Creative writing, like all art, is subjective, and therefore difficult to define.
Certainly fiction and poetry qualify as creative writing, but what about journal writing, articles and essays, memoirs and biographies? What about textbooks and copywriting? Technical writing? Blog posts?
Where do we draw the line between creative writing and other types of writing?
In some cases, what qualifies as creative is obvious. You read something and you know it belongs in the creative category. Other times, a piece of writing, while skillful, might not strike you as creative in nature. And then there’s everything in between – stuff that’s sort of creative or not quite creative enough.
Creative Writing and Art
People have been struggling to define art for centuries. Some feel that a Monet is definitely art and a child’s drawing is not. Others would say that both are art, and a few would even argue that a child’s work is a truer form of art because it’s not developed or learned. It’s completely intuitive and therefore more creative and artistic.
Creative writing presents us with the same dilemma. Does a piece of writing qualify as creative by merely existing? Would we refer to a legal document or instruction manual as a piece of creative writing? Does a straightforward essay or something like an encyclopedia article qualify as creative? What about letters or emails? Is creative writing determined by the level of skill versus talent?
For the most part, defining creative writing is a subjective pursuit. You can determine what creative writing is for yourself, but others may see things differently. Yet there are some types of writing that most of us would never refer to as creative writing, and a few types that we’d probably all agree on.
Obviously Creative Writing
As mentioned, when you think about creative writing, fiction and poetry spring to mind, possibly because the creative nature of both fiction and poetry is so obvious.
Fiction is made-up stuff borne from the imagination and therefore inherently creative. Poetry too, takes many liberties with language and imagery, and many poems are rooted almost entirely in creativity. Song lyrics also fit well with fiction and poetry, as does screenwriting, since all of these types of writing certainly require a significant level of imaginative and creative thinking.
But many other types of writing are creative as well. When you read a memoir with beautiful turns of phrase or an essay that fires up your imagination, you know that you’re experiencing the writer’s creativity. Conversely, when you read a bit of dry, factual material, you’re positive that it’s not creative writing at all.
Obviously Not Creative Writing
While these types of writing may require some level of creativity, they are not usually considered members of the creative writing family. That might sound exclusive or elitist, but one of the things that defines creative writing is how enjoyable it is to read.
It’s easy to glance at a poem and know that it’s a piece of creative writing, and it’s easy to flip through a legal document and know that it’s not. The problem with defining creative writing is all the stuff in the middle – writing that may or may not be considered creative, and that makes its membership in the club completely subjective. So, what is creative writing?
Creative Writing is Subjective
If a historical textbook is not creative writing, then wouldn’t that exclude other nonfiction works like memoirs and biographies from the creative writing category?
The line that separates creative writing from other types of writing is not drawn between fiction and nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is a broad genre and includes memoirs and biographies, personal essays, travel and food writing, and literary journalism.
While nonfiction indicates that the writing is rooted in fact, it can be quite creative (unlike technical or medical writing) because it is written with emphasis on language and the craft of writing.
Creative Writing and You
Ultimately we each get to decide what is art and what is creative writing. Most of us will know creative writing when we experience it, either as a writer or as a reader, even though we rarely take the time to examine why we consider one type of writing creative over another.
A few questions to consider:
- Do you differentiate between creative writing and other types of writing? Do you even think about it?
- Have you ever thought about the difference between literary writing and other types of creative writing?
- Do you feel that copywriting (ads, commercials, etc.) can be classified as creative writing or art even though its purpose is strictly commercial?
In the big scheme of things, it may not be that important to go around labeling what is and isn’t creative writing, but it’s certainly worthy of a few brief moments of consideration.
In any case, keep writing (and stay creative)!
Do you have any ideas to add or questions to ask about creative writing? Leave a comment!