This isn’t very useful for anyone participating in NaNoWriMo, as they’ll be writing full stories, but if you’re just now starting to write creatively or if you’re trying to get back in the habit, here is some advice I recently passed along to a couple friends.
The hardest part about writing is that you get really rusty if it’s not habit.
It’ll be like pulling your own nails out at first, but it’s important to just write anything that comes to your head. You can throw it out or clean it up later–it’s not sacred! So if you just think of one thing and go with the first way of describing it that comes to mind, you might be surprised what you end up with. Nothing comes out polished the first try, so you have to turn the inner editor off when you’re just getting ideas flowing.
I’m working almost entirely on fiction now, but these ideas should apply to other genres. Every day, you could try to challenge yourself to describe an idea, a product, a project, or a concept. What are the mechanics of it? How does it make you/others feel? What need does it fulfill? How does this better the position/situation of the user and the producer?
Think of writing in layers. For example, when I write a new scene in my story, I get all the action that happens first just so I have a rough sketch of what’s going on. Then I add in dialogue and setting. I’m almost never able to get that all out at once, so that’s why I just capture the skeleton of it first and fill the rest in later. When I had to write about poems or fiction in my literature classes, I would look at the piece from a physical perspective first. How is it structured? What style of writing/word choice is used? Then I would look at what it actually meant, whether line-by-line or overall. Finally I might expound on its themes or compare it to something else. Again, I was using layers to both learn about it and describe it myself. Never be afraid to just outline rough notes first, then add detail later. Beautiful sentences usually pop up in later drafts, so be ready to see a lot of crap on a page at first.
So basically I’m telling you to be both free-thinking and methodical. Break down what you’re going to write about into the biggest potential subject matters/aspects first, then let your mind wander as you describe each.
The last really useful piece of advice I have is to read, and to read a lot. Read what you want to write. Read something once, then go back and look at how it was put together. You’ll start to recognize patterns and devices used and you’ll develop your own opinion of how well the writer conveyed their message. Often if I’m stuck trying to write something, I’ll read something else that’s completely unrelated which allows my imagination to run free, and the idea to continue my own work will conjure itself. I’m an anal-retentive Capricorn, so I have a reading list with material that is in any genre I’m working on, books in different genres to stretch my creativity, and a healthy amount of crap literature that I would never admit to reading, but it makes me happy.
If you want some prompts to get ideas, here are a couple sources: