How to express yourself in writing

Today’s focus on social media and the rise of visuals and video tends to eclipse the enduring power of writing as a form not only of communication but also of self-expression. All creative outlets take a little bit of skill to really enjoy, so here’s a few different ways to get started.

Freewriting is simple, expressive, and often revealing, but tends to be more oriented toward the writer’s experience. You simply sit down with a journal or keyboard, pull up a blank sheet or screen, and let the words flow.

Often, writers find just a few parameters can help them overcome the glaring whiteness of the blank screen or page. Try setting a timeline or “writing sprint” where you get as many words down as you can in an accessible amount of time without worrying about grammar, spelling, punctuation, or sense. You may find a topic, theme, or image helpful as a prompt, or simply opt for whatever presents itself in the moment.

You can use this approach to reduce stress, explore your subconscious, or generate raw content, but the unedited stream-of-consciousness output of freewriting tends to need a lot of trimming and rewriting to make it presentable for outside audiences. It’s well suited to journaling, or maybe even certain types of blogs.

At least a little bit of structure tends to help most writers get started and to keep going. When it comes to writing for an audience, it’s important to learn the conventions of your chosen creative form like any other. Readers of short stories or genre novels have specific expectations, for instance, while different types of poetry offer sometimes extremely rigid structures.

Creative writing guides, techniques and advice are a great help, and it’s worthwhile doing some research on your chosen format (genre novel vs. poetry, for instance) and trying out a few different techniques and approaches to see what works best for you.

In fiction writing, there is much controversy between “plotters” and “pantsers”–those who sketch out the story elements in advance, versus those who write to find out what happens. Nonfiction writing has a similar divide between intuitive writers and those who sit down with a plan of what they want to cover.

Neither approach is wrong, but if you want your creative writing to be read by others, you should spend some time learning about the expectations of your form, since readers tend to react strongly against writing that doesn’t conform to genre and format conventions. If your motivation to write is more about “free” creative expression and you’re not bothered about finding readers or making money off of your hobby, you can afford to be more experimental.

Feedback can be crushing or helpful–and usually offers a little bit of both at once. You can find many resources online, but if you enjoy a more social, interactive learning and creative experience, you could join a class or critique group to exchange pieces with other writers for feedback and creative stimulation.

There are surprisingly few hard and fast rules when it comes to creative writing. You learn by doing. But if you want to reach a specific outcome, such as finding readers, being understood, or selling your work, you do need to learn the genre or format conventions and either conform or subvert them in creative and intelligent ways to please the audience.