Three years ago I wrote a series of articles on creative writing for Quill.

Starting seems to be one of the hardest parts in our creative endeavours. I thought I’d like to share the article with you. So if you haven’t had a chance to read it, here it is:


We should write without rules. That’s a strange thing to say because I’m sure a lot of you are looking for just that – rules on how to write. What do I need to know so that I can write? All I can say is that you need very little to start writing.

A good place to start is to ask you what sort of creative writing do you want to do? You might just want to try it out, perhaps a page or so, just to see what it’s like. Or maybe you’d like to write a short story, perhaps even a long story or maybe a novel. This is all fine and good because what we want to do is write!

So let’s write without rules. But first, we’re got to think about WHAT to write about. So there you are with that dreaded blank sheet of paper or the white space on your word processor which is daring you to fill it up with your own words.

What we need is an idea to get you going. Any idea will do. As long as you find it interesting. That’s the key. It’s not whether I, your grandfather or your best friend thinks it’s interesting, it’s whether you find it interesting. That’s because you’re going to spend time with the idea. You’re going to nurture it, cultivate it, build on it. So perhaps that, once the project’s completed, those who didn’t find it interesting in the first place will be captivated by it.

Let’s say you’re in a coffee shop and you see a man walk in with a cardboard box. He leaves it on the floor and walks out. Now, what’s in that box? You may ask. I’ve written horror stories, and will perhaps write more, so what I imagine is in that box might be a bit gruesome. (The NST reviewer did say that Vermillion Eye was one of the most unpleasant books they’d read in years!)

If your inclinations are more towards a thriller then perhaps you might imagine a bomb ticking away in there. Someone with a more romantic disposition could see the box filled with flowers awaiting for the towkay’s daughter whose name has been lovingly written on the box. A crime writer could see a murder weapon there. Perhaps a gun or knife. A writer who wants to write highbrow literary stuff might want to spend one page describing the box and the emotions it stirs up!

So from the box we get the idea. We can wind the idea back. If there’s a bomb in the box, who put it there? Let’s write about the person, his character, and why he decided to put the box there in the first place. Perhaps we can combine the love story and the crime story. He put the bomb there to scare the girl he’s in love with because she’s shunned his love or perhaps it was just a joke. You see, one idea leads to another.

We can wind the idea forward. What are the consequences of putting the box there? Is the man caught and sent to prison? Does he escape and spend the rest of his days on a remote island?

So from one idea we can get more ideas. More ideas leads to a story. But don’t wait until you have the whole story. Start to write once you have an idea. Once you start writing more ideas will come to you and, eventually, you’ll get your story.

Ideas are the key to beginning to write. It’s the catalyst to get the pen moving, the fingers typing and a story out of nothing!