Creative Writing 101: Everything You Need to Get Started


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. 

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. 

Write with originality

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. 



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