The short answer is yes. Anyone can develop skill in writing fiction; most of us were happy making up simple stories when we were children, just as we were confident about painting pictures. As we get older, we lose some of that artistic intuition, and feel as if the creative arts are the province of the chosen few.
But every time you tell an anecdote or talk to a friend about something that happened in your past, you are selecting and polishing information and creating a story based on fact. Dr Sally O’Reilly, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and published author, offers her expert advice for any budding authors out there…
Going to the next level and inventing a story from scratch can seem daunting. It’s true that even the most seasoned writer can feel intimidated by the blank screen or page, and the pressure to create something out of nothing.
One of the great aids to writing is reading, however, and the more you absorb through reading, the more natural story-telling will be to you. Writers are often inspired by other writers, or writing in response to things that they have read.
Where do I start?
To begin, if you would like to write crime fiction, read as many crime books as you can, and get into the habit of writing a short summary of how the plot works and how the characters are developed. The same goes for whatever genre or style of writing you are interested in: getting to know the territory and the tropes will help you craft your own narratives.
But don’t stop there. Read widely, dipping into various genres and styles of writing: try short stories, poetry, novels, life writing. All of this will feed your imagination and add to your knowledge about approaches taken by different authors.
Another way to develop your writing skills is to write regularly. Little and often is a good way to start, and some people find early mornings ideal for getting the words down. But any time of day is fine, as long as it works for you.
Try to write for 20 minutes a day for a month, not necessarily first thing: maybe at lunchtime, maybe before you go to bed.
Many writers get the ideas flowing by using a technique called ‘freewriting’, in which you jot down anything that comes into your head. The trick is to keep writing, not editing or worrying about the quality of your work, but writing quickly and instinctively. Another alternative is to do the same thing, but use a photograph or image as a writing cue, to give you somewhere to begin.
Remember, your material is all around you. Everyday life is the greatest resource that writers have, even when writing something fantastical they will be appealing to readers’ own lived experience, the way it feels to be alive. So your walk to work, the trees outside your window, the sound of children playing in another room, your broken fridge, the worst weekend you ever had, all or any of these experiences can be explored and unpacked as a source of fiction.
- Find out more about Creative Writing courses at The Open University.