What I’ve learnt from creative writing and basically being the next J.K. Rowling

my creative writing notepad

Yikes and holy cow. It’s been a while since I updated this blog but I wanted to let you know – I have the perfect alibi. You see, I’ve spent the last few months having a kind of mid-life crisis – only it’s been a very peculiar kind of crisis and probably a very British one at that. It doesn’t involve women, fast cars or huge quantities of fizzy-pop. No, dear reader, I stand here shamefully confessing that I have finally become addicted to… creative writing.

I think, looking back, one of the worst things you can ever do with a kid at school is give them an award for being good at a subject. When I won the annual English Lit trophy the entire ordeal went to my head and I don’t think I’ve written a decent sentence since. Because winning that award meant I was destined to be a writer, a poetic genius who didn’t need to dedicate time to developing their ‘art’. It was all going to happen, somehow, quite magically. Cue twenty or so years later and I’ve barely written a thing except some exceptionally bad poetry which I hoovered into a collection called ‘Thingamajig’. The less we mention of that embarrassing collection of oddities, the better.

However, now that I’m helping my kids to read, I’ve finally decided to give this writing malarkey another go – because, surely, it can’t be THAT difficult to become a world-renowned children’s author selling millions of books each year, RIGHT? This total delusional state of being (or ‘Dasein’ as Heidegger would ‘oft quote’) is entirely down to one particularly brilliant podcast which I’m going to tell you about right now. As the kids would say, it’s, like, totally LIT.

To help me get ‘into the zone’ I’ve been listening to a few creative writing podcasts (see below) but my favourite is currently Tim Clare’s Death of 1000 Cuts. He’s both hilariously funny and painfully frank about his failures as an author which makes the idea of writing a fictional novel far more achievable and altogether less daunting. Recently, each podcast has taken the form of a specific writing exercise which is a great place to start for any beginner. Thanks to Tim, I now start my day jotting down completely absurd stories before my morning commute and noting down observations throughout the day in my special black notebook. Be warned, if you talk to me and I start to glaze over, it means you’re going into the notebook.

Ok so why am I telling you all this? Am I about to bestow upon you, dear reader, some of my recent free-writing brilliance? Fear not! I just wanted to share some of the things I’ve discovered by spending as little as 15 minutes a day writing complete randomness. I also know that by publishing this post, I will be honour-bound for the rest of eternity to continue writing about superheroes and their alien girlfriends for many more months – or at least until I discover my next hobby (Brazilian Capoerira or Nordic wrestling are also valid signs of a mid-life crisis, so please be warned). Until then, dear friend, this is what I’ve gleamed from this month’s latest fad:

  • Free Writing exercises work, at least for me anyway. Spending ten minutes listing imaginary names or potential scenarios for your characters really does help you get beyond the blank page. In ten minutes you can roughly fill a page of A4 and, in that time you can move from an initial random idea into another (if you’re lucky) better idea. Through doing these quick exercises I’ve discovered that my brain is only good at holding one idea at a time: I’ve got to write it down to discover the next idea behind it. So I might start with a story about a group of people leaving earth to join a bunch of aliens, but by the end of ten minutes I’m starting to write about immigration and how I can make this story different to, say, the film District Nine. Now, I definitely didn’t start with that intention so, the simple point here is: get the initial idea down so you can start to see the ideas beyond it.
  • Writing has super-powered my reading of fiction. I now find myself devouring books in a matter of days rather than weeks and taking notes of particular sections I like. A more focused writer would probably be reading books that are close to a style they want to emulate or topic they want to cover but as I’m not at this stage yet I’ve gone a bit bonkers and read anything I remotely like. I started with Infinite Jest, which is probably one of the most complicated novels ever written, got scared and then dived into a mixture of H.G Wells, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Douglas Coupland and Brett Easton Ellis. Strangely enough I don’t seem to be reading anything written in the last twenty years and I have absolutely no idea why.
  • As it turns out, writing with a pen is better, for me, than typing on a laptop. On a computer I just ended up constantly editing a sentence without getting anywhere. Kind of ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ scenario for all you Stephen King fans. Not for me.
  • Writing (in my case non-fiction) has certainly given me an appreciation of anyone who has sat down to attempt a novel. It’s far harder than what I expected. And it’s starts so simply by simply starting!

So that’s it for now. This morning I wrote about an inventor who invents all these amazing things but he’s depressed because he can’t invent love. Wha wha – poor inventor person. I had no idea I was going to get to that final ‘character problem’ when I started writing about ‘Oliver Cromplewurtz’ but there you go – I guess one of the points of writing is to surprise yourself.

More on Cromplewurtz very soon.
Well, hopefully.

Other recommended Creative Writing podcasts:
Imaginary Worlds
Writer’s Routine
Writing Talk
The Writer Files

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Steven Wilson-Beales

Content strategy consultant
I'm Head of Editorial at Global Radio, London looking after a fantastic range of websites including Capital FM, Capital Xtra, Heart, XFM, LBC, Classic FM and Smooth. Find me on and Twitter. Please feel free to email me here.