Let me tell you a true story. In 2017, a researcher from the University of Nottingham called Kavita Vedhara, decided to investigate the effects of creative writing on physical well-being. To do this, Kavita and her team in New Zealand recruited 120 healthy volunteers. Half of the volunteers were asked to write expressively about a stressful event they had experienced, while the other half were asked to write a straightforward explanation of what they had done the previous day.
Two weeks later, both groups of volunteers underwent a small punch biopsy on their arm and the healing of their wounds was monitored for ten days. On the eleventh day, Kavita and her team finally discovered the results of their experiment. Incredibly, they found that people from the expressive writing group were six times more likely to have their wound heal faster than the control group.
Impressed? The benefits of creative writing don’t stop there.
10 Reasons to Pick Up Your Pen and Write
If I’ve convinced you to give creative writing a go, all you need is a notebook, a pen and a commitment to write regularly. I don’t mean that you have to produce 2000 words every single day, as you’ll probably struggle to achieve this. Instead, why not start with the small step of writing for 15-20 minutes? You could do this every day or every few days. The most important thing is that you make writing a habit.
Make writing a habit
Experiment with Where and When You Write
Many writers have a favourite writing place. Hilary Mantel writes on the train, J.K. Rowling began her career in a cafe and Philip Pullman scribbles down stories in the solitude of his garden shed. When you begin writing it’s a good idea to experiment with places until you find one or two settings where you can be productive. This might be your local cafe, a library, a museum or your own home.
It’s also worth experimenting with writing at different times of day. For example, if you need complete silence to write, could you wake up an hour earlier and write in the silence of your living room? If you’re a night owl, maybe you could write when everyone else is asleep.
Allow Yourself to Daydream
There’s a lot more to creative writing than putting pen to paper, as you need to allow plenty of thinking time, too. In fact, studies have shown that allowing your mind to wander can help you to tap into your creativity and generate original ideas.
Once you’ve started working on a short story or a poem, this ability to drift off into your creative zone will enable you to mull over plot issues, imagine settings, build rounded characters and come up with original twists. So forget about any teachers who told you off for daydreaming!
How to Generate Ideas
All stories, novels, poems and plays begin when something sparks an idea. This something could be a person, a place, a quote, a picture, a photograph or even a single word. Here are a couple of tried and tested things you can do to generate ideas and develop your writing skills.
Observe real life
Observing life in all its detail is a skill every writer needs to develop, as it’s these details that will inspire believable characters and atmospheric settings.
To develop your sense of place, make time to visit parks, interesting local gardens and historical or unusual buildings. Take a notebook with you wherever you are, and make time to note down your impression of each place. Don’t aim for polished sentences at this stage, as even simple words and phrases could inspire the setting for your first short story.
When you’re visiting a place, try to see things with fresh eyes, noticing the details that a non-writer might overlook. It’s also really important to use all of your senses. Here’s a quick example. When I was 18 I visited Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. My great grandparents died there, so I was expecting to find the trip extremely difficult. However, as I stood in the gas chambers and followed the infamous train tracks, the only thing I noticed was an utter silence that didn’t seem to fit with the camp’s history.
When I got home, I scribbled down my impressions and eventually turned them into a short poem, which contrasted Birkenau’s silence with the horror of the events that took place there. The poem won first prize in the Stratford-Upon-Avon Poetry Festival’s annual competition, so I’m guessing that my descriptions of the camp’s silence spoke volumes!
It’s the little details that help to create rounded characters, so visit plenty of places where you can people watch without being too obvious. Cafes are great for this. While you’re enjoying your cup of tea, watch out for interesting mannerisms, voices, faces, hand gestures and outfits. Try to overhear snippets of conversation and jot down anything that intrigues you.
Once you’ve gathered quite a lot of details, see if you can combine any of them to create an interesting character, then ask that character questions. What is their name? What do they do for a living, Why are they in the cafe, and what are they talking about?
Using writing prompts
Writing prompts offer another route to inspiration, as their playfulness sparks creativity. Prompts can be words phrases, ideas, topics, images or photographs. You could even use random word generators, which produce strings of unrelated words and challenge you to come up with connections.
Unusual or interesting objects are also great for getting your imagination going. For example, if you have a picture of an old wooden chest, imagine yourself turning the key, opening the chest and discovering a secret compartment inside it. What is in the compartment? What does the chest look like, smell like and feel like to touch? Asking questions like this is a good way to develop the seed of an idea.
It was a question that inspired me to write my children’s book The Last Santa. When I was 13, I remember my dad wondering what would happen if Santa Claus was suddenly abolished. The question got me thinking and I ended up producing the first draft of a short novel. Twenty-five year later, I decided to revisit the project and self-published a new improved version.
Experiment with Writing
Once you’ve had a go at some of the activities I’ve suggested, your mind should be swirling with ideas that are ready to be developed into stories, poems or even plays. It’s now time to knuckle down and do some work.
If you’re writing fiction, feel free to experiment with genres, viewpoints and styles. If you prefer poetry, why not learn about a variety of poetic forms and give them a go? You might be keen to create the next big drama series, in which case I suggest you check out the BBC’s Writersroom website for tips and inspiration.
Every writer makes mistakes, so don’t be afraid of them. Your first draft is only your first draft, so put it away in a drawer for at least a few days and come back to it with fresh eyes and an editing pen. Read well written books as often as you can, as doing this will improve your writing.
Creative Writing Courses
If you really want to commit to creative writing you may want to consider taking a course. There are many excellent creative writing courses on offer, from one-day writing workshops to full-time undergraduate degrees. As well as teaching you to give and receive feedback, a creative writing course will also provide accountability, as you’ll be given writing exercises to complete and share. You’ll learn from the other creative writers in your group and you’ll be encouraged to experiment with genres that interest you.
If you’re tempted to try a course, check the entry requirements and the tuition fees, then make sure that your tutor is an experienced writer. You should also check out the course content and hunt around for online reviews.
Whether you want to create poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction, you can’t really call yourself a writer until you put pen to paper. So why not get going today? Grab your notebook and pen, get out in the sunshine and write.