Sometimes the most unobtrusive piece of advice—a little change, a new thought—is all it takes to bring your creative writing to the next level.
Some of this advice is directly to do with writing, and some are about living the life of a writer effectively. All of them, I hope, you’ll find useful as a creative writer.
1. Live a full life, then write about it.
Not the other way around. AKA “live a thick life” and “write that you know”.
This doesn’t mean you can’t write about something until you’ve experienced it, or something similar to it, but your prose will be more true-to-life if you have.
Nor does this mean you have to go sky-diving every other weekend. Simply going out with friends, or exploring a place you’ve never been to, or trying a new kind of food—that can be enough. Adventures come in all sizes.
2. Vary your sentence structure.
Don’t send your audience to sleep with repetitive rhythms, constant imperatives or passive voice.
“Tom liked Katie. He liked her a lot. Loved, even. But if he told her, he knew he was putting her in a position that their friendship might never recover from. So although he loved her, he kept quiet. For years, and years. Now, as he stood there watching her walk down the aisle at the side of his best friend, he wondered if it had been worth it.”
Short sentences and long sentences. Simple and compound and complex. Get some variety in there. Make your prose musical.
3. Don’t aim for perfection.
The ego is the enemy of the imagination. Let your pride go, and the reasons not to write too, and just put pen to paper and get started. It doesn’t have to be perfect—especially not the first draft.
Take your time to polish your prose, but remember that sometimes those flaws you see are actually what make your work unique. Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.
Sometimes, it’s best to just let your work be complete.
4. Get rid of the adverb.
“He whispered quietly”; the quietly is implied. Most of the time, adverbs are unnecessary. Just use a better verb.
He ran quickly. He sprinted.
She walked slowly. She trudged.
He spoke intimidatingly. He menaced.
This will make your work flow and has the added bonus of being far more economic too. It also forces you to expand your vocabulary—always a good thing.
5. You can be subtle, but only if you’re obvious about it.
Trying to bury the deep meaning of your work several layers deep will make your work muddled.
As much as we might wish it were so, we aren’t famous authors—yet. People won’t spend a whole semester studying our work to figure out the meaning of the blue curtains in that one chapter.
Don’t try to be too subtle.
6. Let your audience see the punchline.
Even if you are writing a twist ending, your audience should be able to read back through your work and see the hints of what’s to come.
You may think of this as foreshadowing, and you’re welcome to. The main point is to avoid simply springing something on your readers and expecting them to just work it into the flow of the novel on their own.
That being said, don’t get anally retentive about plot holes. Nearly every piece of fiction has them, don’t get hung up on the small stuff. Readers can be very forgiving if the big stuff is worth the hole.
7. Respect your characters.
Take the time to work out their drives, their goals, their personality—how they might react to situations that might never even appear in your work. The better you can flesh these people out, the more believable they will be in your story.
If you don’t know where to start, you can use a technique that many Dungeons & Dragons players use. Find your character’s motive, and find their fear. That’s it. What do they want to achieve and work towards in your story, and what are they actively trying to prevent happening.
Everything else can become secondary.
Some of these you knew, and some will be new. Take the former as reminders, and the latter as lessons.