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10 Effective Ways to Improve Your Creative Writing

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Writing a story is a craft that requires constant tweaks, edits and trial and error by the writer. Here are ten tips to improve your creative writing and save you hours of painful re-writing in the future.

(1) Don’t underestimate your reader

You have a fantastic plot, your characters are realistic, the setting is ideal and you want to make sure that the reader gets every little detail that you have in mind. Great!

The only problem is that you may be tempted to bombard your reader with many intimate details so that they see it exactly as you do. In-depth descriptions can be useful and effective, but don’t overdo it. Keep your writing neat and tight; don’t waste space on long, rambling descriptions about things that aren’t necessary to your story.

Wouldn’t it be ideal if editors received submissions and decided to look past the typos and incorrect formatting because they think it might be a little gem of a story? The fact is that if your manuscript is full of errors or doesn’t follow the required guidelines then it’s going in the trash.

Don’t rely on your computer’s spell checker. If you make a typo, the computer will not warn you if you’ve still spelt a valid word. Your gorgeous heroine meets the bog (boy) of her dreams? The wealthy doctor places his golf ball on his tea (tee)?

(3) Give Your Characters Life

Characters are vital to your story so treat them with care and give them that breath of life that you, the writer, have the power to give. Give them unique characteristics; make them believable by making them have a purpose, motivation and conflicts to resolve.

(4) Use Strong Words

You want your writing to sound decisive, so use words that get the point across. Did Bob’s really big headache cause him a lot of pain or did Bob’s migraine cause excruciating pain? But remember not to overdo it: don’t use words that the reader won’t understand, you want to use strong words, not confusing or extravagant ones.

(5) Show Don’t Tell.

Who hasn’t heard that one before? But it’s a valid point and a useful rule for all writers. Fiction is for entertainment, so entertain your reader! Give them an excuse to escape into the reality that you have created. Let them see, hear, feel, smell, laugh, cry, love and hate. Show your reader the world that you’ve created, don’t just tell them about it.

(6) Check your Commas

While commas can be effective many inexperienced writers tend to sprinkle their sentences with them. When placed incorrectly, commas can chop up your sentences and sometimes even alter the meaning. Brush up on your high-school grammar; your work will improve with that alone.

(7) Grab their Attention from the Start

Opening lines are often referred to as ‘the hook’ because that’s exactly what you want them to be. You get the reader’s attention and reel them in for the rest of the story. Try something powerful to kick-start your story. For example: ‘Mark’s back broke with an audible crack’ or ‘Eliza didn’t realize that she was going blind’ or ‘The bullet that pierced Henry’s back and left him paralyzed was meant for a homeless man’. Each of these lines makes the reader ask ‘why?’ and once they ask that question, the reader will keep on reading until they find the answer.

(8) Give Your Reader a Satisfactory Ending

You can leave the reader speculating or wondering why at the end of your story, but try to resolve as much as you can. If your reader finishes the last sentence and is still asking questions about what happened to who and why, then you still need to tie up the loose ends.

(9) Sober up

Think of writing as going out to a bar: you go out, the lighting is dim, it’s noisy, maybe you drink too much but you meet a person who’s attractive, witty, shares the same interests as you and you’re smitten by them. A few days later you meet for coffee: are they as good looking or charming as you remember?

This can happen with writing. You become intoxicated with the feeling of success and think that you have written an award-winning piece. The question is, once you’ve sobered up, is it as good as you thought it was? Put your manuscript away and try not to think about it for a couple days. Then take it out and read it with a clear, open mind. Read it through once from beginning to end, then break it up into sections, then read it sentence by sentence. Is it as good as you remembered? If so, then well done! But the odds are that if you were too excited about finally wrapping it up, then you’ll find some points to revise.

(10) Challenge Yourself

Are you trying too hard to write in a specific genre or style? Do you only write short stories or novels or poems or movie scripts? Give that creative muscle a workout and try something different. It will be a refreshing exercise for your mind and you might be surprised by the result. If you don’t succeed then you have still learnt a valuable lesson.

