1. Write every day. This is hard, especially with classes, homework, family, and other obligations. But writing, especially creative writing, is not about inherent talent. (And in creative writing, it’s okay to start sentences with ‘but’ and ‘and’). Learning to write well, like doing math or learning a sport, is almost entirely practice-based. When you practice the art of writing every day, you allow space for your story to develop over time, instead of “explosively” in one draft. Working on a narrative every day gives your brain a chance to problem solve and figure out plot and character interactions, even when you are not actively working on it.
2. Allow yourself the pleasure of a really, really terrible first draft. Get everything out. Don’t try to make your first paragraph perfect and unchangeable, because then you may want to have the rest of the story rigidly follow the style of your initial beginning—when the story could grow in a direction you never imagined (that may even be better than your original idea). You want to have enough writing material that you can erase, change, and re-write the story.
3. First drafts contain a lot of backstory and history of characters. This is vital information to know as the author. However, as Creative Writing professor, Jack Trujillo says, “cut out all the backstory in a draft, and see which pieces you need to bring back to the story so that it makes sense.” In other words, what parts of the backstory is information only you need? What information can the reader do without? For example, it’s wonderful that you know your character’s aunt was drunk on her sixth birthday party, and vomited on the kitchen floor. However, if your story is about a murder mystery and the aunt isn’t in the story—it’s best to not include that piece of information.
4. Read out loud to yourself. This allows you to hear the cadence of the character or narrator’s voice. It is important that your cadence, through your sentence length, structure and grammar choices is reflected in the narrative. Is your character well-educated in a particular field? If your character is a linguistics major, how will they speak and think differently than a physics major? If your character was raised in California, how will that affect their voice compared to a character in Louisiana? Reading out loud ties into how well you know your characters. Once your characters become real to you, they will become real to the reader, as well.