What is Creative Writing?
Creative writing is any form of writing that exists outside of journalism, business writing, or academic writing. It expresses an author's unique voice, writing style, thoughts, and ideas in an engaging and imaginative manner, said Christopher Sullivan, MFA, an adjunct instructor in the creative writing and English program at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).
“Creative writing has no boundaries. It gives the writer permission to flex his or her creative muscles and utilize infinite amounts of imagery and imagination within their writing," he said.
What Makes a Good Piece of Creative Writing?
Whether you are reading a novel or watching a play, you’ll notice that the elements of creative writing contain universal storytelling elements. The following are elements that Marcella Prokop, MFA, an adjunct faculty member in the creative writing and English program at SNHU, explores with her students.
- Theme – The main idea or moral of a story.
- Setting – The time and geographic location within a narrative.
- Character and plot development – Usually intertwined, the author’s ability to grow a character’s ability to take action, which leads to conflict and the rising progression of the plot.
- Point-of-view – Told in the first, second, or third person, this is the way in which authors express the views of themselves or their characters.
- Voice – The way in which the author tells the story; for example, anxious, sparse in detail, looking back through time, etc.
- Tone and style – Style refers to the author's choice of diction, sentence structure, literary techniques, and use of rhythm, while style refers to the author’s attitude toward the story and the reader.
Within each of these areas of craft, authors use tools such as figurative language, dialogue, description, and conflict to give color and dimension to their characters and plot, she said.
What is Creative Writing and its Types?
In addition to fiction writing, creative writing includes the genres of poetry, creative nonfiction (such as memoir, autobiography, or personal essay), screenwriting, plays, and/ or graphic novels. Blogs and other digital media could also be considered forms of creative writing.
- Fiction – This type of prose is based on imaginary events and people, usually in the form of a novel or short story. Good novels appeal to the senses, embrace idiosyncrasies, and make people laugh or cry, wrote author Elizabeth Sims in a recent Writer's Digest blog post.
- Poetry – Much more than rhyming stanzas, poetry aims to “tell a story, enact a drama, convey ideas, offer vivid, unique description or express our inward spiritual, emotional, or psychological states,” according to poet Dan Rifenburgh, who wrote about the definition of poetry in an article published on the National Endowment for the Arts website.
- Memoirs – Memoirs not only recount the actual events of an author’s life from his or her perspective, they often serve as inspirational pieces that challenge readers to take action or make change. Jeff Goins, author of Wrecked and The In-Between, shares three basic rules for writing a good memoir on the blog, The Write Practice. Authors should also be prepared to show vulnerability and aspire to move the reader to a new way of thinking in search of the truth, he said.
- Screenwriting – Without a strong script, actors in our favorite movies would not follow a plot, engage in conflict, or participate in any kind of dialogue. Unlike other types of writing, a screenplay has to perform two jobs: it must be entertaining to the viewer and provide instructions to actors and directors, according to Ant Jackson, a blogger for The Writing Cooperative.
- Graphic novels – Similar to comic books, graphic novels combine words and images to tell a longer story. A blend of text and art, authors can provide visual punch to their dialogue in this format. Popular with both children and adults, graphic novels can better convey complex subject matter, thanks to a blend of both literary devices and pictures, according to Gal Beckerman, an editor for the New York Times Book Review.
- Blogs – Blogging itself isn’t a literary genre—it’s a platform that allows writers to share a variety of creative writing—poetry, short stories, or multimedia projects that combine words and images – with audiences on the internet.
Writers often spend years practicing their craft, and learned the basics in degree programs specifically focused on creative writing.
Explore Creative Writing Programs
Pursuing a bachelor's degree in creative writing and English can help you hone your craft and experiment with different genres and forms, while you also focus on a specific type of writing, said Prokop.
Undergraduate creative writing programs typically include a mix of general education classes and courses in the humanities, in addition to creative writing classes. Introductory writing classes typically cover genre basics and explore some of the tools writers use to craft an engaging story.
"This is a perfect class for beginners or those looking to hone a basic skill, such as developing a plot," Prokop said.
Such programs also help writers build upon their foundational skills, too. For example, most students take English composition classes that utilize a variety of rhetorical modes (narration, description, cause and effect, and persuasion and argument, to name a few) that help them perfect their skills before they focus on a specific genre, Sullivan said.
“Most students interested in applying to the creative writing program typically have a solid foundation with writing mechanics. However, that doesn’t mean their mechanics have to be perfect—they are here to learn,” he said.
Some programs also allow students to concentrate on a specific genre (fiction writing, nonfiction writing, poetry, or screenwriting) and develop portfolios of work that can help them apply for MFA programs or promote themselves as writers.
What Jobs Can You Get with a Creative Writing Degree?
If you decide to major in creative writing, it doesn't automatically mean you'll become a published author—but it will give you the tools you need for job roles that require strong writing and communication skills.
Graduates who are serious about pursuing writing careers are encouraged to practice their craft, obtain feedback, and submit their work to publishers, Sullivan said.
“Throughout the creative writing program, students are given tools, resources, and lots of valuable feedback to strengthen their writing skills,” he said. “However, writing is a process. It takes a lot of hard work, networking, humility, and dedication to become a published author.”
Here are some jobs creative writing and English majors might also consider pursuing.
Writer or Author
Use your storytelling skills to pen children’s books, novels, biographies, essays, or memoirs. A bachelor’s degree is generally required for a full-time position as a writer or author, and additional experience gained through internships or any writing that improves skill--such as blogging—can help, too. Although it’s a highly competitive field, successful authors earned a median annual salary of $62,170 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Editors aren’t just grammar experts who correct mistakes. Publications rely on them to plan, review, and evaluate publications. Whether they work in a corporate environment or for print or digital publications, editors must be imaginative, curious, and knowledgeable in a broad range of topics in order to add value. Most editors have a bachelor’s degree and gain experience through internships, according to BLS. In 2018, editors earned a median annual salary of $59,480, BLS reports.
Reporters, news correspondents, and broadcast news analysts use their research and storytelling skills to inform the public about news and events. They can work for news publications, digital publications, TV, or radio stations. Journalists typically hold a bachelor’s degree and gain work experience through college internships. The average annual wage for broadcast news analysts in 2018 was $66,880, while the average annual wage for reporters and correspondents in 2018 was $41,260, according to BLS.
Advertising, Promotions and/or Marketing Managers
Whether they are creating ad campaigns, promotional events, or looking at pricing strategies, professionals in advertising and marketing roles use their creativity and communication skills to generate interest in their organization’s products or services. A bachelor’s degree is required for most advertising, promotions, and marketing management positions. A creative writing degree can be particularly helpful to media directors who use radio, television, newspapers, magazines, the internet, or outdoor signs to create messages that effectively reach customers. The average annual salary for advertising and promotions managers was $117,130 in 2018; while the average annual salary for marketing managers was $134,290, according to BLS.
With a bachelor's degree in creative writing and English, you can polish your storytelling skills and position yourself for a variety of jobs that require imagination and solid communication skills.
Krysten Godfrey Maddocks ’11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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