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Learning resources

Use art to inspire poetry and creative writing

KS3 (ENG) , KS4 (ENG) , KS3 (NI) , KS4 (NI) , CfE L4 (SCO) , CfE L3 (SCO) , KS3 (WAL) , KS4 (WAL) , CfE Sen. (SCO)

Cubism , Pre‐Raphaelitism , Post‐Impressionism , Figurative art , Abstraction

Reading and writing , Literature , Self portraits

Cubist Head (Portrait of Fernande)

Cubist Head (Portrait of Fernande) c.1909/1910

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

About this resource

How can we use art for creative writing inspiration?

This resource suggests ideas for using artworks as the starting point or inspiration for a poetry or creative writing project. 

Use it to explore:

  • poets and poetry inspired by art
  • artworks on Art UK to use as a starting point for creative writing projects
  • suggestions for looking closely at an artwork
  • ideas for planning a creative written response to an artwork

The resource offers opportunities for cross-curricular study across English and Art & Design. The examples of artworks, related poems and activity ideas included in the resource can be used together as a lesson plan or as individual components to integrate into your own scheme of work. The resource is devised for KS 3/CfE Level 3 & Level 4 students but could also be suitable for Key Stage 4 and CfE senior phase students and 16+ learners.

See also our related resource: How can poetry be used to inspire art?

Curriculum links

Art and design

- Evaluate and analyse creative works - Actively engage in the creative process of art - Know about great artists and understand the historical and cultural development of their art forms

Reading Pupils should be taught to:

read and appreciate the depth and power of the English literary heritage through:

- reading a wide range of high-quality, challenging, classic literature. The range should include works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries; poetry since 1789.

understand and critically evaluate texts through:

- reading in different ways for different purposes, summarising and synthesising ideas and information, and evaluating their usefulness for particular purposes - drawing on knowledge of the purpose, audience for and context of the writing, including its social, historical and cultural context and the literary tradition to which it belongs, to inform evaluation  - identifying and interpreting themes, ideas and information - seeking evidence in the text to support a point of view, including justifying inferences with evidence - distinguishing between statements that are supported by evidence and those that are not, and identifying bias and misuse of evidence - analysing a writer’s choice of vocabulary, form, grammatical and structural features, and evaluating their effectiveness and impact - make an informed personal response, recognising that other responses to a text are possible and evaluating these.

Pupils should be taught to:

write accurately, fluently, effectively and at length for pleasure and information through:

- adapting their writing for a wide range of purposes and audiences - selecting, and using judiciously, vocabulary, grammar, form, and structural and organisational features, including rhetorical devices, to reflect audience, purpose and context, and using Standard English where appropriate - make notes, draft and write, including using information provided by others [e.g. writing a letter from key points provided; drawing on and using information from a presentation]

Grammar and vocabulary

consolidate and build on their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary through:

- studying their effectiveness and impact in the texts they read - drawing on new vocabulary and grammatical constructions from their reading and listening, and using these consciously in their writing and speech to achieve particular effects - analysing some of the differences between spoken and written language, including differences associated with formal and informal registers, and between Standard English and other varieties of English - using linguistic and literary terminology accurately and confidently in discussing reading, writing and spoken language.

KS 4 - Develop ideas through investigations, demonstrating a critical understanding of sources - Record ideas, observations and insights relevant to intentions as work progresses - Present a personal and meaningful response that realises intentions and demonstrates an understanding of visual language

English literature

Students should be able to:

- read and understand poetry - respond to poems critically and imaginatively - select and evaluate relevant textual material - use details from poems to illustrate interpretations - explain and evaluate the ways in which the poets express meaning and achieve effects - relate the poems to their social, cultural and historical contexts English Language Writing for purpose and audience Students should be able to: - write accurately and effectively - use an appropriate writing form - express ideas and/or information precisely and accurately - select vocabulary to persuade and/or inform the reader - use accurate grammar, spelling and punctuation Speaking and listening Students should be able to: - communicate clearly and effectively - present information and ideas - use standard English as appropriate - structure and sustain talk - choose and adapt language appropriate to an audience - respond appropriately to questions and views of others - interact with others - make a range of effective contributions - express ideas clearly, accurately and appropriately - listen and respond to others' ideas and perspectives - challenge what they hear where appropriate and shape meaning through asking questions and making comments and suggestions

