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Here are some things you can do to help your writing, creative or technical:

Remember that potters start with a lump of clay, and writers start with a first draft. That draft is not a final copy; it’s just the “stuff” you’ll build your story with.

Turn off your critical brain while writing your first draft. Keep your focus on what you’re trying to say, and get it said any way you can. Forget about errors, which you can pick up on your second draft. Just keep the words coming.

For example, if you find yourself unable to think of the word you want or you want a word different from the one you’ve already used, try this: Open parentheses, write the word’s definition or the word you want to replace, then close the parentheses and continue writing.

Example: “Darcy was (terrified) of walking barefoot into the lake. (As a result), she refused to go swimming all summer long.” Those parenthetical expressions remind me that I need to replace terrified and as a result in the next draft. They’re in parentheses because, if I stopped to find a better word or phrase, I might lose what I was about to say, and it’s more important to keep going than it is to get all the wording right the first time around.

Don’t worry if a sentence has no subject or is missing its verb or if you’ve misspelled a word. You’ll catch all that in your next draft (if you pay attention to what you actually wrote on the page, instead of seeing what you meant to write). Rather than stopping to fix something, keep on writing your story to get the words down on paper while the idea is fresh in your mind.

Practice daily. Musicians, fine artists, athletes — everybody practices every day, or the skills they polish begin to get dull. Writers practice, too. Write on Quora. Write on the bus. Write at least a page of something every single day, even if it’s just “It was a dark and stormy night. I was sitting in my room, trying to write something decent, but I couldn’t think of anything worth writing.” By the time you’re halfway down that page, you might think of something better.

If you don’t like a story you’ve started, don’t trash it. Just draw a line under it and start a new one. Save everything you write and re-read it now and then. You might find yourself returning to an abandoned story, thinking, “That was actually a pretty good idea. I can turn it into something now.”

If you want to improve your creative (as opposed to technical) writing, read the kind of material you want to write and figure out how the writer did it.

The easiest place to start is with the overall mood of the piece. That’s usually achieved through the connotative meanings of words. (You’d describe a girl you like as slim or slender, but if you don’t like her, you’re more likely to call her skinny. All three words denote a girl who is not wide relative to her height, but slim and slender have positive connotations, while skinny has negative connotations. That is, skinny carries with it your negative attitude toward the girl.)

A good example of a story in which the mood is created through the connotative meanings of words is Ray Bradbury’s “The Pedestrian.” You can feel the mood becoming more ominous as the story unfolds.

Get a copy of the story here (texts – englischlehrer.de) and list the words and phrases Bradbury uses to create that mood. Then try writing your own story using those same words and phrases.

Having done that, use the same list of words to try to write a cheerful, happy story. As you’ll see for yourself if you try it, you can’t write a cheerful story using words with negative, ominous connotations.

Pay attention to the way other writers use figures of speech (e.g., similes and metaphors). Remember that a simile is nothing but a metaphor that uses the word like or as, and a metaphor is a comparison of two totally different things along the one or two parameters they have in common.

For example, friendship and a table lamp are nothing alike until you think about them for a minute. Then you realize that each is a source of light and warmth, though they’re different kinds of light/warmth. Since we can assume readers know about lamps and friendships, we can write, “His friendship was the only lamp that lit up my life and kept me warm during the terrible winter my sister died.” and readers will understand it to mean “His friendship lit up my life like a lamp lights up a room; it kept me from stumbling over obstacles and made the world seem more familiar. It was also a source of warmth for my heart, as a lamp is a source of warmth in a room.”

Your turn: Make up your own metaphors. Besides being fun, it’s good practice.

If you’re in school, which I assume you are, ask your English teacher what you can do to improve your creative writing. That’ll help more than anything I can offer, for the teacher who knows a student is seriously trying is also the teacher who makes out the grades.

Best of luck, James, and keep on writing!

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