So you want to write!

I have been asked to lead a creative writing course, quite a challenge as my students will be adults. I spent many, many years teaching young people to write, and to help them be creative, and I guess there will be some issues which will be the same whatever the age, and some things which will be very different.

I have been wondering how to start… and of course it does depend to a certain extent on the expectations and aspirations of my students, but I may start off as I used to start with my young people, with the question, ‘So you want to write?’ I will probably continue in this way:

…. Have you got story to tell?
.…or do you just like writing?
….or is it homework?!!!
Writing is a craft which has to be practised and experimented with. A story has to be worked on and polished as a gem cutter might polish a precious stone, or a jeweller buff up a piece of jewellery, or a wood-carver rub beeswax into a carving. Some people are lucky enough to be able to just sit down and write but even they ‘dry up’ sometimes.  Like many creative activities writing really is 10% (or less) inspiration and 90+% perspiration. Some people like to plan their stories, some people like to let their stories unfold almost by themselves or as the characters develop. 
If you already have a story, skip the next bit!
Where do stories come from? Here are some ideas:
  •  a dream or day dream
  • an observation of people in the street, on a bus, in a shop, on the beach, walking by a river…
  • people you don’t know but see arguing, kissing, ignoring each other, looking at each other, fighting, smiling secretively
Hand in hand
Hand in hand
  • an incident you observed or witnessed
  • a scrap of conversation you overheard
  • the lyric of a song
  • an experience you had
  • a strange coincidence
  • a traditional story, myth or legend which suggests a modern re-telling
  • another story you read, saw on TV or as a film, which suggests a situation, series of events, characters which you can rework to make your own


  • the ‘what happened next’ of another story
  • a what if… moment
  • unexplained inspiration
  • a found photo… who are those people? how are they related, why are they there? what is the occasion? what are they really thinking? who is taking the photo?
  • something you pretended happened to you
  • something you would have liked to happen to you
  • a news item


  • a picture in a gallery, museum, on a wall in a waiting room, in a newspaper or magazine
  • famous people, singers, actors, sports or TV personalities…
  • a film or a TV programme
  • a song
  • music
  • a mystery or puzzle
  • your own family or friends


Any of these suggestions can trigger a story, or a combination of several of these things. Once you have your story then the hard work begins!
However you write your story, whether it is meticulously planned or whether it almost writes itself, there are some things common to all story-telling. Some things are so obvious you may not have properly considered them, some are important even if you are not aware of them at first.


  1. jena

    I love this picture of you and Bari in full Dutch regalia! That looks like it was fun! Did Elly dress you two up haha 🙂 Congratulations on the class, you’re perfect for it. I’d enjoy taking it 🙂


  2. Debb Stanton

    Hi Lois – I wish we didn’t live so far apart, as I would dearly love to take your writing class! I don’t think you will have a problem at all, even with the “adult” age — in fact, I am now in my second childhood and my creativity is coming out – so age doesn’t matter anymore. 🙂 Best wishes!


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