Creative Writing 101: Everything You Need to Get Started (2024)

Creative writing: You can take classes in it, you can earn a degree in it, but the only things you really need to do it are your creative thinking and writing tools. Creative writing is the act of putting your imagination on a page. It’s artistic expression in words; it’s writing without the constraints that come with other kinds of writing like persuasive or expository.

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What is creative writing?

Creative writing is writing meant to evoke emotion in a reader by communicating a theme. In storytelling (including literature, movies, graphic novels, creative nonfiction, and many video games), the theme is the central meaning the work communicates.

Take the movie (and the novel upon which it’s based) Jaws, for instance. The story is about a shark that terrorizes a beach community and the men tasked with killing the shark. But the film’s themes include humanity’s desire to control nature, tradition vs. innovation, and how potential profit can drive people in power to make dangerous, even fatal, decisions.

A theme isn’t the only factor that defines creative writing. Here are other components usually found in creative writing:

  • Connecting, or at least attempting to connect, with the reader’s emotions
  • Writing from a specific point of view
  • Organizing the text around a narrative structure
    • A narrative structure can be complex or simple and serves to shape how the reader interacts with the content.
  • Using imaginative and/or descriptive language

Creative writing typically uses literary devices like metaphors and foreshadowing to build a narrative and express the theme, but this isn’t a requirement. Neither is dialogue, though you’ll find it used in most works of fiction. Creative writing doesn’t have to be fictional, either. Dramatized presentations of true stories, memoirs, and observational humor pieces are all types of creative writing.

What isn’t creative writing?

In contrast, research papers aren’t creative writing. Neither are analytical essays, persuasive essays, or other kinds of academic writing. Similarly, personal and professional communications aren’t considered creative writing—so your emails, social media posts, and official company statements are all firmly in the realm of non-creative writing. These kinds of writing convey messages, but they don’t express themes. Their goals are to inform and educate, and in some cases collect information from, readers. But even though they can evoke emotion in readers, that isn’t their primary goal.

But what about things like blog posts? Or personal essays? These are broad categories, and specific pieces in these categories can be considered creative writing if they meet the criteria listed above. This blog post, for example, is not a piece of creative writing as it aims to inform, but a blog post that walks its reader through a first-person narrative of an event could be deemed creative writing.

Types of creative writing

Creative writing comes in many forms. These are the most common:

Novels

Novels originated in the eighteenth century. Today, when people think of books, most think of novels.

A novel is a fictional story that’s generally told in 60,000 to 100,000 words, though they can be as short as 40,000 words or go beyond 100,000.

Stories that are too short to be novels, but can’t accurately be called short stories, are often referred to as novellas. Generally, a story between 10,000 and 40,000 words is considered a novella. You might also run into the term “novelette,” which is used to refer to stories that clock in between 7,500 and 19,000 words.

Short stories

Short stories are fictional stories that fall generally between 5,000 and 10,000 words. Like novels, they tell complete stories and have at least one character, some sort of conflict, and at least one theme.

When a story is less than 1,000 words, it’s categorized as a work of flash fiction.

Poetry

Poetry can be hard to define because as a genre, it’s so open-ended. A poem doesn’t have to be any specific length. It doesn’t have to rhyme. There are many different kinds of poems from cultures all over the world, like sonnets, haikus, sestinas, blank verse, limericks, and free verse.

The rules of poetry are generally flexible . . . unless you’re writing a specific type of poem, like a haiku, that has specific rules around the number of lines or structure. But while a poem isn’t required to conform to a specific length or formatting, or use perfect grammar, it does need to evoke its reader’s emotions, come from a specific point of view, and express a theme.

And when you set a poem to music, you’ve got a song.

Plays, TV scripts, and screenplays

Plays are meant to be performed on stage. Screenplays are meant to be made into films, and TV scripts are meant to be made into television programs. Scripts for videos produced for other platforms fit into this category as well.

Plays, TV scripts, and screenplays have a lot in common with novels and short stories. They tell stories that evoke emotion and express themes. The difference is that they’re meant to be performed rather than read and as such, they tend to rely much more on dialogue because they don’t have the luxury of lengthy descriptive passages. But scriptwriters have more than just dialogue to work with; writing a play or script also involves writing stage or scene directions.

Each type of script has its own specific formatting requirements.

Creative nonfiction

Creative nonfiction covers all the kinds of creative writing that aren’t fiction. Here are some examples:

  • Personal essays: A personal essay is a true story told through a narrative framework. Often, recollections of events are interspersed with insights about those events and your personal interpretations and feelings about them in this kind of essay.
  • Literary journalism: Think of literary journalism as journalism enhanced by creative writing techniques. These are the kinds of stories often published in outlets like The New Yorker and Salon. Literary journalism pieces report on factual events but do so in a way that makes them feel like personal essays and short stories.
  • Memoirs: Memoirs are to personal essays what novels are to short stories. In other words, a memoir is a book-length collection of personal memories, often centering around a specific story, that often works opinions, epiphanies, and emotional insights into the narrative.
  • Autobiographies: An autobiography is a book you write about yourself and your life. Often, autobiographies highlight key events and may focus on one particular aspect of the author’s life, like her role as a tech innovator or his career as a professional athlete. Autobiographies are often similar in style to memoirs, but instead of being a collection of memories anchored to specific events, they tend to tell the author’s entire life story in a linear narrative.
  • Humor writing: Humor writing comes in many forms, like standup comedy routines, political cartoons, and humorous essays.
  • Lyric essays: In a lyric essay, the writer breaks conventional grammar and stylistic rules when writing about a concept, event, place, or feeling. In this way, lyric essays are like essay-length poems. The reason they’re considered essays, and not long poems, is that they generally provide more direct analysis of the subject matter than a poem would.

Tips for writing creatively

Give yourself time and space for creative writing

It’s hard to write a poem during your lunch break or work on your memoir between calls. Don’t make writing more difficult for yourself by trying to squeeze it into your day. Instead, block off time to focus solely on creative writing, ideally in a distraction-free environment like your bedroom or a coffee shop.

>>Read More: How to Create Your Very Own Writing Retreat

Get to know yourself as a writer

The more you write, the more in tune you’ll become with your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. You’ll identify the kinds of characters, scenes, language, and pieces you like writing best and determine where you struggle the most. Understanding what kind of writer you are can help you decide which kinds of projects to pursue.

Challenge yourself

Once you know which kinds of writing you struggle with, do those kinds of writing. If you only focus on what you’re good at, you’ll never grow as a writer. Challenge yourself to write in a different genre or try a completely new type of writing. For example, if you’re a short story writer, give poetry or personal essays a try.

Need help getting started? Give one (or all!) of these 20 fun writing prompts a try.

Learn from other writers

There are lots of resources out there about creative writing. Read and watch them. If there’s a particular writer whose work you enjoy, seek out interviews with them and personal essays they’ve written about their creative processes.

>>Read More: How to Be a Master Storyteller—Tips from 5 Experts

Don’t limit yourself to big-name writers, either. Get involved in online forums, social media groups, and if possible, in-person groups for creative writers. By doing this, you’re positioning yourself to learn from writers from all different walks of life . . . and help other writers, too.

I wrote something. Where do I go from here?

Give yourself a pat on the back: You did it! You finished a piece of creative writing—something many attempt, but not quite as many achieve.

What comes next is up to you. You can share it with your friends and family, but you don’t have to. You can post it online or bring it to an in-person writing group for constructive critique. You can even submit it to a literary journal or an agent to potentially have it published, but if you decide to take this route, we recommend working with an editor first to make it as polished as possible.

Some writers are initially hesitant to share their work with others because they’re afraid their work will be stolen. Although this is a possibility, keep in mind that you automatically hold the copyright for any piece you write. If you’d like, you can apply for copyright protection to give yourself additional legal protection against plagiarizers, but this is by no means a requirement.

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Grammarly can’t help you be more creative, but we can help you hone your writing so your creativity shines as brightly as possible. Once you’ve written your piece, Grammarly can catch any mistakes you made and suggest strong word choices that accurately express your message.

Creative Writing 101: Everything You Need to Get Started (2024)

FAQs

Is there creative writing in 11+? ›

The 11 Plus creative writing exam is usually 25-30 minutes and could involve the continuation of a storyline that you'll be provided with.

What is creative writing 101? ›

Rather than only giving information or inciting the reader to make an action beneficial to the writer, creative writing is written to entertain or educate someone, to spread awareness about something or someone, or to express one's thoughts.

