I used to be mediocre at creative writing.
I’d write a piece that I was proud of, and then get a lousy pass. In high school, I remember getting my assignments back with the teacher saying my stories made no sense! This made me feel disappointed. I always poured my heart into my stories, they were like personal parts of me. However, when I look back- my teachers were right to give me a disappointing mark. Although I wish I got better feedback (I had to learn these points the hard way), I’m glad I went through these trials. Why? Because I emerged as a stronger writer.
In this blog post, I will discuss tips on how to improve your creative writing. Whilst other posts of mine focus on writing in the real world, this one will focus on academic creative writing. A particular focus will be given to undergraduate creative writing, and the senior years of high school.
Tip One: Never Take Feedback Personally
Although my creative writing was flawed, I still enjoyed doing it. The opportunity to be creative and express myself is something I will always appreciate. I’d write characters and situations that mirrored my own life. If that’s you: don’t stress. What’s wonderful about creative writing is that you can transform your factual experiences into spellbinding fiction. Many- if not all- authors bleed their personal lives into their work.
However, criticism is not a personal attack on you or your experiences. If your teacher is saying ‘your character is unsympathetic’ and that character is based on you… take a step back. The teacher is not saying that you are an unsympathetic individual, but the fictional character you have crafted is.
A problem I got with my creative writing is that it made no sense. My plotlines are obscure, my language unclear, and my characters had no discernable motivations. Did I take the feedback personally? Oh yes! In high school, I took creative writing very seriously. Every story I crafted had elements of my actual life. I didn’t have the maturity or wisdom to seperate myself from my academic work.
I continued this habit for years, until only recently. How did I go from just passing to getting distinctions? Well, I listened to the feedback. I stopped taking it personally. I am invested in my career as an author, that detachment is the obvious, necessary step. Negative feedback doesn’t mean you can’t be a future author.
Feedback from teachers won’t be completely on the ball all of the time. However, they should be able to spot glaring problems with your work. Getting good marks in creative writing requires developed habits. There is no reason why you can’t do that!
Tip Two: Always Engage With The Prompt
Most creative writing tasks have a prompt or theme. Now, this is extremely tricky. You have to be imaginative and think outside of the box. However, your writing must also be relevant to the task at hand. This is where talking to staff can help. Perhaps a teacher can give previous examples of other students work that achieved high marks.
This advice will seem annoying, but if you are unsure on how to interrogate a prompt within your story… just ask. It’s not a stupid question, teachers are there to help you.
In my experience, what markers are looking for in your creative writing are:
- relevance to the prompt
- an understanding of the prompt
- a unique interpretation of the prompt
- critical commentary of the prompt
For example, say if the prompt was ‘belonging’. My story would have to be about belonging, from the first word to the last. I’d also have to demonstrate that I understand ‘belonging’ and what it means. But it doesn’t stop there! I’ll also need to have an original perspective about belonging, and comment critically on how belonging manifests within the story.
To be honest? This is not easy. It takes practice and dedication. Adding onto that, markers will deduct a large chunk of marks (and I mean huge) if they do not address the prompt.
You may be writing the next great short story, but if it’s not relevant to the prompt, you won’t get the credit it deserves.
Tip Three: Reflect, Reflect, Reflect
In undergraduate creative writing, a reflection statement or essay is required with submitted creative work. This is for a very good reason. The markers want to check that you are engaging critically with your writing. The ability to reflect and learn from your writing is absolutely valuable.
A fantastic critical reflection will contain:
- An explanation of how your writing came to be (what inspired you?)
- A clarification of any problems you experienced, and how you overcame them (what challenged you?)
- Your thought process in writing and editing your work
- An understanding about your own writing flaws, and how you plan to overcome them in the future
- An explanation of what your goals were with the creative writing (what were you trying to achieve?)
- How you responded to the assessment task
- How you addressed any critiques of workshopped work
- Proof of your engagement with lectures and class discussions. If you learned something valuable in a lecture, reference it specifically!
I also find that when crafting critical statements, it helps to be humble. If you struggled with the creative writing task- say it! That can help you find solutions to your problems. From a markers perspective, they want to see how you grew as a writer. Because of that, honest reflection will always be valuable.
Anyway, I hope this blog post helped. I didn’t include basics such as grammar or syntax because I think they are skills developed over time. I’d like to end this post with some encouragement. It can be very frustrating to get a poor mark. But, from my experience, you can overcome it. Your problems as a writer now won’t necessarily haunt you forever. Academic creative writing can be challenging, but I believe you can get through it.
Remember: failing a writing module does not mean you will fail in the future as a writer. Believe in your ability to write, and to improve.
You’ll get there.
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