Creative writing is any writing that goes outside the bounds of normal professional, journalistic, academic, or technical forms of literature, typically identified by an emphasis on narrative craft, character development, and the use of literary tropes or with various traditions of poetry and poetics. Due to the looseness of the definition, it is possible for writing such as feature stories to be considered creative writing, even though they fall under journalism, because the content of features is specifically focused on narrative and character development. Both fictional and non-fictional works fall into this category, including such forms as novels, biographies, short stories, and poems. In the academic setting, creative writing is typically separated into fiction and poetry classes, with a focus on writing in an original style, as opposed to imitating pre-existing genres such as crime or horror. Writing for the screen and stage—screenwriting and playwrighting—are often taught separately, but fit under the creative writing category as well.
Creative writing can technically be considered any writing of original composition. In this sense, creative writing is a more contemporary and process-oriented name for what has been traditionally called literature, including the variety of its genres. In her work, Foundations of Creativity, Mary Lee Marksberry references Paul Witty and Lou LaBrant’s Teaching the People's Language to define creative writing. Marksberry notes:
|“||Witty and LaBrant…[say creative writing] is a composition of any type of writing at any time primarily in the service of such needs as||”|
Unlike its academic counterpart of writing classes that teach students to compose work based on the rules of the language, creative writing is believed to focus on students’ self-expression. While creative writing as an educational subject is often available at some stages, if not throughout, K–12 education, perhaps the most refined form of creative writing as an educational focus is in universities. Following a reworking of university education in the post-war era, creative writing has progressively gained prominence in the university setting. In the UK, the first formal creative writing program was established as a Master of Arts degree at the University of East Anglia in 1970 by the novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson. With the beginning of formal creative writing programs:
|“||For the first time in the sad and enchanting history of literature, for the first time in the glorious and dreadful history of the world, the writer was welcome in the academic place. If the mind could be honored there, why not the imagination?||”|
Programs of study
Creative Writing programs are typically available to writers from the high school level all the way through graduate school/university and adult education. Traditionally these programs are associated with the English departments in the respective schools, but this notion has been challenged in recent time as more creative writing programs have spun off into their own department. Most Creative Writing degrees for undergraduates in college are Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees (BFA). Some continue to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, the terminal degree in the field. At one time rare, PhD. programs are becoming more prevalent in the field, as more writers attempt to bridge the gap between academic study and artistic pursuit.
Creative writers typically decide an emphasis in either fiction or poetry, and they usually start with short stories or simple poems. They then make a schedule based on this emphasis including literature classes, education classes and workshop classes to strengthen their skills and techniques. Though they have their own programs of study in the fields of film and theatre, screenwriting and playwriting have become more popular in creative writing programs, as creative writing programs attempt to work more closely with film and theatre programs as well as English programs. Creative writing students are encouraged to get involved in extracurricular writing-based activities, such as publishing clubs, school-based literary magazines or newspapers, writing contests, writing colonies or conventions, and extended education classes.
Creative writing also takes places outside of formal university or school institutions. For example, writer Dave Eggers set up the innovative 826 Valencia in San Francisco, where young people write with professional writers. In the UK, the Arvon Foundation runs week-long residential creative writing courses in four historic houses. In New Zealand, creative writing courses at NZIBS are popular because they are home-study (worldwide) to diploma level. In 2015 an extra service was added at NZIBS whereby creative writers get assistance putting their stories on Amazon.com. Thus, earning royalties can become an outcome of the study programme.
In the classroom
Creative writing is usually taught in a workshop format rather than seminar style. In workshops students usually submit original work for peer critique. Students also format a writing method through the process of writing and re-writing. Some courses teach the means to exploit or access latent creativity or more technical issues such as editing, structural techniques, genres, random idea generating or writer's block unblocking. Some noted authors, such as Michael Chabon, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kevin Brockmeier, Ian McEwan, Karl Kirchwey, Rose Tremain and reputed screenwriters, such as David Benioff, Darren Star and Peter Farrelly, have graduated from university creative writing programs.
