Creative writing classes have been popping up all over the country in the last decade or so – from poetry writing workshops to creative writing degree programs, from writing retreats to weekly screenwriting sessions.
They come in all sorts of different forms, but the most novel – if you’ll excuse the pun – is the degree. That’s three years, for an undergraduate degree, spent learning how to hone your writing skills – and the same if you want to do PhD.
But with this growth in the creative writing education industry, there have sat up the inevitable crowds of nay-sayers. Or haters, as we might call them these days. You can’t teach creative writing, they say. It’s not a real degree, they say.
All of this honestly became quite boring before it had even begun. Because, as we’ll show below, there are very legitimate reasons why creative writing should be taught – and why creative writers can really benefit from dedicated teaching. Not to mention the dedicated time to practise that creative writing courses offer.
Here, we’re going to look at everything you need to know about joining a creative writing program – from what creative writing actually is to the employment prospects you can anticipate afterwards.
Creative writing is a wonderful discipline – so let’s take a look!
What is Creative Writing?
So, what do we actually mean by creative writing? Our guess is that you’ll have a sense of this already.
Generally, ‘creative’ writing is defined in opposition to those types of writing that aren’t thought to be creative. Journalism or technical writing, or the work of a copywriter, these are all considered insufficiently creative to be creative writing. Even academic writing is excluded from this definition.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t really follow any meaning of creativity that we might hold. And, as a consequence, ‘creative writing’ appears to have something of a silly name.
Writing Differs by Purpose.
What really distinguishes the novelist from the copywriter is not how creative they are, but rather what they do with language. Writing fiction is, of course, different to writing marketing copy, but in different ways.
Texts differ in terms of purpose: journalism informs and copywriting persuades. ‘Creative writing’ meanwhile entertains and doesn’t, really, do anything. This is one of the fundamental ideas in poetics and theory: literature just sort of is.
The Types of ‘Creative’ Writing.
A different way of defining creative writing is to look at the forms that are generally considered to be creative. These are, fundamentally, literary forms.
Fiction. Fiction, including short fiction, is creative writing in continuous prose. It usually follows a narrative and includes some sort of character development.
Poetry. Poetry is a form that is written in deliberate lines and is notable for its ambiguity and density of language. In can be performed or read on the page.
Drama. Playwriting, scriptwriting, or dramatic writing is writing for performance on a stage. Dialogue is a crucial aspect of this form.
Screenwriting. As opposed to the stage, a screenwriter writes for television or film.
Creative Nonfiction. Distinguished from its fictional sibling, creative non-fiction is prose that takes reality as its subject. This can include personal essays, memoir writing, and other forms.
Can Creative Writing be Taught?
Of course, it can. Like all artistic disciplines, creative writing requires skill, specific writing techniques, and practise. In all of these things teaching can be helpful.
You can see more on this in our article, What is Creative Writing?
The Best Creative Writing Courses in the UK.
There are lots of different opportunities for people wishing to study creative writing in any possible form – whether at university or more casually. The way that you choose will depend on the particular style of learning that you desire.
Here we’ll look at three popular options: creative writing programs at university, the casual writing workshop, and the writing retreat. You can find out more about all of these options in our article, The Best Writing Courses in the UK.
Studying Creative Writing at University.
Taking a creative writing program at university is one of the most serious ways to study the discipline. Usually, you can expect to spend three years studying the subject at degree level, a year for a creative writing MA, and a further three years for a PhD.
Whilst at a postgraduate level you can dedicate yourself fulltime to your creative process, during an undergraduate course you will most likely be dividing your time between your writing and the study of another subject – usually cinema, English literature, or fine art.
Taking a Short Course in Creative Writing.
You don’t need to go to university to have a bit of creative writing tuition, however. There are classes available in most major cities where you can work with a professional writer to hone the skills you need to polish off your first novel or start getting published.
Whilst London’s Faber Academy is a great place to go for that, you can also try Superprof for a private creative writing tutor.
Heading Off for a Writing Retreat.
Finally, then, there is the third format: the creative writing retreat. These are where companies organise for you to go off into the countryside to work on your writing.
They are a great opportunity for anyone looking for some peace and quiet – and a bit of friendly guidance.
Tips to Improve Your Creative Writing Skills.
Creative writing instructors will give you plenty of tips on how to develop your craft of writing. And whilst many will try to develop the minutiae of your style and encourage you to find new stores of energy to finish your work, it’s important to think about the big things that creative writing requires too.
Here are three lessons to keep you on the right track in your writing. You can find more in our article, Top Tips to Improve Your Creative Writing Skills.
#1 Find Inspiration Everywhere.
A creative writer should be interested in the world around them – and in the literary works of others. As they said of the Ivan Turgenev, the Russian novelist from the nineteenth century, he was ‘a born spectator’ – and he turned his spectating into art.
Do the same. Because your inspiration comes from what’s outside your head.
#2 Keep Experimenting.
Don’t get hooked on a style too soon. There’s an infinite variety of different ways that you can write. So, keep experimenting – and keep challenging yourself – until you have perfected your own style.
#3 Cut When Necessary.
The process of writing doesn’t stop when you reach the end of the last line. Really, it continues into the process of editing too (which is just writing by a different name).
Effective editing can turn a decent book into a masterpiece – so never shirk from cutting.
The Main Features of Creative Writing – that Every Creative Writer Needs to Nail.
There are many aspects to creative writing – and not all of them are hugely creative. But these differ quite significantly from form to form, from genre to genre: what features in a poem is not really the same as that which you’ll see in a novel – by no means.
But creative writers need to nail all of the important elements in the particular terrain on which they are working. To see more on this, check out our article, What are the Main Elements of Creative Writing?
The Central Elements of Poetry.
What makes poetry poetry? What really are its essential features? Well, honestly, it depends who you ask – but there are some that most people are probably agreed on.
Metre: Metre refers to the length and rhythm of each line of poetry, how quickly it seeks to be read, how each word sounds and feels alongside the others.
Form / Structure: The form of the poem is what the poem is. Are we talking a sonnet or an ode? These forms shape the whole nature of the poem.
Some Jobs You Can Do after a Creative Writing Degree.
We’re guessing that the lot of you will be hoping to go into the literary industry after you have completed a course in creative writing: you’ll be hoping to write professionally, get published, and hopefully make a name for yourself. Good on you!
If this is not your thing, however, there are plenty of other options that you can go for with a creative writing degree.
These include teaching, working in a library or in a publishing house, or becoming a different sort of writer. You could become a copywriter, for example, or a journalist or literary critic!
Find out more about possible jobs after a creative writing degree!