Learning to write is a process, one that requires consistent hard work and determination—and perhaps some magic! But, as with any other skill, it’s important to work hard on the right thing.
Instead of providing a list of pointers on how to learn to write for general purposes, this guide will offer eight key tips that will help you learn how to write creatively.
Learn to Write with 8 Simple Tips
1. How to Learn to Write: Take a writing class
A writing class is a great place for writers to begin—it’s also where this writer first learned to write! The writing class is great for all kinds of learners as it provides a range of learning formats, including lectures, discussions, and workshops. The most valuable aspect of taking a writing course, however, is that it provides a supportive environment for writers.
In my experience, taking classes helped me to get over my fear of the blank page by showing me multiple approaches to beginning a poem, short story, or essay. Having the structure of a writing course was particularly helpful, as it kept me accountable to my goals.
writers.com has a great roster of creative writing courses. But, before you sign up for a writing class, I would suggest that you do some research. Some questions to ask include: who’s teaching? Are there prerequisites? What is the class size? If you’re looking for an online writing class, this guide offers some great tips!
Our Upcoming Online Writing Courses:
with Jonathan J.G. McClure
January 25th, 2023
Poetry is alive and well. Contemporary poets can be touching, terrifying, and laugh-out-loud funny. Join us for an exploration of writing and reading poems.
with Sandra Novack
January 25th, 2023
The first 50 pages sets up plot, characters, and voice, and it lays the groundwork for your book's overall structure and success. Receive critical, supportive feedback on your book's start from novelist Sandra Novack.
with Jeff Lyons
January 25th, 2023
The premise line is the only reliable tool that can tell you, BEFORE you start writing, whether or not your story will “work.” In this class participants will learn how to master the process of premise line development—the essential first step in any book or screenplay’s development process.
with Troy Wilderson
January 25th, 2023
Great fiction brings deeper understanding. Foster a greater sense of connection and supercharge your stories in this empathy-driven fiction class.
with Tamara Dean
January 28th, 2023
What makes a successful writer? It's not talent, craft, or even the right connections—it's consistency and courage.
Browse our full course calendar »
2. How to Learn to Write: Read
Reading is bread and butter for a writer no matter what stage of their career they’re at. Reading is how we both discover what we gravitate to and, inevitably, learn to write. Writers read not just for fun, but also with a critical lens, noting techniques that we can apply to our own work. Indeed, reading as a writer is a skill that’s very different from reading as a reader, as a student, or even as a scholar. Check out this article to learn more about reading as a writer.
For a more comprehensive guide, I recommend Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer: a Guide for People who Love Books and for those who Want to Write Them.
3. How to Learn to Write: Set an intention
Before you start learning to write, take a moment to think about these questions: in an ideal world, what do you want to write? Who would you like to write for? If you’re unsure how to answer these questions, I recommend first listing a few books and/or authors that inspire you. What do these books have in common?
The objective of setting an intention is not to pose an “endpoint” for yourself. Rather, it is to provide yourself with a direction with which to begin. Let’s say that I am interested in writing high-fantasy books like The Lord of the Rings. Although there’s nothing wrong with setting that as my goal and making a step-by-step plan to achieve that goal, having a specified endpoint, in my experience, often becomes debilitating for my writing process. For one, I may become discouraged when I find that my first draft has nothing in common with Tolkien’s epic. Or, I may find that realism comes more naturally to me and feel frustrated that I am not following the path I had planned to take.
In contrast, approaching The Lord of the Rings as a direction (rather than as a goal) looks more like amassing a set of skills. For example, I might begin by practicing the technique of worldbuilding, or the creation of a fantasy world. I might then decide to try my hand at crafting memorable characters. This way, even if your tastes or goals evolve in the writing process (and they will!), you will have developed a skillset that is transferable to other forms of writing.
4. How to Learn to Write: Start
Every writer has a different starting point. For Louise Erdrich, it is often the voice of a character that helps her begin her novel. For others, it may be a narrative situation or personal experience. It is a good idea to experiment with different approaches to beginning. This allows you to not only learn what helps you write, but also challenge yourself as a writer.
When you’re just starting to learn how to write, expect that what you write won’t come out the way you want it. This is natural – all writers, even experienced ones, undergo this process. The important thing is to start and know that your writing does not have to be perfect at first try. The beauty of writing is that you don’t have to show it to anyone until you want to.
With that said, I suggest that you keep all of your writing, even if you don’t like it. You never know when you’ll find it interesting again!
5. How to Learn to Write: Use writing exercises
When the possibilities are endless, it can be difficult to begin. If you find yourself wavering, I recommend using a writing exercise to help jumpstart your process and learn how to write. Even if you don’t end up using what you generated, writing exercises are a great way to learn to write. To begin, check out this article!