Controversy in academia
Creative writing is considered by some academics (mostly in the USA) to be an extension of the English discipline, even though it is taught around the world in many languages. The English discipline is traditionally seen as the critical study of literary forms, not the creation of literary forms. Some academics see creative writing as a challenge to this tradition. In the UK and Australia, as well as increasingly in the USA and the rest of the world, creative writing is considered a discipline in its own right, not an offshoot of any other discipline.
|“||To say that the creative has no part in education is to argue that a university is not universal.||”|
Those who support creative writing programs either as part or separate from the English discipline, argue for the academic worth of the creative writing experience. They argue that creative writing hones the students’ abilities to clearly express their thoughts. They further argue that creative writing also entails an in-depth study of literary terms and mechanisms so they can be applied to the writer’s own work to foster improvement. These critical analysis skills are further used in other literary study outside the creative writing sphere. Indeed, the process of creative writing, the crafting of a thought-out and original piece, is considered by some to be experience in creative problem solving.
It is also believed by some in the academic sphere that the term "creative writing" can include "creative reading" which is the reading of something not typically understood to be a creative piece as though it were creative. This expanded concept further addresses the idea of "found" materials being of literary value under a newly assigned meaning. Examples of this might be product assembly directions being considered "found poetry."
Despite the large number of academic creative writing programs throughout the world, many people argue that creative writing cannot be taught. Louis Menand explores the issue in an article for the New Yorker in which he quotes Kay Boyle, the director of creative writing program at San Francisco State for sixteen years, who said, “all creative-writing programs ought to be abolished by law.”
According to one view, authors sometimes borrow character traits from real people. Eventually these characters are transformed into unique creations by use of the authors imagination. Since the resulting character is distorted from a real living person, it is hard to say for certain whether there are any moral issues involved. The best way to make a story successful is to make it personal and to have characters or actions that happen in the story relate back to the authors life.
Forms and genres of literature
- Asemic writing
- Book report
- Collaborative writing
- Electronic literature
- Expository writing
- Fan fiction
- Fiction writing
- High School for Writing and Communication Arts (in New York City)
- Iowa Writers' Workshop
- Show, don't tell
- Stream of consciousness (narrative mode)
- Writer's block
- Writing circle
- Writing process
- Writing style
- Writing Workshop
- Brewer, R.L. (ed.). 2014 Writer's Market. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2013.
- Cox, M. "A Dictionary of Writers and Their Works." Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
- Everett, Nick. 2005. "Creative Writing and English." The Cambridge Quarterly. 34 (3):231-242.
- Fenza, D. "The AWP Official Guide To Writing Programs". Fairfax, Va: Association of Writers & Writing Programs, 2004.
- McGurl, Mark. The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing (Harvard University Press, 2009).
- Myers, D. G. The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing since 1880. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
- Palmer, A.J. "Writing and Imagery - How to Deepen Your Creativity and Improve Your Writing." [Aber Books]2010. Republished as Writing and Imagery - How to Avoid Writers Block (How to Become an Author). [Aber Books 2013]
- Roy, Pinaki. “Reflections on the Art of Producing Travelogues”. Images of Life: Creative and Other Forms of Writing (ed. Mullick, S.), Kolkata: The Book World, 2014 (ISBN 978-93-81231-03-6), pp. 111–29.
- Marksberry, Mary Lee. Foundation of Creativity. Harper's Series on Teaching. (New York ; London: Harper & Row, 1963), 39.
- Johnson, Burges and Syracuse University. "Creative Writing", 3.
- Engle, Paul. "The Writer and the Place." In A Community of Writers: Paul Engle and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, edited by Robert Dana, 2(Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1999).
- JOHN SWANSBURG (April 29, 2001). "At Yale, Lessons in Writing and in Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-15.
Karl Kirchwey, who graduated from Yale in 1979, recently became the director of creative writing at Bryn Mawr College, after having run the Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y for over a decade.
- Engle, Paul. "The Writer and the Place," 3.
- "Show or Tell - Should Creative Writing be Taught?" by Louis Menand - The New Yorker, June 8, 2009, Newyorker.com
- The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing from Harvard University Press
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