I don’t know about you, but when I start learning a new skill, I want to know everything about it right away. How do I get started? What do I need to get started? How could this new skill transform my life?
Being an incessant researcher of new pastimes, I love a good master post. So, I’ve made one today for one of my favorite things in the world: creative writing.
I wrote this for people who are just getting into creative writing, but even if you’ve been writing for a while, stay tuned—some of the tricks and resources in this post will be helpful for you, too.
- What is creative writing?
- Creative writing examples
- How to start creative writing
- Creative writing prompts
- Creative writing jobs
- Creative writing degrees
- Online creative writing courses
What is creative writing?
Creative writing is imaginative writing. It’s meant to entertain its readers and get some emotional response from them. You’ll note that I said imaginative, but I didn’t say fictional writing, because while fiction is a subcategory of creative writing, it doesn’t define creative writing. All fiction is creative writing, but not all creative writing is fiction.
While technical, legal, or academic writing might be focused on conveying information in the most efficient and clear manner possible, the goal of creative writing is slightly different. You still want to communicate effectively and clearly, but you also want to put some pep in there. Creative writing uses tools like metaphor and imagery to evoke an image, emotion, or both from the reader.
Another way to look at it: if you were to say what makes creative writing distinct as a form, you could say it’s the artsy one.
Creative writing examples
Creative writing covers more than just fiction, or even just novels. Here’s a quick rundown of some types of creative writing you might encounter.
Novels (which fall under the ‘fiction’ umbrella) are a type of creative writing where the reader follows a character or characters through a plot. A novel might be a standalone, or it might be part of a series.
Example: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
2. Short Stories
Short stories (which also fall under the ‘fiction’ umbrella) follow a character through a plot, like you’d see in a novel, but short stories are, well, shorter. Generally, short stories run between 1,000 and 10,000 words, with works under 1,000 words falling under the subcategory ‘flash fiction.’
Example: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Poetry is a form of writing which focuses heavily on imagery, metaphor, symbolism, and other figurative tools. It also involves a lot of technical work with form; meter and rhythm are commonly used to enhance meaning. You can generally tell what poems are by looking at them, since they’re usually divided into groups of lines (stanzas) as opposed to paragraphs, like you might see in other forms of creative writing.
Example: Little Beast by Richard Siken
Plays are written for the stage. They include stage direction, brief scene descriptions, and character dialogue, but there’s often not a lot of prose. Plays are intended to be watched by an audience instead of read, so whatever prose exists, it is intended for the people participating in the play.
Example: Hamlet by Shakespeare
Side note: a musical is the same as a play, but with the addition of songs which (ideally) progress the plot and entertain the viewer. Examples include every Disney princess movie except Brave. Movie scripts are also similar to plays, but they’re written for the screen instead of the stage, so you’ll see that reflected in the scene descriptions, transition descriptions, and so on.
Songs are similar to poetry in terms of their structure and use of figurative language, but songs are meant to be performed. People don’t generally read song lyrics without listening to it, and the instrumentation and production often enhance the meaning of a song. Songwriters also use music theory to play with meaning—at a basic level, for example, minor chords generally convey sadness, while major chords generally convey happiness.
Example: Let it Be by the Beatles
6. Memoirs & Personal Essays
Memoirs and personal essays are a form of creative writing where an author draws on their real lived experience to create a narrative. Memoir specifically sometimes plays with chronological order and specific technical fact in favor of symbolic resonance—the author is getting at an emotional truth rather than a literal or objective truth.
Example: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Not everyone uses journaling as a creative writing exercise—some people want to log their daily activities and be done with it—but if you’ve ever poured your heart out about a breakup to the nonjudgmental pages of a notebook, you’ve probably already done some creative writing!
Want to find more examples? I wrote on this topic for another site, and it includes even more examples of creative writing for you to try.
How to start creative writing
Now that you know what creative writing looks like, let’s talk about how to get started, even if you’ve never practiced creative writing before.
1. Try stuff on until something fits
Take a look at the list above (or do a Google search for ‘types of creative writing’ and see if there’s anything else you might be interested in—I won’t be offended) and pick one that seems fun. If you want to try, for example, a screenplay, but you’re not sure how to write one, read a bunch. Get a feel for how they work.
Maybe you do that and decide you don't want to write screenplays after all. Okay! Try short stories. Try poetry. Try songwriting. Practicing different forms will make you a more well-rounded writer in the long run, and you might be surprised at what resonates with you.
