Here’s an age-old question: is creative writing an art or a craft?
Artistically minded writers will say that writing is most definitely an art while those who who think more analytically will claim writing is a skill, a trade, and a business.
My answer is that writing can be either an art or a craft, and usually it’s both. You can approach writing armed with learned skills and an ability to string words together in a sensible manner, or you can approach writing as a purely creative endeavor and call it your art or your passion.
Both approaches work, and either one can lead to good, strong writing. However, the best writing is a hybrid. It’s both an art and a craft, a marriage between skill and creativity in writing.
Creativity in Writing
You read almost every day. Words appear on your computer screen, your television, on roadside signs, and product packaging. They’re everywhere, and they all make sense.
But every once in a while, you come across writing that simply dazzles you. Have you ever responded emotionally to the way a writer uses language? Have you ever put down a novel and remarked at how impressed you were with the author’s ability to create realistic characters or a riveting plot? Have you ever read a poem and felt transported to another time or place?
That’s the magic of creativity in writing. It captivates the imagination. It’s transcendent.
How to Be More Creative: Tips and Resources for Writers
There’s an old, outdated belief that creativity is talent; it’s inherent. Some of us are born right-brained (creative) and others left-brained (mechanical, analytical). That’s only partially true. Writing can be learned as a skill, but so can creativity. Sure, some people have a more natural inclination toward creative thinking. But anyone can foster and nurture creativity.
So, how do you foster creativity in writing? Below are some tips and resources to get you started. Whether you’re creative by nature and want to enhance your artistry or lack creativity but want to produce more artistic work, these resources will point you in the right direction.
- If you know where to look, you can find plenty of awesome writing ideas lurking all around you.
- Marelisa Fabrega’s How to Be More Creative — A Handbook for Alchemists is packed with tools for fostering creative and innovative thinking. It’s one of my favorite creativity resources! Don’t want to spring for the e-book? You will after you peruse the idea-packed creativity section on Marelisa’s blog.
- Find out how asking questions and encouraging curiosity can lead to creative writing ideas.
- Head over to the Creativity Portal, where you’ll find tons (and by tons, I mean TONS) of creativity articles, resources, and project ideas.
- Nothing gets a writer’s creativity flowing like poetry. If you think poetry is relegated to tweens, academics, and literary elites, think again. Poetry can be raw and brazen, and it will open your mind to new creative insight and strengthen your language skills. Read it, watch it, listen to it, and then try some poetry writing exercises.
- Has your muse taken a vacation and left you fresh out of ideas? No worries! Writing inspiration can be found, even when your muse cannot.
Where do you go to turn up the volume on creativity in your writing? Do you have a favorite book or website, a quiet place in the woods or a quaint coffee shop in the city that you like to visit? Do you have any favorite creativity resources? Share your tips and ideas for how to be more creative by leaving a comment.
Hi Melissa: There is definitely a difference between a sentence that conveys a sensible idea and is grammatically correct, and a sentence that makes you feel and makes you want to get up and act. There are many skillful writers out there, but there are not that many who can infuse their writing with passion, feeling, pixie dust, or whatever you want to call it. So I agree with you that it’s about both skill and creativity.
Thanks, Marelisa! My philosophy is that clear, compelling communication outshines grammar every time. In practice, successfully breaking the rules of grammar requires creativity and a willingness to color outside the lines.
Absolutely, Marelisa. It’s not only about putting words together in the correct order and with correct grammar, but choosing the best words to express what you want the reader to feel, and see.
I recently read 2 books. Both told good stories. Both were grammatically correct, but one author wrote beautiful prose that made me see the scenes in detail, and to feel what the protagonist felt. The other–well, the scenes I could visualise, but not as beautifully, and the characters did not affect me as much as the first.
That’s what I would say is the difference between an author who is a ‘tradesperson’ and one who is an artist.
Who’s to say that creative writing can’t be both? Or, for that matter, that all writing shouldn’t be creative? I mean, sure, it’s hard to get creative when you’re writing certain, fact-based things (turn left at the traffic light), or grocery lists, but otherwise? Creativity drives the writing process, doesn’t it? Except, it has a stronger sway in some writing than in others.
