Free creative writing course - the myths explained (there are no rules)

Free Creative Writing Course – The Myths

Creative Writing, Free Writing Course

Part 2 of this free creative writing course debunks some of the myths and shows how to adapt common advice to suit your writing style.

The internet is awash with advice on how to be a better, more successful writer. Top ten tips, rules and must-dos abound. Writers are people, and people are individual – if you try and write to a formula your writing will sound like so much other bland content.

Here are four common pieces of advice and ideas on adapting them to suit you.

Write Every Day

It is true, the more you practice something to more skilled you get at it so:

  • Write regularly; regularly does not mean you have to write every day. Just try to set aside some time when you can write for a few minutes uninterrupted. Be warned; I often start writing for ten minutes and look up two hours later.
  • Keeping notebooks or a diary encourages you to write and provides a valuable source of inspiration. Carrying a notebook means you can grab some time to write when you can – even if it is only jotting down a few notes.
  • Write in odd places. On the bus, on the beach, in the dentist’s waiting room. Harlan Coben* claims to have written a large part of one of his books in the back of Ubers.

Show Don’t Tell

Showing how a character feels is usually better than telling the reader.

‘She could hear her heart pounding as the cloaked figure moved closer. She opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out.’

Is better than, ‘she felt frightened when Dracula entered the room’.

Avoid commenting on a character’s feelings – become an observer of human behaviour and show the reader through your characters’ actions, gestures and facial expressions what they are feeling.

‘Her eyes widened and she pressed her palms against her cheeks. Her mouth formed a circle like a fish out of water.’
“Have I really won?” she spluttered.’

Sometimes we just need to move the story on; then it is better to tell the reader succinctly what is happening.

They sat on the beach for an hour or so and then climbed back up the path to the hotel, unaware of the dark figure following them.

The reader does not need to know that ‘they basked in the warm sunshine, feeling the sand between their toes before climbing back up the path gasping and panting’, unless it is relevant to the plot. If they were being chased up the path by ‘the dark figure’ then we need to be shown that the climb is difficult.

The Emotion Thesaurus – A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression is a useful book.

Don’t Use AdverbsWell, not too many

Even Hemmingway used adverbs so do not banish them completely – just use them sparingly.

“What are you doing?” he shouted loudly bellowed (now we know it’s loud), looking at the boys angrily, his face red and his cheeks puffed out (he’s angry – either that or he’s having a heart attack – or both).

Show your reader how your character is acting rather than telling them.

It can be a little more difficult with inanimate objects but a lot of the time we can simply edit out the superfluous adverbs.

The car sped quickly past. We know it’s going quickly because it sped past.

The free Hemingway Editor will quickly highlight adverbs for you.

Write What You Know

‘Write what you know,’ but not in the way this is usually interpreted. Did Isaac Asimov know about distant worlds? Did J.R. Tolkien know about Hobbits? Did J.K. Rowling go to school at Hogwarts?

Your, and your reader’s imaginations are wonderful things.

Write what you feel.

Remember, your first day at school, the most beautiful sunrise you ever saw, a time you felt fearful. Amplify and transpose the emotions you felt onto your characters, an astronaut standing on a distant planet, a soldier waking on the day of a battle.

These emotions are ‘What you know’.

If you don’t know it – find out – do some research or, like the above authors, make it up.

Research is valuable if your character needs to perform a skilful task that other people will have done or you mention a provable fact.

Sitting Duck starts with the pilot taking off in a Spitfire. The actions the character performs needed to be correct and in the right order but written in a way that shows the urgency of the scene and does not sound like an instruction book. It also needed to show what the character was feeling.

Remember two things about research:

  • Writers love research – it’s often more fun than writing. It is better to get the first draft done and then do more research to check the facts when editing.
  • The Internet isn’t always right and AI is often even worse. Double-check, and use reliable sources.

But, I am writing fiction, does it matter?

Writers create illusions of reality. If readers engrossed in your story suddenly think ‘That’s wrong,’ they are jolted out of the fictional world you have created. If it is only one grey-haired professor in his dusty study that realises an obscure fact is wrong it is excusable, but if the majority of your readers spot mistakes they will stop reading.


Write as often as you can. Carry a notebook and write in odd places. It keeps the ideas flowing.

Show, don’t tell is not an unbreakable rule – sometimes we just need to move the story on.

Edit out adverbs but keep the useful ones.

Fiction is about creating imaginary worlds. What you have felt is what you know so use these experiences in your writing and if you don’t know it, do some research or create a world where you are the ruler.

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*Saturday Live BBC Radio 4 25/03/2023 Interview with Harlan Coben.

The Emotion Thesaurus. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Writers Helping Writers.

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