Studying spoken and written language

Students should be able to: - understand the characteristics of spoken language - understand influences on spoken language choices - explore the impact of spoken language choices - understand how language varies in different contexts; - read and understand texts - understand how meaning is constructed - recognise the effect of language choices and patterns - evaluate how texts may be interpreted differently depending on the reader's perspective - explain and evaluate how writers use linguistic and presentational features to sustain the reader's interest Personal creative writing

Students should be able to: - write clearly and fluently (as well as imaginatively, if appropriate) - organise ideas to support coherence - use an appropriate writing form - select vocabulary appropriate to the task to engage the reader - use a range of sentence structures for effect - use accurate grammar, spelling and punctuation Reading Literary and Non-fiction Texts Students should be able to: - read and understand texts - understand how meaning is constructed - recognise the effect of language choices and patterns - select material appropriate to purpose - evaluate how texts may be interpreted differently depending on the reader's perspective - explain and evaluate how writers use linguistic and presentational features to sustain the reader's interest.

Level 4 - I can analyse art and design techniques, processes and concepts, make informed judgements and express considered opinions on my own and others' work (EXA 4-07a)

Literacy and English

Listening and talking

- When I engage with others I can make a relevant contribution, ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute and encourage them to take account of others’ points of view or alternative solutions. I can respond in ways appropriate to my role, exploring and expanding on contributions to reflect on, clarify or adapt thinking (LIT 4-02a) - As I listen or watch, I can clearly state the purpose and main concerns of a text and make inferences from key statements; compare and contrast different types of text; gather, link and use information from different sources and use this for different purposes (LIT 4-04a) - As I listen or watch, I can make notes and organise these to develop thinking, help retain and recall information, explore issues and create new texts, using my own words as appropriate (LIT 3-05a / LIT 4-05a) - I can show my understanding of what I listen to or watch by giving detailed, evaluative comments, with evidence, about the content and form of short and extended texts (LIT 4-07a) - When listening and talking with others for different purposes, I can: communicate detailed information, ideas or opinions; explain processes, concepts or ideas with some relevant supporting detail; sum up ideas, issues, findings or conclusions (LIT 4-09a)

- Through developing my knowledge of context clues, punctuation, grammar and layout, I can read unfamiliar texts with increasing fluency, understanding and expression (ENG 2-12a / ENG 3-12a / ENG 4-12a) - I can make notes and organise them to develop my thinking, help retain and recall information, explore issues and create new texts, using my own words as appropriate (LIT 3-15a / LIT 4-15a) - To show my understanding, I can give detailed, evaluative comments, with evidence, on the content and form of short and extended texts, and respond to different kinds of questions and other types of close reading tasks (ENG 4-17a) - I can: discuss and evaluate the effectiveness of structure, characterisation and/or setting using some supporting evidence; identify how the writer’s main theme or central concerns are revealed and can recognise how they relate to my own and others’ experiences; identify and make a personal evaluation of the effect of aspects of the writer’s style and other features appropriate to genre using some relevant evidence and terminology (ENG 4-19a)

- I enjoy creating texts of my choice and I am developing my own style. I can regularly select subject, purpose, format and resources to suit the needs of my audience (LIT 3-20a / LIT 4-20a) - As appropriate to my purpose and type of text, I can punctuate and structure different types of sentences with sufficient accuracy, and arrange these to make meaning clear, showing straightforward relationships between paragraphs (LIT 3-22a / LIT 4-22a) - Throughout the writing process, I can review and edit my writing independently to ensure that it meets its purpose and communicates meaning clearly at first reading (LIT 4-23a) - I can justify my choice and use of layout and presentation in terms of the intended impact on my reader (LIT 4-24a) - I can use notes and other types of writing to generate and develop ideas, retain and recall information, explore problems, make decisions, or create original text. I can make appropriate and responsible use of sources and acknowledge these appropriately (LIT 4-25a) - By considering the type of text I am creating, I can independently select ideas and relevant information for different purposes, and organise essential information or ideas and any supporting detail in a logical order. I can use suitable vocabulary to communicate effectively with my audience (LIT 3-26a / LIT 4-26a) - I can engage and/or influence readers through my use of language, style and tone as appropriate to genre (ENG 3-27a / ENG 4-27a) - I can create a convincing impression of my personal experience and reflect on my response to the changing circumstances to engage my reader (ENG 4-30a) - Having explored and experimented with the narrative structures which writers use to create texts in different genres, I can: use the conventions of my chosen genre successfully and/or; create an appropriate mood or atmosphere and/or; create convincing relationships, actions and dialogue for my characters (ENG 4-31a)