Or, you know, something like that.
I agree completely. Many forms of writing should be both. I think we see the same dilemma in music, because one can study music theory, which is highly mathematical (left-brained), yet we see music as an art (right-brained). In actuality, it is both! Writing is similar in that sense. I believe the best writing is a hybrid of technical skill and artistic creativity!
Thanks for sharing these great resources relating to creativity. Being creative is one of the greatest tools a writer can have and these are awesome places to sharpen that tool. Thanks, Melissa!
I actually find simply going out in public is a good way to get the juices going. Being out and about, people watching…overheard dialogue is often a good starting point!
I find that whenever I step away from my workspace or desk, the ideas start to flow. I can go in the garage, the laundry room, outside, anywhere but where it’s supposed to happen! I’m exaggerating, of course. Still, creativity is a mystery. You can sit there for hours trying to write a poem, and then as soon as you get in your car and start the engine, it comes to you.
I agree that the best are a hybrid. One of my nano buddies posted a question on FB about whether we wanted her most enjoyed 2009 reading list first or her quality writing list because very few made both lists nor in the same order. Unfortunately this happens far too often.
Oh yes, I know what you mean. There’s compelling reading and then there’s quality reading. Not always the same thing. But if you can find a novel that is both compelling and extremely well written, well, that’s the best.
I’ve been reading your posts for a while now and I’ve gotten alot out of it, including the gumption to FINALLY start my own blog!
When I’m feeling particularly uninspired I like to journal melodramatically – it makes me laugh and keeps me going. Otherwise I like to make paper mache bowls out of pages of my worst writing – something about ripping the pages into tiny little pieces is very freeing…
I think that if you have the desire to create and the discipline to get on with it, creative ideas will come:)
Hi zz, and welcome! Congrats on starting your own blog. You’ll find it’s a lot of work but oh so rewarding. You make paper mache bowls out of your worst writing pages…I LOVE that! What a way to embrace what you’ve created while letting it go. I wish I knew how to paper mache. Of course, I do most of my writing on the computer now, so I think that would pose a problem. Still, that rocks.
Hi Melissa – I responded to this a couple of days ago and I forgot to hit the submit button. I think creative writing is definitely a combination of art and craft.
I use lots of creativity tools. Morning Pages is probably one of my favourite ones and I do activities from creative writing books. I like writing the same scene from the perspective of each character – it really helps with characterization.
Also, I like writing in my head, while I’m in the bath – kind of like watching a movie. The only trouble is, sometimes my head is more full of the character than me.
Hi Cath! I’ve been in and out of morning pages over the years. For a while, I kept a gratitude journal and always wrote first thing in the morning. As for writing in my head — geez — sometimes I write more in my head than I do on paper or computer. Hehee!
I am a mix. I know the rules and won’t even flinch at breaking them if I think there is a way of writing that brings more emotion or truth to what I want to say. So if I err on one side it would have to be creativity I think.
As far as the elusive muse, mine must be a water baby. She loves to whisper in my ear when I am washing dishes, taking a shower or soaking in the tub or jacuzzi.
Further more, I do believe she gets bored by computers. That seems to be the LAST place I feel creative!
Hi Wendi! I do believe that creativity and successful rule-breaking are related. I know what you mean about the muse. I always get my best ideas in the shower, which is the one place where I cannot jot down or record my thoughts! Grr.
One of the best books I’ve ever read on creativity is “THINKERTOYS.” It’s authored by a former Disney imagineer. It’s a catalog of creative techniques.
I think the book is a great example of blending art + science (or right-brain + left-brain in action.)
Every time I hear the word imagineer, I think about how as a child, I wanted to grow up and spend my college years working at Disneyland. Thanks for this recommendation, J.D.