How to get started in creative writing? ›

How to become a creative writer
  1. Understand your subject. ...
  2. Know your audience. ...
  3. Use local resources. ...
  4. Take an online course or use prompts. ...
  5. Set a schedule. ...
  6. Edit and rewrite. ...
  7. Keep practicing. ...
  8. Get to print.
Jun 30, 2023

What do examiners look for in creative writing? ›

The creative writing section is some people's favourite part of the exam, and some people's most detested. The key thing to remember is that, above all, the examiners are looking for descriptive language- similes, metaphors, adjectives, sibilance, alliteration etc.

Is 19 too late to start writing? ›

This simply isn't true. Which is why it breaks my heart whenever someone older tells me that they wish they'd done more writing, but now feel they are “too old” to start. There's never a wrong age to start writing. Creativity has no age limit.

Is creative writing a hard class? ›

Creative writing takes a lot of hard work, but there are few things that stretch your imagination and storytelling abilities as well. It isn't always given the respect it deserves as a topic of study, but you'll learn a set of valuable and transferable skills if you take a creative writing course.

What are the 5 C's of creative writing? ›

I will now explain each of these in more depth and then discuss tensions between them in writing for different academic audiences.
  • Clarity. "Ambiguity is very interesting in writing; it's not very interesting in science." — ...
  • Cogency. ...
  • Conventionality. ...
  • Completeness. ...
  • Concision. ...
  • Tensions and Relative Importance.

What are the 10 rules of creative writing? ›

Elmore Leonard: 10 Rules for Good Writing
  • Never open a book with weather.
  • Avoid prologues.
  • Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  • Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"…he admonished gravely.
  • Keep your exclamation points under control. ...
  • Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

What are the 8 S's of writing? ›

The magic happens when prose has one or more of these characteristics: It's simple, specific, surprising, stirring, seductive, smart, social, or story-driven. In my work as an author and a writing coach for businesspeople, I've found those eight S's to be hallmarks of the best writing.

How do I start creative writing with no experience? ›

7 ways to start freelance writing with no experience
  1. Find your niche. ...
  2. Start writing samples. ...
  3. Launch a blog. ...
  4. Join freelancing platforms. ...
  5. Network, network, network. ...
  6. Cold pitch larger sites & startups. ...
  7. Find a writing agency to support you.
7 days ago

Can I learn creative writing by myself? ›

Sure, creative writing can be 'learned' just as it can be taught, but you're going to learn much quicker if you start experimenting with stories yourself. Listen to your gut instincts; any time you feel the compelling need to tell a story, just sit down and write.

How do I become a creative writer with no experience? ›

Begin by nurturing your writing skills through regular practice. Read widely across genres to understand different writing styles, and write daily to refine your voice and technique. Take creative writing courses or workshops to learn from experienced writers and receive constructive feedback.

What happens if examiners can't read your writing? ›

Q: My handwriting isn't the best. Will my work be marked? Our examiners are experienced at reading a wide range of handwriting. If one examiner can't read your handwriting, your work will be passed on to another examiner, and so on.

What makes a good piece of creative writing? ›

Create a compelling plot: A good story needs a strong plot that keeps the reader engaged from beginning to end. Develop a clear story arc with a beginning, middle, and end, and build tension and conflict throughout the story to keep the reader interested.

What do examiners want? ›

Examiners look out for particular points you've made so they can give you marks. They won't give you extra marks just for writing a lot and some exams have a word limit, so answer the question, make reference to your module themes, topics and examples, and move on.

What is level 11 writing? ›

At Level 11, students are almost ready for college and are well on their way to being skilled writers. Sentence structure is the most technical aspect of Level 11, but any remaining common sentence errors need to be ironed out.

What age do kids start creative writing? ›

Starting as early as 1st grade, your child may explore creative writing through journal-writing or simple poetry. He'll tackle the subject more extensively and with more challenging assignments from 4th or 5th grade through middle school.

How to mark 11+ creative writing? ›

Plot. To get top marks, the plot must have a clear beginning, middle and end structure. The plot needs to be plausible and engaging, with no large plot-holes. The setting and characters need to be interesting and well fleshed out.

What is creative writing in middle school? ›

Creative writing is writing where the author uses their imagination to make a story, and it's an important skill for all writers. By using our imaginations, we can create new stories to entertain both ourselves and our readers.

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