Art and design - Students use their knowledge about the work of other artists to enrich and inform their work through analysis and evaluation - Students evaluate their work through discussion

Learners should be given opportunities to:

- respond orally to continuous and non-continuous texts - respond orally to a variety of stimuli and ideas, including written and dynamic texts, e.g. paintings, music, film, still and moving images  - communicate for a range of purposes, e.g. recount and present information, instruct, argue and explain a point of view, discuss an issue, persuade, question and explore interpretations, convey feelings - speak and listen individually, in pairs, in groups and as members of a class - present, talk and perform in formal and informal contexts and for a variety of audiences including teachers and peers - engage in activities that focus on words, their derivation, meanings, choice and impact - listen and view attentively, responding to a wide range of communication, e.g. written and dynamic texts, theatre and poetry performance, visiting speakers, explanations, instructions - speak clearly, using intonation and emphasis appropriately, e.g. recitation, oral storytelling - use appropriate vocabulary suitable for the situation or purpose - use appropriate vocabulary and terminology to discuss, consider and evaluate their own work and that of others, e.g. authors, peers

read a wide range of continuous and non-continuous texts, in printed and dynamic format, as a basis for oral and written responses. These should include:

– extracts and complete texts – traditional and contemporary poetry and prose – texts written by Welsh authors, texts with a Welsh dimension and texts from other cultures – texts that have challenging subject matter, which broaden perspectives and extend thinking – texts with a variety of structures, forms, purposes, intended audiences and presentational devices – texts that demonstrate quality and variety in language use – texts with a variety of social, historical and cultural contexts – texts that extend learners’ intellectual, moral and emotional understanding – texts with a variety of tone, e.g. irony, parody, word play, innuendo and satire

read individually and collaboratively, e.g. paired reading, guided group reading, shared reading

read for different purposes, e.g. for personal pleasure; to retrieve, summarise and synthesise key information; to interpret and integrate information; to verify information; to deepen understanding through re-reading; to identify language devices used by the writer to analyse purpose; to identify alternative readings of a text

develop appropriate vocabulary and terminology to discuss, consider and evaluate their own work and that of others, e.g. authors, poets, peers, in written and dynamic texts.

write for a variety of purposes, including to: – recount – inform – explain – argue/persuade – discuss/analyse – evaluate – narrate – describe – empathise

write in a range of continuous and non-continuous texts in a variety of forms

produce poetic writing, using imagery and poetic devices, e.g. rhyme and form

use a wide range of written and dynamic stimuli, e.g. stories, picture books, images, poems, experiences, film, paintings, music

use appropriate vocabulary and terminology to discuss, consider and evaluate their own work and that of others, e.g. authors, peers.

Expressive Arts

Exploring the expressive arts is essential to developing artistic skills and knowledge and it enables learners to become curious and creative individuals.

Progression step 5:

- I can investigate and analyse how creative work is used to represent and celebrate personal, social and cultural identities.

- I can independently research the purpose and meaning of a wide range of creative work and consider how they can impact on different audiences.

Responding and reflecting, both as artist and audience, is a fundamental part of learning in the expressive arts. 

- I can critically and thoughtfully respond to and analyse the opinion and creative influences of others in order to independently shape and develop my own creative work.

- I can purposefully apply knowledge and understanding of context when evaluating my own creative work and creative work by other people and from other places and times.

- I can critically evaluate the way artists use discipline-specific skills and techniques to create and communicate ideas. 


Languages, literacy and communication

Understanding languages is key to understanding the world around us

- I can listen empathetically, respecting different people’s perspectives and can critically evaluate them to arrive at my own considered conclusions.

- I can employ a range of strategies to recognise and predict the meaning across a wide range of texts and from this enhance my own expression and communication.

- I can use  inference  and  deduction  to gain in-depth understanding of complex texts, and can evaluate the reliability, validity and impact of what I read.

- I can use my knowledge of word construction,  grammar , including  syntax , and text organisation to support my understanding of what I hear and read.

- I can read empathetically to respect and critically evaluate different people’s perspectives, using them to arrive at my own considered conclusions.

- I can listen and read to build an extensive range of general and specific vocabulary, and I can use them with precision in different contexts.

Expressing ourselves through languages is key to communication

- I can convey meaning convincingly in a range of contexts so that the audience is fully engaged.

- I can make informed choices about vocabulary and grammar to enhance my communication skills

- I can reflect critically on my use of language and can consider the effects of my spoken, written and  visual communication  objectively.

- I can evaluate and respond critically to what I have heard, read or seen.

Literature fires imagination and inspires creativity

- I can engage with a wide range of literary  genres  in depth in order to explore and craft my own work.

- I can experiment with and craft my own literature.

- I can critically evaluate key concepts and the impact of language choices and techniques on the reader/viewer using an assured selection of relevant textual detail.

- I can appreciate literature, showing empathy when evaluating different interpretations of literature, including my own.

How to use this resource

1. Explore paintings and poetry

The first section of this resource introduces poems inspired by portraits, narrative paintings and abstract artworks.

Choose one or two of the paintings with accompanying poems to explore with your students. Look at the painting first, encouraging students to discuss what it shows and their response to it.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) 1853

William Holman Hunt (1827–1910)

You could think about:

  • what does the artwork look like?
  • is it an abstract arrangement of shapes and colours or has the artist represented something from the visible world?
  • is there a story, meaning or message in the work?
  • what is the mood of the work and how does this affect your response?
  • how has the artist used techniques such as brushstrokes or chisel marks? What colours have they used?

Then discuss how the poet has responded to the painting.

  • What aspects of the painting have they focused on?
  • What type of language have they used?
  • Have they used the painting as a starting point to discuss bigger ideas or themes or to reflect upon issues that are personal to them? 

2. Activity ideas and suggestions

The second section of the resource includes ideas and suggestions for responding through poetry or another form of creative writing to an artwork.

Did you know?

There is a dedicated term for poems inspired by artworks. Ekphrastic poetry is taken from the Greek word Ekphrasis , meaning to describe something in vivid detail.

Elizabeth Jennings and Rembrandt's late self-portraits

Rembrandt van Rijn was a seventeenth-century Dutch painter. During his long career, he painted over 90 self-portraits that record how he looked from youth to old age. (See additional self-portraits on the Rembrandt artist page on Art UK  and watch a video to find out more.)

Rembrandt's self-portraits from old age are brutally honest, showing melancholy eyes staring out from sagging features and dishevelled hair and clothing.

Self Portrait at the Age of 63

Self Portrait at the Age of 63 1669

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669)

Poet Elizabeth Jennings  responds to the self-portraits that Rembrandt painted in later life.

You are confronted with yourself. Each year The pouches fill, the skin is uglier. You give it all unflinchingly. You stare Into yourself, beyond. Your brush's care Runs with self-knowledge. Here

Is a humility at one with craft There is no arrogance. Pride is apart From this self-scrutiny.

Read the whole poem and listen to a recording of Elizabeth Jennings reading her poem

Explore an analysis of the poem

Raza Hussain and Holman Hunt's portrait of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882)

In 2017, we challenged five young poets to create an original piece inspired by a painting of their choice from Art UK.

Birmingham-based spoken word artist and rapper Raza Hussain chose an 1853 portrait of Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti by William Holman Hunt . 

Hussain sees the Pre-Raphaelites as rebels who wanted to implement change and Rossetti as 'an iconic and profound symbol of passionate creative madness – the kind to change perspectives – the kind to change the world'.

Find out more about the portrait and Raza Hussain's response to it .

Rowan MacCabe and Ethel Wright's 'Bonjour, Pierrot'

Rowan McCabe is another young poet commissioned to respond to a painting on Art UK as part of the Art Speaks challenge.

Bonjour, Pierrot is an imagined portrait, made in the early 1890s, of the character of Pierrot from French literature. Pierrot has held a fascination for many artists including Jean-Antoine Watteau and Pablo Picasso . The poet Rowan McCabe responds to this depiction of Pierrot by British portrait painter  Ethel Wright and sees Pierrot in the painting as a sad figure, despite his clownish appearance.

