How to Write Creatively: 3 Steps To Standing Out Without Sounding Clever

Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

Ultimate Guide Table of Contents

The vast majority of writers don’t know what they mean when they say “creative writing.”

The way we are taught to think about creative writing goes like this:

There are rules to the game of writing. These rules were created by people far smarter and more talented than you. And your job is to take their rules, learn them, master them, and then try to execute within the rules of the game, better than all the other people who are trying to do the same thing.

If you are successful at executing within the rules of the game, and “winning” the game, you are considered “creative.”

But, that’s not what most creative writing really is:

Creative writing is the ability (skill) to say what hasn’t been said before.

You can do this in 3 ways.

  • You can say something that SOUNDS different (Voice).
  • You can say something that LOOKS different (Format).
  • You can say something that IS different (Content).

If you ask 10 writers about how to have an effective morning routine, the majority (if not all) will say the same things: wake up early, drink a big glass of water, make coffee, get out of bed, stretch first thing, journal, read, meditate, etc.

And each of these 10 writers may be great at the craft of writing. Their sentences may be clean, their grammar correct, their punctuation crisp. You might even say (spotting a clever metaphor or two) that they are “creative.” But start reading these articles one after the other, and you’ll notice they all start to sound the same. Replace the writer’s name at the top, and you won’t be able to tell whose is whose.

Then an 11th writer comes along.

Their number one tip for building an effective morning routine?

“As soon as you wake up, take a shot of tequila.”

On the surface this seems “creative.” But in a “Ha ha!” sort of way.

Which is what 99% of writers don’t understand about Creative Writing.

The real reason this stands out (and why you will remember this detail after reading this piece of writing) is because it is saying something different. Is it clever? Sure. That’s not the point.

The goal was to take the conversation everyone else was having (“Here are all the things that make an effective morning routine”) and say what hasn’t been said.

If that goal is achieved, hurrah: that is Creative Writing. And if that goal isn’t achieved, if you’re saying the same thing as everyone else just in a “more clever” way, then you are not actually a “creative writer.”

What you are is a writer competing within the same game as everyone else.

You are trying to fit in—instead of aiming to stand out.

How To Write Creatively And Stand Out From The Crowd

Follow these 3 dead-simple steps:

Step1: Make a list of all the things "most people" would say about your topic.

Start by writing down all the things most people would say about your topic. 

A quick Google search will reveal 99% of what most people think about a topic. Search engines are designed to serve up “relevant” (conventional) content. Look at the first two pages of the search results and you will find everything you need. 

Make a list. 

  • What are all the things you've heard people talk about? 
  • What's the conventional “Google” wisdom? 
  • What are the cliché answers? 

Write them all down.

Step 2: Don't use anything on that list.

Challenge yourself to think of at least three alternatives. 

  • Consider your personal experiences. What has worked for you in the past? What do you wish more people knew about the topic? 
  • Vet your assumptions. What do you believe about the topic? Why? What assumptions do most people rely on? Are they always true? Reject what has been true and consider what could be.
  • Look for contradictions. Find inconsistencies in the common advice on your topic. For example, some people might say that a particular food is healthy, while others might say it's unhealthy. 

Most people don’t have the patience to slow down and think, which is why we are swimming in a sea of sameness. For instance, if the topic is "healthy eating," everyone one earth knows the that you should "eat more fruits and vegetables," you could try to think of three alternative ideas such as:

  • Eat exotic fruits from Blue Zones (locations where people are known to live the longest)
  • Cook over an aged-wood flame (avoid pollutants in your meal)
  • Never eat leftovers (nutritional value degrades)

Thinking different isn’t hard—it just requires intentionality.

Step 3: Now, start writing.

Congratulations! You did the “creative thinking.”

Now, put your ideas into action.

Create an outline including each of your new ideas. Write an Atomic Essay. Expand on each point using reasons, stories, examples, mistakes, tips etc. 

Huzzah! You’ve just written something different!

What if you are feeling creatively drained? 

Here's the one question you need to ask yourself.

Who are you studying?

To stay creative, you need to study your craft and take a break from output mode. Read, make time for input. Your brain needs a chance to cool down and recharge, and constant output mode can lead to burnout. Just like going to the gym, you can't expect to be brilliant without fueling your creativity with inspiration.

Look at your environment. 

What creative people do you have around you? Your environment influences and inspires you, so surround yourself with other creative individuals who can push you out of your comfort zone.

Creativity is a muscle that requires nourishment, rest, and practice to thrive. 

Keep these habits in mind, keep creating, and remember: 

Creative Writing isn't about being clever, it's about being different.

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