Creative Writing: Tips For Novelists On Priming The Pump

Posted at 14:27pm on 28th October 2009

Authors of books are urged, by writing pundits, to identify the genre and market for which they are aiming before they commit to print. This is for good reason; not least that if you are engaged in writing and publishing a book, knowing who you are writing for will affect how seriously a publisher views your work.

But there is another aspect to understanding what you are trying to achieve in your writing. In my last post on this topic, Authors: Tellers of Tales, Weavers of Dreams, Tap Into Your Childhood To Reveal & Nourish Hidden Emotional Creativity I identified seven reasons why readers buy books. They were:

  • Escapism
  • Entertainment
  • Enlightenment
  • Encouragement
  • Education
  • Information
  • Inspiration

As an author, you need to be aware of this. That is not to say that you will use only one of these factors in any one book. On the contrary! In a novel you will probably convey most, if not all, of these benefits to your readers. In fact, that is exactly what you should be aiming for: to include most, if not all, in your creative writing project.


Above all, a novel must engage a reader in a world which delights and diverts. Your book may be read by some people for escapism or inspiration, and by others for the information and education it will bring. But this is not an exercise in worship or prayer; nor in academia or instruction. Your goal, as a novelist, must always be to amuse and entertain. Thus, your material must be presented in story form, via the fictional lives of your characters.

So where do you find, and nurture, the creativity required to lift your prose out of the ordinary?


I read, this week, in The Daily Telegraph, of Luise Rainer, the Hollywood legend who turned her back on the Oscars. Writing of her opinion of acting, Mick Brown observed that she had little time for the profession. Acting takes place in real life, she is reported as saying. Whereas, when you are on stage or screen, “you have to be true. You must feel it, and give birth to it, like to a child.” Asked would she teach acting, she replied,

“I wouldn’t dream of it, because life has to teach you.”

Easy, I suppose, for a woman who has only two months to go to her 100th birthday. But what she says has as much to teach us about novel writing as it did others about acting. But this echoes the thoughts of Ben Franklin who said: Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

A piece of creative writing is often thought of as something laboured over and brought into being as if it were a birth. And like the birth of a child, it needs a gestation period. A time when it is hidden from the world’s view; a time when it is protected and nourished in a secret place, linked to and fed by a single entity, until it has developed to the point of being able to stand alone.

So how do you go about birthing this baby being?


Not, as you might suppose, by learning and analysing your craft – though that has its place, and a vital place at that. Luise Rainer was right in saying that great acting cannot be taught. But the skills required must, nevertheless, be learned.

And having been learned they must then, like the lessons involved in riding a bike, recede into the background. Because, as I have pointed out in an earlier post: Right Brain: How To Make Your Writing Flow sometimes the process of thinking – in an analytical sense – actually impedes the flow of creativity. In what I know are mixed metaphors, let me explain.

  1. Creativity bubbles up like a spring. It is not something you can work at. You didn’t learn to breathe by practising endless exercises. It came naturally.
  2. The creative flow finds its own path. Don’t strive to be creative. When do you find it most difficult to breathe? When you are stressed!
  3. Imagination is broad and wide. Relax and do something enjoyable which requires little cerebral effort or thought. When is your breathing most beneficial to you? When you sing!
  4. Artistic currents run deep. Read poetry, Shakespeare and Milton. Steeping yourself in literature means just that: soaking in it, effortlessly.
  5. Streams of creativity gush and bubble, tumble and gurgle. Take your children, grandchildren or a friend’s children to the park. Watch them at play; listen to them laugh.
  6. Deep waters run smooth and slow. Take W.H.Davies’ poem to heart: What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare. Drink in the beauty of a sunset, a meadow-full of skipping lambs, Wordsworth’s host of golden daffodils.
  7. The rivers of inspiration cross plains and valleys, open meadows and woodland. Ponder the wonders of life: black holes; dolphins able to sense the presence of pregnant women; little children “Tweeting”, via post-its, their gratitude for being allowed to learn.

Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer said Barbara Kingsolver.

So let your imagination, your creativity, well up from within you, the result of your experience and delight in life. Only then will it pour forth in streams of wisdom and inspiration that will provide escapism, entertainment and encouragement for your readers.

What do you do to get your creative juices flowing?

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