2. Practice, practice, practice
Once you’ve found a form or a few forms that suit you, your job as a newbie is simple: practice. Write whatever you want as often as you can and, if possible, for your eyes only. Create a relationship between yourself and your craft.
Some say you should start with short stories before jumping into novels so you can practice completing narrative arcs. That might work great! But if you hate writing short stories, just practice with writing novels.
If you have an idea that feels a little too advanced for you, that’s probably what you should be working on, since it’ll teach you a lot about the craft along the way. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t worry about anyone else’s opinions (this includes any fretting about publishing). Your singular goal here is to create, and your secondary goal is to challenge yourself.
3. Join some kind of writerly group
But hold on, you might be thinking. How do I know I’m not getting worse the more I practice? How do I know I’m not just churning out garbage?
At some point, especially if your goal is to publish, you’ll want feedback on your work. And while it’s important to have the support of your loved ones, it’s also important to get feedback from other writers.
I do not recommend sending your very first manuscript to an editor or well-established writer for feedback—their feedback, generally aimed at moderate to advanced writers, is probably going to devastate you at the fledgling stage. I do recommend finding other writers at approximately your skill level to bounce ideas off of and exchange critiques. These other writers can be found online or at local writing circles—check your local public library for creative writing workshops.
Creative writing prompts
Have you picked out a form of creative writing to try, but you just can’t come up with any ideas? Try using a creative writing prompt to get those creative gears turning. These are totally for you to use however is most helpful: use the prompt as-is, tweak it a little, whatever works. I’ve linked one below for you, just so you can get started today—you’re welcome!
Self Publishing School: Writing Prompts to Start Your Story
Creative writing jobs
Looking to make some money with your creative writing endeavors? Here’s a few options to kickstart your job search:
As a ghostwriter, your job is to write the story your client assigns you. This might be a fictional novel, or it might be a memoir. The client often has specific requests for content, length, and so on. The catch? Your name is not on the book. You’re not allowed to say that you wrote it—the client’s name or pen name usually goes on the author line. You can find ghostwriting gigs on sites like Upwork or Fiverr.
Marketing does involve some technical elements like copywriting, but creative writers have a place in marketing, too. Brands need catchy slogans, funny commercials, and even social media gurus to run entertaining Twitter accounts. For more ideas on how to market your upcoming book, check out our post on the topic.
You can also look for work as an op-ed columnist or blog writer. This might be something you do for an existing website, or it might be a blog you start from scratch on Wix, SquareSpace, or Tumblr.
Creative writing degrees
You might have heard of people getting creative writing degrees, or at least you might have heard some of the discourse surrounding these degrees. Off the bat, I want to say that you don’t need a creative writing degree to be a writer. It doesn’t make you a ‘real’ writer, and it doesn’t indicate your seriousness toward the craft.
If you do want to get a creative writing degree, though, you’re looking (broadly) at two options:
Undergraduate writing programs
This is your BFA in creative writing. Not all colleges offer them—many (like my alma mater) offer a creative writing concentration or focus as part of an English degree. So you might graduate, hypothetically, for example, with a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. Some colleges don’t offer a major, but they do offer minors.
Check to see what sorts of courses your college or prospective college offers. Do you have to be an English major to take their creative writing course? Does their creative writing course offer guidance in the type of creative writing you want to pursue? For example, my alma mater offered a creative writing concentration with two tracks, one for fiction and one for poetry. There was also a separate film studies concentration for aspiring screenplay writers and film students.
Graduate writing programs (a.k.a., the MFA)
MFA programs can be extremely competitive and prohibitively expensive, not to mention that you’re obviously not guaranteed to come out of them a better writer. They can be a great tool, but they’re not a necessary one. Look at it this way: are you willing to get this MFA if it means you might come out of it without a successfully published novel? If so, proceed.
If you want to pursue an MFA, do your research. Don’t go straight for the Iowa Writers Workshop application page and hope for the best—investigate the universities that look appealing to you, see if your interests align with theirs, and make that application fee count.
Online creative writing courses
Going to college isn’t the only way to take classes on creative writing! If you’re looking for more cost-friendly options, the Internet is your friend. I’ve linked to a few places loaded with creative writing courses to get you started.
1. Intelligent.com: The Best 10 Online Creative Writing Courses
2. Coursera: Best Creative Writing Courses and Certifications
3. Self-Publishing School: Best Self-Publishing Courses
4. Our Programs: Fiction Write Your Book Program
Are you ready to try an online creative writing course? Are you ready to start some creative writing prompts? Or, are you think you're ready to go for a full creative writing project of your own? Here is a resource to help you get started: