So, you’ve heard about creative writing courses. Courses on which you learn to write creatively – and which train you to become this thing we call a ‘creative writer’.
Yet, do we know what this term creative writing actually refers to? Maybe you already write a blog in your spare time. Does that count as creative writing? Maybe you dabble in poetry writing, novel writing, or screenwriting as a hobby. Are these things that we can call creative writing too?
And then, what about nonfiction writing, copywriting, or memoir writing? Do these deserve that title creative writing?
Funnily enough, the lines between creative writing and other forms of writing are pretty blurred. And whilst we can say fairly confidently that writing a novel is creative whilst writing an email to your boss perhaps isn’t, there is a lot of stuff in the middle that isn’t so clear cut.
In this article, we’re going to be answering the question, what is creative writing? We’ll be doing this with the eye to helping you in figuring out what you might learn on the creative writing programs you may be interested in enrolling in.
Because whilst a creative writing course will, theoretically, hone your writing skills, it may not do very much for your ability to write an email.
So, let’s get cracking – and see what sorts of things you will be producing when you are engaged in creative writing. You can check out our introduction to creative writing too!
How Creative Writing Differs from Other Kinds of Writing.
Writing fiction or writing a report of a meeting. Writing poetry or sending a text to your mum. Writing a play or writing marketing copy for a website.
What are the differences between these different types of writing? And what makes what we call creative writing more creative than other forms of writing?
The Purpose of Creative Writing.
The differences here are all about the purpose of written texts. A text or an email has a particular purpose that a poem doesn’t – namely to give information. The purpose of a report of a meeting is to record the things discussed. Copywriting, meanwhile, aims to persuade an audience to buy a particular product.
Creative writing differs from all of these things. Its purpose is to entertain, to give pleasure, to inspire or enlighten. Or, if you ask someone interested in literary theory, they’ll say that creative writing – or literature – doesn’t have a purpose in the same way that other types of writing do.
Purpose is probably the primary difference between creative writing and journalistic writing, say. Or creative writing and academic writing.
The Features of Creative Writing.
As a result of this, the features of creative writing are necessarily different from journalism, academia, or technical writing. Compare any piece of English literature with any article from a newspaper and you will see this immediately.
Because where the purpose of journalism – as an example – is to convey information, or to report through language, creative writing takes interest in language itself: in the writing process, in the written word, and in the play of language across the page.
Consequently, creative writing uses more writing techniques that draw the readers attention to the language itself: metaphors and similes, say, or interesting word choice. Journalists – to continue the example – are less inclined to do this: the language should not get in the way, as such, of the ‘objective’ reported facts.
However, you will notice, as we said above, that creative writing is not confined to the spaces of literary magazines, prose fiction, or poetics. Journalism can be creative too – as can academic writing or copywriting. These forms can take on many of the features of ‘creative’ writing – thus blurring the line between forms and producing genres like literary journalism, or travel writing.
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What, then, is Creativity?
All of this goes to show that, really, creative writing is one of the most poorly named disciplines in existence.
‘Creative’ is not an adjective that accurately describes what creative writers do – nor does it adequately distinguish this field from other forms of writing. Because what really does creativity have to do with it?
When we say creative writing, what we really mean then is literary writing – writing that draws attention to its language and that has no further purpose than to be enjoyed.
With a creative writing program, you will learn the skills required to excel in this field, joining other students in a writing workshop to try out different techniques to see what works. Maybe, in this experimentation, creative writing gets its creativity.
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Some Different Forms of ‘Creative Writing’.
Whilst we have considered the different ideas that inform creative writing workshops or writing classes more generally, it’s time to turn to the different forms of writing that tend to come under this umbrella, ‘creative writing’.
These, as you will see, are as different from each other potentially as chalk and cheese – requiring different techniques, priorities, and ways of writing. Writing a poem is not the same as writing for the stage, for example. And, consequently, knowing which particular forms you are most interested in pursuing will make your choice of creative writing classes a little easier.
Let’s take a look at what you might be learning on a creative writing course.
Writing fiction is probably the most common topic of creative writing courses in the world – with the novel having come to be seen as the literary form par excellence.
And surely you know what a novelist does. They write in prose, developing character and action through narrative. The aim here is the story – however, this can come in many forms. Think of the difference between a book like James Joyce’s highly experimental Finnegan’s Wake and a much more political novel like George Orwell’s 1984.
It’s quite interesting to think that these are both considered to be of the same form.
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The reserve of Romantic dreamers and language obsessives, poetry has a reputation for being obscure, inaccessible, and hard. It really isn’t any of these things – or at least doesn’t need to be.
There is many a poetry workshop available in the world of creative writing, which will help you to develop your critical reading whilst being given constructive criticism on your own work.
Poetry isn’t required to have narrative, character, or action; it is much more about the nature and play of the language itself. But, like the novel, poetry comes in so many different forms that, as you learn how to write, you will need to discover your own voice.
Whereas the imaginative work required to develop a story is something that is conventionally been seen to be the creative element of prose writing, this isn’t actually true. Creative nonfiction is a form that has seen something of a renaissance in recent years.
Writing, of course, can be creative without being fictional. And this form takes in everything from memoir writing and personal essays to travel writing, journalism, and history writing.
It can indeed be any form of writing – as long as it demonstrates those literary qualities that we identified above. (By the way, it is important to remember that maybe not everyone agrees about whether a particular book might be literary or not.)
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Writing for Stage and Screen.
Scriptwriting for stage and screen is the last of the conventional forms of creative writing. As you will know, this form is intended to be performed – and, as a result, it is fundamentally a dramatic writing.
Creative writers don’t always excel in every different form of creative writing – and the history of literature is littered with figures who, following success in one form, have been seen as failures in another.
For this, your way of writing changes – with much more emphasis on the natural cadences of speech and the visual potential of the narrative and scene construction.
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Is Creative Writing Something that Can be Taught?
Finally, it is worth pointing out that many people – particularly those in the literary industry – can be a bit snobby about creative writing programs.
For this, there is a simple explanation. And that is that people often believe that the process of writing is not actually something that can be taught. Rather, they implicitly hold, it has to come from within in a way that is sort of spontaneously creative.
However, it is difficult to see why a painter might be entitled to a lesson whilst a budding writer would not be. In fact, this is the result of the very problem we identified earlier: creative writing, as a name, does not do the job that it should.
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