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February 29, 2024

Creative writing tips for beginners (5), By Ruth Oji

DID you enjoy the article last week? 

I’m sure you did! Now, again, I share with you further tips on creative writing. Recall that I last reminded you about the need to silence that inner critic, talk with people who encourage your ‘hustle’, relax as you think laterally, play your way to idea generation, and feel free to make mistakes – beautiful points indeed! This week, I focus on tips to help you avoid certain pitfalls that can block your writing or make the process more difficult for you.

One major pitfall you may encounter as a beginner writer is that of worrying whether anyone will like or dislike your work. When you begin to worry incessantly about what genre your work fits into or what kind of sales it may achieve, you may only be wasting your precious time. For some writers, their concern is knowing what publisher would be pleased to publish their work. Mind you, the work is still in progress, so why worry? Every time you fret about that, it is as though you were under intense scrutiny from the person assessing your writing. Keep in mind that what truly matters is you writing what you want and enjoying the process.

To this end, the second pitfall is worrying about who is going to read your writing. Thoughts of whom you’re writing for totally destabilise your process. You rather want to write for yourself, so you don’t hurt your writing. I am enthused to reflect on the quote by Cyril Connolly, a writer and critic. He noted, “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” What’s his point? That you always write best about your own private obsessions and things that interest you. Isn’t it true that many well-known writers have mentioned that they wrote their books because those were the kind they’d have liked to read but couldn’t find in bookshops or libraries? Can you take a cue from that? Follow this approach and write the kind of book you’d love to buy and enjoy.

Another pitfall to avoid is that of editing your draft as you write. As a beginner writer, you may not realise it, but writing is about rewriting. When you begin the writing process, you are drafting, not producing a final script. What is drafting? This is the act of producing initial material that you get to work with, refine, edit, and publish as you go; it is somewhat like producing clay, which you then shape into your preferred pot or sculpture. You get creative with it! Remember, without the clay, there’s nothing for you to work with. How does this relate to your creativity?

When you begin writing, just get some writing done. Don’t be obsessed about what it is you have to write and whether it seems relevant or not. What is the point? At the beginning stage of writing, you don’t have to think too much about what you’re doing. Why not? Because you can always go back later. Advice? Just keep writing and see where your drafting takes you. Refrain from being critical at this stage. I cannot emphasise this enough. In a future article, I might want to share additional tips on the rewriting and editing process. Are there other pitfalls to avoid? Certainly!

One huge mistake made by many beginner writers is that of writing too fast. Many rush along, typing away at a rate of knots, with their eye on the goal – producing a whole novel or biography in a few weeks. Should we tell them? Well, truth be told – such an approach will not work. Don’t get me wrong, please. There are exceptional writers who can manage to write very quickly, but this happens after they have incubated an idea for a long time and have been bursting to get it down on paper.

For most writers, the process is much slower and needs to be paced. Why is this the case? Remember, you are meant to enjoy the process, and rushing through it in long bursts defeats the purpose. You simply won’t enjoy the process. From experience I can tell you what happens to you: your shoulders get stiff; your fingers feel like they’re falling off; you dislike what you’ve written, and you run out of steam, lacking the littlest of motivation to keep going. So, what to do?

Slow down, people. Slow down. Advance in small steps and relish the process of writing. Could you try writing longhand for some time? This enables you to enjoy the feel of the pen on the page. You have to enjoy putting pen to paper like I do! Alright, why not try writing in a place that you like – perhaps in front of a waterfall, in bed in the morning, or in the garden? Allow your imaginative powers to process the words you use and the way that you use them. Breathe life into the writing process.

Part of slowing down entails starting off with shorter pieces like short stories, vignettes, or poems. Why is this helpful? For one thing, they allow you focus on a small piece of work at a time. For another thing, you can focus on polishing these efforts and making them work – it wouldn’t be as demanding as working on a larger piece of work. What if you do have to work on a larger project? What should you do? Why not think of breaking down the work to short term projects that lead up to the larger work? Breaking it down to short and manageable chapters can do wonders for you. Then get to the writing.

Finally, be consistent with your output. Endeavour to get down some ideas, a few lines or phrases, a paragraph or two. Don’t expect too much of yourself at the initial phase. Even if you intend to write a whole book, going slowly is still the best approach. Aim to write for 10 or 15 minutes every day, thus setting targets that are realisable. As you make progress, you can then increase your pace. 

Do let me know if you’re enjoying the tips and if you’d like them to continue. I’ll take a break with them and return to our public speaking lessons. 

Thanks for reading!