McCabe has been affected by mental health issues and, for him, the painting is a reminder that people might seem silly and fun on the surface but can, in fact, be hiding issues relating to their mental health.  

Find out more about the painting and Rowan McCabe's response to it

Explore more paintings by Ethel Wright

Narrative painting

A narrative painting  is a painting that tells a story. The story could be from religion, literature, myth and legend or history. Or it could be a story of everyday life (often referred to as genre painting .)

Poetic responses to Titian's Diana and Actaeon

In 2012, The National Gallery in London invited 13 leading poets to respond to three paintings by Titian (c.1488–1576): Diana and Actaeon   (1556–1559);  The Death of Actaeon  (about 1559–1575); and Diana and Callisto   (1556–1559).   The paintings depict stories from the epic poem Metamorphoses   by the Classical poet  Ovid , who lived   from 43 BC to 17/18 AD.

Diana and Actaeon

Diana and Actaeon 1556-1559

Titian (c.1488–1576)

The myth of Diana and Actaeon recounted in  Metamorphoses tells the sad story of the hunter Actaeon who comes across Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting, while she is bathing with her escort of nymphs. The nymphs try to cover the naked Diana who, in a state of shock and embarrassment, splashes Actaeon. This splash turns Actaeon into a deer and he flees the scene. Tragically, however, his own hunting dogs don't recognise their master and attack and kill Actaeon.

Find out more about the paintings in the HENI Talks video on this artwork page

Patience Agbabi on Titian's 'Diana and Actaeon'

In this video poet Patience Agbabi reads her poem About Face inspired by Titian's painting Diana and Actaeon  (1556–1559).

She imagines the thoughts and response of a Black nymph who is depicted standing beside Diana in the painting and helps to cover Diana from the gaze of Actaeon. 

Hear more poets' responses to Titian's paintings on The National Gallery website

Sabrina Mahfouz and Ludolf Backhuysen's 'Boats in a Storm'

Ludolf Backhuysen 's painting,  Boats in an Upcoming Storm with the Church of Zandvoort  (1696) depicts a large sailing vessel, being buffeted by strong winds as it enters a harbour. Men on shore are pulling on a rope to steady her stern while other smaller boats come to the assistance of the distressed passengers. 

British Egyptian poet Sabrina Mahfouz was drawn to the painting by its depiction of a storm, struck by the fact that something as still as a painting is able to capture such ferocious movement and activity.

Abstract art

E. E. Cummings and Cubism

American avant-garde poet E. E. Cummings  was profoundly influenced by early twentieth-century art movements and the experiments with abstract style that Cubists and other modern artists were conducting. In 1913 he visited the International Exhibition of Modern Art in New York  (also known as the Armory Show) where he saw work by artists including Pablo Picasso , Georges Braque , Henri Matisse , Paul Cézanne and Marcel Duchamp . 

Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque's Cubist experiments revolutionised painting. In attempting to suggest the three-dimensionality of objects, landscapes and people by showing them simultaneously from different viewpoints they created fragmented, abstracted images. 

E. E. Cummings was inspired by these fractured artworks and began to explore similar experimentation in his poetry. His poems became visual as well as verbal as he experimented with the form and arrangement of his words. (His poem r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r  is a good example of this.)

Cummings begins his poem, Picasso , with the words:

'Picasso you give us Things which bulge: grunting lungs pumped full of thick sharp mind you make us shrill presents always shut in the sumptuous screech of simplicity'

The poem ends with:

'you hew form truly'

Read the full poem here

Anne Sexton and Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night

Artist Vincent van Gogh is best known for his powerful portraits, flowers and landscapes painted using bold colours and loose brushstrokes that seem to whirl around the surface of his canvases.

The Starry Night, painted in 1889, shows the view from Van Gogh's room in the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum where he was placed after a breakdown (during which he self-mutilated his ear). The view was painted just before sunrise and as well as the trees and hills and starry sky that he could see, Van Gogh added an imaginary village to the landscape.

The Starry Night

The Starry Night

1889, oil on canvas by Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)

In her response to The Starry Night,  poet Anne Sexton has managed to convey the powerful emotions as well as the loose abstracted style of Vincent van Gogh's painting.

'The town does not exist except where one black-haired tree slips up like a drowned woman into the hot sky The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars. Oh starry starry night!'

