The Best Writing Advice I’ve Received From My Creative Writing Professors
I began my university career as a psychology student, and eventually shifted my path over to creative writing (but that’s a story for another time). After this switch, I learned invaluable lessons from my professors, received beneficial feedback from peers, and made life-long friends.
As of December 2017, I finished my first semester of full time creative writing and I’ve never enjoyed a semester more — and that’s saying something, considering this is my fifth (and final) year as an undergrad.
I found more value in those three months than I did in any psych class I ever took. So, I’m sharing some of the best writing advice I learned so far during my creative writing courses.
Write Every Day
I know you’ve heard this before, but as a writer, the best practice is to write every day. Think of your writing skills as a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it’ll become. Even if you only write for ten minutes one day, you’re still working and strengthening and getting better.
Remember, writing for even ten minutes a few days a week is better than not writing at all.
Experience the World
One of the first writing professors I had was adamant that a good writer has and will continue to go out and experienced the world in different ways. This doesn’t have to be as drastic as selling your belongings and moving to Germany (unless that’s what you want).
It could be as simple as going to new places in your city, connecting with new people, or volunteering somewhere you wouldn’t normally volunteer. The key is to get out of your day to day rut and learn new things. Experience is experience, where you find it is up to you.
Don’t Form Attachments
Learning to avoid attachments early on in your writing career is crucial. In university creative writing courses, there is a lot of workshopping going on, where your peers and your professor analyze your work and tell you exactly what’s working for them, and what isn’t. You’re then expected to edit your work (at least a little) before going in for the next round of review.
See why forming attachments to your work is a problem? If you become attached to your work, you’ll have a hard time accepting criticism and changing your writing for the better.
You Can Always Improve a First Draft
Which brings us to our next point: first drafts can always be improved. Even if you think it’s the absolute best thing you’ve ever written and you’re a literary genius, leave your writing alone a few days and come back to it; you’ll definitely find at least a few things you’d like to change.
If you look at your writing and can’t figure out anything you’d like to change, show it to a friend or family member, but emphasize that you want advice, not just a comment about how “great” it is. I’m sure it is great, and those comments are a confidence boost, but they don’t help you improve your writing.
For me, accepting feedback or criticism for my writing was one of the scariest things I had to deal with when I began creative writing courses. I felt that if someone didn’t like my writing, they didn’t like me (my writing being an extension of myself).
This circles back to the point about forming attachments. You need to accept that A. your writing is not you, B. without feedback, you’ll never know what you can improve on or what people love about your writing that you can implement more in the future.
Now, I welcome feedback with open arms. I see feedback as a stepping stone to better writing, and who doesn’t want their best work going out into the world?
Carry a Notebook (Always)
I’ve had several creative writing professors hammer this point home. Ideas will enter and leave your mind in quick bursts, and you may think you’ll remember that plot perfectly when you wake up at 3 a.m., but you’re wrong. Our brains are amazing and frustrating at the same time, and our memories don’t work quite like we expect them to.
Keep notebooks beside your bed, in your car, in your backpack, even spread throughout your house. You don’t want that perfect line or plot to disappear and move on to someone else.
Use Concrete Imagery
This point is to be taken with a grain of salt, because it depends entirely on what you’re trying to do with your writing, but I’ve had several poetry professors tell me that the best poetry uses concrete imagery. Concrete imagery helps the reader connect to the poem, which gives it more emotional impact and helps the reader better empathize with the narrator.
However, in both poetry and fiction, abstract language can sometimes have more of an effect — for example, if the narrator/writer is trying to confuse their audience for some reason.
Read. A Lot.
This is another one of the tips I’ve heard most often – a good writer is an avid reader. Think of reading as another way to flex your writing muscles. Even if you’re not actively writing, the act of reading allows us to absorb style, word choice, inflection, scene and character building tips, plot progression, etc.
We’re learning to write, what works and what doesn’t, albeit in an indirect way.
Write What You Want to Read
This goes back to my post on blogging and writing tips. If you’re writing things you aren’t interested in, it will absolutely show through. People will know you have zero investment in the topic, and they in turn will be bored by it.
If you love fantasy, write fantasy. If you love historical fiction, write historical fiction. If love fairy tales where everyone lives happily ever after, write the dang thing.
Do yourself and your audience a favour, and write about something you enjoy, because no one will be having fun if you write about something that bores you to tears.
Just Do It
This is the most important tip on this list, and often the most ignored. We call ourselves aspiring writers and then never pick up a pen. It’s hard; what if you write something awful, what if your friends and family read it? Often, the fear of failure stops us before we even start.
But you can’t let fear of failure run your life and ruin your dreams. Sure, some days you will write a chapter or a poem or a short story that’s awful, but you know what? You practice, and you get feedback, and you revise, and another day you’ll create something so beautiful that the failures will feel like nothing.
You can’t be a painter if you never pick up a paintbrush, you can’t be a runner if you never run, and you can’t be a writer if you never write. So, pick up the pen already.
Have any other writing advice that you’d like to share? Leave a comment!