tell narratives that resonate with people for a lifetime.
Whether you’re sending your work to a literary agent or publishing for an audience, they’ll ask two questions. The first question is, “Do I even like the concept of this book?” And they’ll ask, “Can this person write?”
The world is filled with distractions, and you want to make it easy for your reader to continue reading. You don’t need to be a writing master to have clear, economical, precise prose.
Here are 3 steps to have better prose.
A sentence is like a clock composed of many different gears. If one is rusted, you’ll replace it, so the clock doesn’t fall apart. If you’re not picky about your word choices and sentence constructions, you’ll never improve your creative writing skills. It’s the first ingredient of success.
When you write, treat your manuscript as though you had to pay 10 cents a word for the privilege of writing.
Some of the examples down below are from Jericho Writers, which I heavily recommend.
First, delete the superfluous adjectives to improve the description in the first sentence.
Adding “away from” indicates motion and creates visual imagery. Next, a spike is already sharp and dangerous, so the original sentence included unnecessary words. Lastly, the main subject of the second sentence is still “he,” so we don’t need to restate the subject.
Every sentence needs nouns and verbs, while adjectives are optional. And in many cases, a sentence just doesn’t need any adjectives at all.
Let’s change the rest of the passage:
Almost a third of the length and everything about it is better. In the first version, all the verbiage is in the way.
If you had a sentence that was 12 words long when it could say the same in just 9-10 words, would you make the change? Or would you not care?
If you had a 120,000-word book that could be reduced to 90 or 1000,000 words without losing any material content, it would be 20-30,000 words overweight and too baggy for any top-end literary agent to get involved with. Although it takes more time to edit, it’s proof of dedication to your craft, and your readers would thank you for it.
Readers are smart people. They could understand the context of the scene through subtext and don’t want everything heavy-handed to them that they could have quickly figured out themselves.
Consider this passage as an example:
But although she said she didn’t care, it was evident to me that she did. As a matter of fact, when she spoke the words “whatever you want,” it struck me that maybe she was being passive-aggressive, that although she said “whatever you want,” maybe what she actually means was, “No, I’d prefer not to see him.”
It’s terrible because all the nuances of the situation were crushed.
Let’s compare it to the re-edited version.
It’s pretty clear that the women have quite strong emotions about the guy they might or might not invite to something — and she’s not keen to talk about how she feels. The writer doesn’t have to explain anything out at all, and respects the readers’ intelligence.
If you’re interested in learning how to craft dialogue, I heavily recommend it here.
You’ll occasionally create a phrase that perfectly captures something and shocks the reader into understanding. These snippets of genius could be formed by anyone, whether it is Ray Bradbury, JK Rowling, Jane Austen, etc. You just have to care enough.
Let’s say you want to convey how everyone had the potential to create something significant. It would be great if you could find a perfect description, but how do you do it?
You have to write it first and see how you feel about it. Maybe this, for example:
Or, maybe you’ll end up something similar to Ray Bradbury’s version.
He probably didn’t write that sentence on his first try. Maybe he didn’t felt it was quite right and tinkered with the sentence until he was satisfied.
Because that’s how writers write. Dissatisfaction + Editing = Improvement.
All concepts have been done before. It’s how you execute your idea.
As cliche as the adage “practice makes perfect” is, it’s unfortunately true.
There is no stagnation in life. What might feel like stasis is digression masked as temporary comfort.
Most importantly, the benefits of writing every day are endless. Not only will you write faster with no quality loss, but also forced to overcome perfectionism to learn from mistakes, which helps you improve.
No matter how you’re feeling, dedicating time to your craft is the only way to become professional at writing.
So, how do you maintain consistency?
Answer this question: Why do you want to write every day? Is it because it sounds fun, to reduce your pain, to lift someone’s spirits……
Whatever your reason is, it is a form of motivation to keep you going whenever you face discomfort and don’t want to write anymore. It’s also another way to see if it’s’s relevant to your goals. Your reason for writing is personal, and as long as it works for you, that’s all it matters.
For example, my reason for writing is leaving a legacy. Language is a prevalent factor throughout our daily lives. Although I might not be here forever, I hope the lessons I taught for the next generation will help one way or the other. Furthermore, it makes me happy whenever I write and pursuing it as a career will allow me to be content while donating the money I earned to people with lesser opportunities than me. This is the reason why I write 3 poems, 2 blog posts, and 4 cover letters every single week.
You should set writing goals for yourself and a deadline. It could be writing 5,000 words for your upcoming novel, finishing a short story, etc. Having a goal gives you purpose while having a deadline gives your goal momentum, or else you’re going to be stuck in a loop of procrastination and “someday” syndrome.
Next, block off undistracted time. You have to treat it as an unmissable appointment. You wouldn’t tell your doctor that you’ll get to the meeting “after checking your email and Facebook just one more time,” would you? So, shut everything down and treat this space as sacred. Feel free to write it on your calendar, set the alarm, or even put up a note where you couldn’t miss it. Once you start writing, your mind might want to check social media, clean your kitchen, watch Youtube, and so on. Notice this urge, and then sit with it. Don’t run. Your draft doesn’t have to be perfect as long as you continue writing. People would rather have a poorly finished product than a blank page.
Lastly, let’s set up a schedule. I like to measure my goals weekly by seeing how many tasks I have completed on my checklist. I usually write my poems on Monday to Thursday since I have less time. Then, I would finish my blog posts on Friday and Saturday, while Sunday is reserved for trivial writing tasks so I wouldn’t burn out. I wouldn’t have to worry about missing a day since I could quickly compensate for it by writing more the next day to finish my tasks on time for Sunday.
You could try to take a look at your schedule and see which days you are freer. If you have long transport hours, you could easily transform thoughtless browsing to further your creative writing skills. Have a bad habit that is not contributing to your life? Substitute it with a writing one. Although I recommend spending at least 1 hour per day writing, it’s’s entirely up to the individual to decide which day fits them best as long as they stick to their schedule. I recommend following the Two-Day Rule, where you wouldn’t miss your writing habits more than two days in a row, or else it would become harder and harder to bounce back.
Remember, the beginning is always hard, but it’s only through constant practice that you could improve.
You need feedback to improve your creative writing skills.
Not only it indicates how much progress you’ve made toward your writing goals, but it also shows what aspect you need to be more aware of, giving you motivation. Furthermore, it develops your resilience against criticism, which you would face a lot in the future if you wish to pursue a writing career. I suggest joining creative writing workshops or writing competitions since you’re being critiqued by people who are passionate about writing, so they could quickly tell you what’s missing from your piece.
Being a writer, while balancing life’s responsibilities isn’t easy. There’s always something that demands your attention, and you might not have enough energy to spur words on the keyboard. However, you don’t find time for what you love; you make time.