Few years back I dreamed of being a writer. I have this itching that I want to express my thoughts through words. In my first attempt I realized that I cannot write comprehensively and so I gave up. But recently I gave it another shot, but this time I made an effort. Now, I can say that writing can truly be developed. The creativity part thought is difficult for me to learn. 🙂
The most successful writers do not reach their accomplishments through talent or even creativity. It almost always boils down to a willingness to do the work. I’ve read about extremely gifted writers who never (or rarely) get published and mediocre or hard-working writers who get published frequently and even win awards. The point is, if you’re willing to try, there’s no reason you can’t succeed. I’m glad you’re giving it another go, Walter.
i so agree with the need for combination of technique and creativity. i don’t think creativity is good if it isn’t brought in a way that is comprehendible though not nescisarily correct. i’ve heard many apply the terms quality and “well made” about things that are dull but have high language. i think good (and it is incredibly subjective) is something you ENJOY. if you “appreciate” a work for being “good” while struggling to stand it, then it is not good for you.
i have a problem concentrating for too long which makes writing and reading difficult for long. for me, a book must be exceptionally interesting for me to read it through. however i think for everyone, a book should draw you in and not make you force yourself to get through it.
i’ve had a passion for writing for over a decade now, since grade school. i find it cathasic pouring my feelings, ideas and imagination into words. i was terrible at first but i came a long way since even though i’ve barely wrote at all. it’s only these past seven months that i started more seriously writing (though i still can’t manage to sit my a** down and write, and even when i do no ideas come to me)
i find that ideas come from everywhere and anywhere. you see a sign on the street, you watch a movie, you go to the money machine, and an idea pops in your head. for me, i never know when lightning may strike. as for writing in my head, Cath, i used to do that a lot and try to remember them but i’m quite forgetful especially when one good idea dissapears as another takes it’s place so no i carry a minuscule pen and a pad everywhere i go so that i can jot down anything that comes to mind. i admit that the shower is problematic in this case but if a good idea pops in while in the shower, i pop out, jot it down and go back… what’s a few wet tracks on the floor compared with losing a good idea right?
i think NaNoWriMo was mentioned here. i only learned about this a few months back and though i’ve never yet succeeded in writing a full novel i’m planning on trying it out. i’ve never actually finished a story until this april when i wrote my first script for script frenzy. it is also the last so far but i am hopeful.
(i diverged a bit from the topic, my appologies)
When we talk about “good writing,” it can mean many things. It could indicate work that is grammatically correct, a story that is compelling or original, characters that are realistic. It could mean the language is tantalizing or it could mean the story itself is just plain entertaining. Whatever makes it good, many other elements may be lacking. Or maybe it’s all good. Each reader has his or her own criterion for what makes a piece of writing good, great, or intolerable. Ultimately, it’s about finding the audience. What one audience detests, another will stand in line for. And that’s about as good as it gets.
I’d say creativity is a mix of both an art and a craft. I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes, while in the creative process, one might be in one domain more than the other, but it’s still a mix of both and it varies from one individual to another.
I find listening to music helps a lot with the creative process.
Thank you for sharing the resources!
Yes, the best writing, in my opinion, is both artistic and skilled. I’ve seen good ideas executed poorly (bad grammar, mostly) and weak ideas executed beautifully (through poetic language). A good balance of art and skill usually renders the best, most readable results.
I like Cathy Altman Noquet’s “Writing Outside the Lines, a Creativity Catapult”, childlike, simple, funny with no cant or attitude.
Thanks for the recommendation. I’m going to add that one to my wish list!
It seams like there are times that it’s almost impossible to find the story and other times I can’t seem to get it out through my slow fingers fast enough. Thank you so much for all the tips.
Great resources, Melissa! Something I’ve found that has worked for me is talking over my ideas with someone else. Usually they have a thing or two to say, and we get the ball rolling and come up with a ton of stuff. I write it down and may not use all of it, but it gets the creativity juices flowing.
I do the same thing, and it can be immensely helpful. It’s like having another set of eyes on your manuscript, but instead, they’re looking at your ideas and helping you find the gaps or making suggestions for improvements. Thanks for adding this!