Ann Sexton researched Van Gogh and read his letters before writing the poem and includes, as an epigraph  to her poem, a line from a letter that Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother.

'That does not keep me from having a terrible need of – shall I say the word – religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars.'

In creating her response to the painting she imagines Vincent van Gogh thinking about religion and mortality.

Read the full poem here

See an analysis of the poem

Activity: write a poem inspired by an artwork

Now that you have explored a range of poems inspired by paintings, have a go at writing a poem or piece of creative writing inspired by an artwork.

This activity includes tips and suggestions for finding, looking at and creating a written response to an artwork.

Step 1: find an artwork to inspire you

If you are a teacher, task students with finding an artwork that inspires them as a homework project in advance of the class. They could choose an artwork from a local collection or find one on Art UK.

Use the tips below to find artworks on Art UK.

Search by artist

Look for an artist on Art UK. Start typing the artist's name into the search box on the Art UK artworks search page .

A list of artists will appear. Select the artist that you are interested in.

Screenshot of Art UK's artwork search page

Screenshot of Art UK's artwork search page

You will be shown a list of artworks on Art UK by your selected artist. Browse these and choose an artwork to inspire your creative writing project.

Screenshot of Art UK's artworks search page, showing art by Sonia Boyce

Screenshot of Art UK's artworks search page, showing art by Sonia Boyce

  • Go to the artworks search page to search by artist

Search by theme

You can also type a subject or theme into the search box. This could be anything from 'holiday' to 'celebrity' to 'football'. Once you've typed your theme, click the search icon or press return.

You will be shown a list of artworks relating to the keyword.

  • Go to the artworks search page to search by theme

Another way to search by theme is to explore Topics on Art UK. We have gathered together a selection of artworks related to a wide range of themes from 'home and family' to the 'natural world'.

  • Browse Topics

Search by location

If you'd like to find artworks in museums or galleries near you, use our venue search.

This will allow you to search by UK country and region to find a local gallery or museum and see the artworks that they hold.

  • Search by country, region and venue

Be inspired using the artwork shuffle

If you are not sure what you're looking for (but will know when you see it!), use our artwork shuffle.

The artwork shuffle shows a random selection of artworks in different media from collections around the country.

If you don't see anything you like, shuffle again to see another selection.

  • Inspire me with the artwork shuffle

Step 2: look closely at your artwork

Once you have found an artwork to inspire you, look closely at it. Note down your thoughts about the work and your feelings in response to it.

  • What does the artwork look like?
  • Is it an abstract arrangement of shapes and colours or has the artist represented something from the visible world?
  • Is there a story, meaning or message in the work?
  • What is the mood of the work and how does it affect your response?
  • How has the artist used techniques such as brush strokes or chisel marks? What colours have they used?

In this video, created by The Grampian Hospitals Art Trust , writer Shane Strachan shares some useful ideas for looking closely at an artwork.

Step 3: plan and write your creative response

How are you going to respond to the artwork in your creative writing piece?

Your response could be a poem, a text, a memory or a form of your own invention. As well as what you see in the artwork (the imagery, colours and mark-making or use of materials) think about your own interpretation and your response to it.

  • What does the artwork make you feel?
  • Does it make you think of other things such as memories, places or people?
  • Does the artwork tell or suggest a narrative or story?
  • Are there any details or imagery within the artwork that draws you in?
  • What do the colours, shapes and marks remind you of?

Research and be inspired by others

You could also research the artwork to inform and inspire your approach. Find out more about the artist and their ideas and techniques or research the subject depicted.

Be inspired by the approach of other writers. Revisit the poetry included in the first part of this resource.

Or read creative responses to artworks written by young people for our  Write on Art competition.

  • Write on Art: Ruby Langan-Hughes on The Broken Mirror by Jean-Baptiste Greuze
  • Write on Art: Variaam Tratt on Preserve 'Beauty ' by Anya Gallaccio
  • Write on Art: Aoife Hogan on Childen and Chalk Wall 3 by Joan Eardley

Writing art: inspiration and tips

In this second video from Grampian Hospitals Art Trust , writer Shane Strachan shares ideas and tips for responding to an artwork creatively in writing. He also shares his own poems inspired by artworks.

Watch the video and then get started on your own creative writing project!

Find out more


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