Emma: 5 easy tips for creative writing success

Photograph of Emma MactaggartEmma Mactaggart has been fighting with a pen for the last decade and has managed to wrangle with a number of manuscripts, bringing them to air in the form of children’s picture books and a ‘how-to’ text book, gathering awards for them along the way. Armed with a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) she now helps others, from primary school aged children to adults, achieve their dream of having their books in print. She can’t help swinging her arms whilst wildly gesticulating as she teaches, and is equally fierce with a red pen if editing! It all sounds aggressive, but she is meek and mild and is very keen on sharing all she knows with those whose she believes will contribute to Australia’s literary landscape in the future.

Ready, set, WRITE…

Do you feel as though you are in an exam or doing a test when you have a deadline or a finite amount of time to produce a body of writing? Writing for a competition can feel this way, unless you take on board a few essential suggestions, which will help you embrace your writerly being, be creative, relaxed and, dare I say it, even enjoy the process.

1. Breathe

There is something intrinsically rewarding for your body, your mind and your soul when you take a couple of deep breaths, you allow the tension to flow from your body and, effectively, relax. Stress is not a writer’s best friend! It can be useful if you require a ‘flight or fight’ response, but let’s face it, there aren’t too many dinosaurs out there anymore that require this kind of motivation. Try it. Sit there quietly and just allow yourself to breathe in, deeply, then out, and repeat this at least five times. How do you feel? 

2. Read

Yes, writers are the most prolific readers. Wander around the internet looking for short stories, especially winning stories. Try and assess their particular nuances. Is it the point of view or the original setting that captures your attention? Is it the language, be it poetic and melodic or dark and sombre, which perfectly matches the character? Does the introduction lead mercifully through a climax to a satisfying conclusion? The best part about this advice, as a writer, is you get to tell people you are ‘working’ when you are curled up in a sunny corner, reading!

3. Get set…

Look around you… Is the space around you uncluttered and therefore peaceful, allowing you to think? Alternatively, is it absolute chaos, allowing you to think? Whatever your personal need, it is so important to set up TWO writing spaces: one cluttered, inspiring and energetic and one uncluttered, peaceful. Why? Working to a deadline means sometimes you will feel fabulous, invigorated, and other times, it will feel as though you are wading through tar! You don’t have to overthink this – if you plonk yourself down in workspace 1 and the writing flows and flows and the editing is easy and you feel a sense of achievement, stay there. If you can’t seem to connect any motor-nuerons, move to workspace 2!

4. Now, just start writing!

Is that over simplistic? Were you looking for the gem of an idea to guarantee you wrote the next best-seller or Stella Prize winner? Don’t look at the single unadorned piece of paper and get ‘page fright’. If you are unsure about what to write about, simply make a mark on the page. This mark can become ‘I’, and if you write ‘I’ you may choose to follow with ‘I have no idea about what to write about…’ Even if you start with this – you will have started a thought process, tapped into your inner creative and more words will flow, I promise.

5. Remember, the earth will still turn on its axis if you don’t win…

Unlike school, where every piece of work produced is for a specific task and therefore marked, writing for a competition should be exhilaratingly liberating. You are writing for yourself, no-one else. The piece of writing you create should make the hair on your arms stand on end.

Please keep in mind, you are a writer. Say it aloud. Yell it. ‘I AM A WRITER’. By putting pen to paper to create, you have the right to this title.

'I am a writer'

Emma Mactaggart is an ambassador for the USQ Get Writing Prize, a competition for high school students in years 7-12 with a passion for writing poetry or short stories. Find out more about more about the USQ Get Writing Prize, or discover even more creative writing inspiration by reading the words of Steve Armstrong, the 2015 Bruce Dawe Poetry Prize winner.


Steve: The art of losing to win

Jenny: The practise of making

Susan Prior: How to proofread like a pro