If you’re in need of more prompts (and a supportive community!), our Facebook group is also a great resource.
6. How to Learn to Write: Understand the writing process
To learn how to write, it is essential to understand the nature of the writing process, which is often not as straightforward or linear as you think. Make no mistake: even accomplished writers go through multiple drafts, as the writer Anne Lamott shares in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. The good news, however, is that there is absolutely no pressure on your first draft—in fact, Lamott actively strives to write a “shitty first draft.”
Often, a piece of writing goes through massive changes from first draft to last. It is hard work, but the bright side of this is that you do not need to plan out the details of your book before you start writing. As the novelist E. L. Doctorow once said, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
In addition to working actively on your draft, it’s important to schedule in time for your draft to “rest,” too. Stephen King, for example, shares in On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft that he shuts his first draft up in his drawer for at least six weeks before revisiting it. This rest time, King explains, helps to create distance and allows the writer to assess their own writing in a more objective manner.
7. How to Learn to Write: Understand yourself.
Of the eight tips in this article, this is perhaps the most important point. By “understanding yourself,” I don’t mean “discovering” your “true self” or “psyche.” Instead, I mean understanding your habits, strengths, likes, and dislikes. In my experience, the most challenging part of learning to write is starting. Understanding what helps you to write on a practical level can alleviate this pressure and create the conditions you need to help your creative juices flow.
To begin, here is a list of things you might want to experiment with:
- Writing requirements: Are you a pen and paper writer? Do you type? Do you do both? If you do both, do you write your first draft and type the second, or vice versa?
- Physical space: Do you need to have your own room—where you will have no distractions—like Zadie Smith, or can you write at the dining table with children running around you, like Suzan Lori-Parks? Do you write best when you have a window you can look out of, or do you need to minimize distractions in your environment?
- Daily schedules: When are you free and most productive? For Toni Morrison, who had young children when she first started writing, it was the time before sunrise. For H. P. Lovecraft, it was at night.
- Routines: Although many say that writers have to write in the morning every single day, the best writing schedule, in my opinion, is one that makes sense for your own life. Do note that even if you have an established writing routine, it may change according to life circumstances. It’s important to be flexible and willing to try new approaches when you feel like your established routine no longer works.
- Writerly tendencies: What genre captivates you, and what genre comes most intuitively to you? Note that these may not necessarily be the same! Personally, I started writing with the intention of writing fiction, but have since written more poetry and nonfiction. I’d encourage you to learn how to write in all three genres—what you find may surprise you!
- Poetry: this is probably a form that most, or all of us, have only encountered as children. While much of the poetry we’re exposed to in school or in books follow strict forms and rhyme schemes, contemporary poetry offers a huge variety of forms for the beginning poet. As a genre that emphasizes precision and compression, poetry is a great starting point for all writers.
- Fiction: the possibilities in this genre of imaginative writing are truly endless. For starters, there is a sizeable range when it comes to length, and one may choose to write flash fiction (usually fewer than 1,500 words), short stories (15,000-30,000), novellas (30,000-50,000), or novels (50,000 and above). For the beginning writer, it can be helpful to break down this expansive genre into the following subgenres.
- Mainstream fiction are those that have national and often global appeal. Examples are novels like J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.
- Genre fiction comprises writing that appeals to specific audiences, and include such sub-genres as sci-fi, mystery, romance, and fantasy.
- Books like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Alice Munro’s Dear Life, on the other hand, would fall into the category of literary fiction. Literary fiction is often studied in schools and universities for the contributions that they have made towards furthering the field of fiction writing. For more on literary vs genre fiction, check out this article.
- Creative Nonfiction: of these three main creative writing genres, this is perhaps the most elusive. Defined by writer Lee Gutkind, as “true stories, well told,” creative nonfiction is an exciting genre of writing that has gained a significant cult following in the past two decades. Of its many subgenres, the most well-known is perhaps the memoir. Check out this article for more on creative nonfiction.
8. How to Learn to Write: Seek resources
While writing is mostly a solitary activity, don’t underestimate the power of having a community! A writing group keeps you accountable, teaches you how to learn to write professionally, and provides a safe space for you to workshop an early draft. An authentic writing community, however, can be difficult to come by outside of a writing course.
For more tips on learning to write, I recommend the following books:
- On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
- Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit
- The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Learn How to Write at Writers.com
Learning to write can seem intimidating, but it’s important to remember that all writers started where you are: at the beginning. Remember to take things slow—habits are built gradually and consistently—as you build your writing routine into your everyday life.
For more resources on learning how to write, check out our weekly writing tips, as well as our upcoming course calendar.