Whether you want to write a novel or simply keep a journal to record the day-to-day, Cornish writer Jess Collins’ expert advice will help unlock your creativity
In a new Seasalt Words series, we’ve teamed up with writing pro Jess Collins to share some top tips on improving your writing and making it a regular creative practice. Before you embark on your novel, script or poem, take five and read her tried and tested advice.
1. Read, Read, Read
One of the best things you can do to become good at creative writing is to read. Read anything and everything; scripts, blog posts, books, poems, short stories, longer novels, fiction and non-fiction, traditional work and modern work, conventional and unconventional. Reading will expand your language, your ideas around sentence structure and will kick-start creative thoughts in your own mind, encouraging your own creative flow and helping you to form concepts and characters.
2. Write, Write, Write
The only thing better than reading is writing. Write every single day – create a writing routine for yourself and show up without fail. It’s not about the number of words, it’s about committing to this creative time for yourself. Famously, Julia Cameron suggests in her book The Artist’s Way to write ‘Morning Pages’ – three pages of long form writing each morning. I love this idea although I would put a time on it rather than a number. Write for five minutes every morning. Build this up in five-minute increments until you’re writing for 30 minutes every morning. Just keep writing, don’t read it back, it doesn’t matter if it’s nonsense, just keep creating and see what comes out. If you can commit to writing every day without fail, you’ll soon have a regular creative practice.
3. People Watch and Eavesdrop
To really understand people, watch and listen. I love to pull up a pew in a café and watch the world go by. Sit there quietly and you will see and hear all manner of things. I carry a notebook everywhere and I’ve recorded things I’ve seen and heard in cafés, on buses and in the street. There’s inspiration everywhere. Watch, listen and carry a notebook wherever you go. There is nothing better for building authentic characters than watching and understanding people in real life and getting beneath their motivations.
4. Don’t Read It Back
When you’re writing don’t read it back. When you read your work back you immediately turn off your creative mind and switch on your critical mind. The inner critic will always be waiting to chastise and change everything you’re working on. Choose set times to invite her in. When you’re in creative mode, stay in creative mode. Save editing for later.
5. Comparison is the Thief of Creativity
There will always be someone better, someone you consider more talented – if you compare yourself you will always come up short because we are wired that way. Don’t compare, because you will paralyse yourself in a state of “not good enough”. Just do you. Write in your lane, compare yourself to yourself. If you want to run, run – it doesn’t mean you have to be the next Mo Farah. Your aim is to keep pace with yourself, to chart your speed against your personal targets rather than aiming for an unachievable goal.
6. Don’t Create for Acclaim
Which brings me to the next point – don’t create for acclaim or write for fame. Write to share your message, to create for creativity’s sake, to have an outlet for expression, to be in the flow and feel the passion of using words to have an impact. If you are writing to impress a publisher, an agent or even an audience, your wording is likely to fall short. When you write from the heart, that’s when it’s most likely to connect. If you try to impress, your wording might lose its power and potency, real writers write without any incentive. It’s not about the money and it’s not about the profile, all they need is a pen. Your voice does not need external validation, write from the heart and let yourself be heard for who you are.
7. No Pressure, No Perfection
Don’t put pressure on yourself – to hit a certain number of words, to have a publishing deal by a certain date, to pursue creative writing as a full time career etc, just trust the process. If you write for passion it will always open up the path. Don’t set unreachable deadlines or targets or believe you have to be a perfect writer. There is no such thing. Writing is a lifelong passion and commitment. It’s something you will be working on forever. You will most likely never feel like you can call yourself a writer and yet a writer is not someone who is published, it’s someone who commits to their creative process and shows up regularly to their writing. If you are coming back again and again to put pen to paper then you are a writer.
8. Create Space
Create space in your life for your writing, for creative ideas, concepts and characters. We are all busy but if you don’t make space for your writing, you will find you never have the time. Make time. When can you create? It might be at 5am before your children wake up or at 8pm every evening. It might mean sacrificing other things – writing in your lunch break whilst working at your day job, switching the TV off, cancelling social arrangements, giving up your Saturday, making choices that involve committing to your creativity and putting your money where your manuscript is. Make time to write and create space to be inspired. I spend as much time as I can in nature, walking, on the beach, sea swimming and outdoor exploring. Building this into my day as essential inspiration time is what recharges me to return day after day to my notebook, filled with an inner knowing.
9. Be Part of a Community
The life of a writer can be a lonely one. You spend so much time living in your own mind that you can go a little mad. If you can join a group for writers locally, become part of a creative community. Use hashtags such as #writingcommunity and #amwriting to find other writers online and look up creative writing groups in your local area. Perhaps find experienced writers in your niche and reach out to them. I am often contacted by new and aspiring creative writers and I’ve been known to have coffee with them and to give personal pointers and advice. Send a note to a writer that inspires you. You may be surprised that they will most likely reply and give you their time. It’s also a good idea to try to find an accountability buddy either locally or online, someone who will work with you and keep you on track, so that you’re making the commitment together, to honour your creativity.
If you aren’t ready to start a creative project yet, such as a poetry collection or a book, you might find the best place to start is journaling. Journaling is a way to open up creatively, to process your emotions, to create a sense of calm and wellbeing and explore ideas. Some of my best ideas have come from those kernels of creativity that first showed up in my journal. I journal every single day without fail. It’s the one piece of writing that I show up for every single day, no matter what happens, it’s my port in the storm of everyday life, my outlet for ideas, inspiration and intuition.
The most important thing is to write at every opportunity. Try your hand at everything – short stories, non-fiction, articles, even copywriting (this can be creative as well as commercial), poetry, letters, scripts, every type of writing will hone your skill and teach you more about language and structure as well as teaching you about yourself.
For more from Jess, visit her Instagram page @theferalwriter.