What is Creative Writing?

What is creative writing

What is creative writing?

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

Have you ever read the terms and conditions or privacy policy on a website? Ever browsed through the instruction manual that came with your DVD player? Surely, you’ve suffered through a boring textbook.

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?

Not necessarily.

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!


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About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


16 Responses to “What is Creative Writing?”

  1. Caliban says:

    The act of creation, the literal source of the term creative, is an unbounded event that accepts a poorly whittled twig as company to the Mona Lisa. We have weakened that magnanimous gesture by listening to critics and marketers. That is the world, we are told, deal with it. Is it really?

    The curse of the moniker “expert” is the finite limitations of experience. An expert can, truly, only judge a thing based on his personal experience. In many fields that is sufficient for a normalized event. You know a balanced perspective, what makes a pleasing composition, what pleases the ear, the pallet and the psyche. When something arises that does not fit the normal patterns, what then? Can you really use normal criteria to weigh it’s value? Experts do, of course, what choice do they have?

    I have issue with kind and gracious critiques given so liberally to work the expert didn’t understand; but because the artist was renowned, and popular, it must be so. I read drivel, knowing it has been proclaimed a masterpiece, and laugh to myself. I study paintings that were little more than bovine scratching, and marvel at how highly prized it is, while brilliant groundbreaking work all around is ignored.

    Creative writing – creative anything, is literally everything. Marketable work, is the term you are searching for. That has little to do with artistic merit, though some remarkable work does find it’s way to the light.

    • Caliban, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I believe that a true expert will know when faced with work that is beyond his experience or expertise and will act accordingly. I know nothing about football, so if someone asked me to critique a football player’s performance on the field, I would politely decline.

      Having said that, everyone seems to have an opinion. Some may hold more weight than others. For example, I care more about what a well-read person thinks of my work than someone who rarely or never reads any kind of literature. I too have read drivel that has been declared a masterpiece and it’s frustrating to me. It’s difficult to understand, for example, why a shoddy writer is putting out two novels a year and consistently appearing on the bestseller list and receiving rave reviews. Yet it happens all the time (and no, I’m not naming any names!).

      You’re right, creative writing or creative anything is literally everything. However, that is subjective. Me? I don’t consider legal, medical, or scientific writing to be creative. I worked as a technical writer and there was nothing creative about it, although it did require considerable skill in terms of language and grammar.

  2. Positively Present says:

    Really great questions here. Creative writing is such a broad category that so many things can fall under it. I personally think that when I’m at work, writing work documents like memos, press releases, contracts, etc., I’m not being creative. When I’m writing on my blog, in my journal, or a story/novel, I’m using my creative writing skills. Now, if only I could get a job where I can use my creative writing all the time…. 😉

    • Wouldn’t it be exciting to make a full-time living with creative writing? Successful novelists and freelance writers are able to do that, as are screenwriters. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  3. J.D. Meier says:

    Good stuff.

    I think it’s words that make you think, feel, or act. It’s evocative. It’s clever in action. It’s looking at something a new way. I think the most evocative writing can win over the most evocative painting. Of course, it depends on whose eye the apple is in. It’s subjective and some of the most beautiful art is precisely divisive.

  4. --Deb says:

    Interesting question! When somebody says “Creative writing,” I DO tend to think FICTION before anything else. Because that’s something that comes entirely from your own head. Whereas with non-fiction, you’re writing to a purpose or from a set of facts.

    But the actual act of writing? Creative, either way.

    Well, when it’s being done right. Because, of course, you can write a quick promotion on auto-pilot and have it be … fine. Routine. Run-of-the-mill. But the good ones? That give you that glow of satisfaction? Pure creativity, all the way!

    • I tend to immediately think fiction and poetry whenever people start talking about creative writing, but it turns out there’s a whole genre of nonfiction that is creative (and it has tons of sub-genres). For example, the memoir is quite popular right now. I guess it all has to do with how creative or literary your work is.

  5. Danielle Ingram says:

    Really interesting question, the differentiation between what is creative writing and what is not is extremely subjective.

    In some ways I think that all writing is somewhat creative as it has emerged from the mind and the writer has had to think about what they are going to produce and how they are going to do it.

    I can appreciate that novels and poems are more likely to be considered creative and perhaps even more worthy to be described as such.

    • I agree with you – we can bring creativity into just about anything we do (including any type of writing), but some forms of art require a little more creativity than others.

  6. Clara Freeman says:

    Anything that doesn’t make me ‘want’ to read it, is in my mind, non creative as in business manuals, contracts,academic materials, etc. But, written stuff that contains a story line, causes me to reflect, chuckle and ‘want’ to read more of the same would be the creative side of writing for me. Most times, I don’t think about the difference, I just naturally ‘feel’ it:)

  7. Sarah L. Webb says:

    I agree with everyone in terms of the question itself being worthy of contemplation. I think there’s a difference between noise and music, so I will say there is a distinction between creative writing and other types of writing, just as there is art and non-art.

    To use the music analogy again, I think technical documents are like playing perfect scales. Kudos to those who have the skill to do that really well, but it’s not a creative act until someone rearranges those notes into something unique and pleasant.

    Thanks for getting me thinking this evening. Give us more to contemplate.

    • Sarah, this is an excellent analogy. I wish I’d thought of it myself. Your examples of noise vs. music and technical documents being similar to playing scales are spot-on! Thanks so much for adding your ideas to this discussion.

  8. Numanu Abubakar says:

    Completely stunned and baffled! I am dangling in between the two worlds of what is and isn’t on creative writing arena.
    Does that mean any writing can be said creative and also not, depending how we passive the pieces of works we may come across?

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