Date of Publication: 02 December 2019
Need some help with improving your essays? Have you ever considered using creative writing techniques to help you dive deeper into your own writing? Although you may have never considered how creative writing could benefit your own assignments, it actually has plenty of crossover with essays and other forms of academic writing.
Creative writing is all about originality; using your imagination to express ideas and thoughts in a way which is unique to you. It’s the art of adding your own ‘twist’ to writing, going outside the bounds of traditional academic, journalistic, or technical forms of literature.
Essays on the other hand, are far more objective; they require the use of facts and evidence to explain your point of view. Your writing style needs to be carefully constructed so that when marking, your tutor can easily gain clear and comprehensive insights into your thinking and how your essay came to the conclusion it did.
Although these two styles of writing may appear to be on completely opposite sides of the writing spectrum, they actually have more in common than you would have first might have imagined. In fact, the very same creative writing techniques you use to create prose and poetry can be used when writing your essays.
Ultimately, both texts share the same end goal: to capture the interest of readers and convey a particular message or point of view. So why not use creative essay writing techniques to make your assignments more engaging for your teachers and tutors.
10 Creative Writing Techniques to Improve Your Essays
Want to improve your essay writing? Take notes of these 10 different creative writing tips to ensure your next assignment stands out against the rest.
In the first stages of your writing; whether it be essays or fiction, it’s always a good idea to sit down and brainstorm any initial ideas. In particular, freewriting is a popular creative writing technique used by lots of artists to help begin them begin to think and brainstorm their ideas.
Freewriting was developed by Peter Elbow in 1973, and similar to brainstorming, encourages the writer to keep writing without stopping. Writers are encouraged to write down every idea they can think of (no matter how wrong or irrelevant it may be – you can judge this later) and do so without worrying about grammar or spelling.
In turn, it’s believed that freewriting helps to:
- Increase the flow of ideas – reducing the chance of forgetting to include a good one
- Helps to increase fluency when writing for longer periods of time
For essays, this could involve writing the question in the middle of a piece of paper and then mind-mapping any thoughts or ideas that come to mind. This mind-map can include literally anything that you can think of that’s relevant to your essay; from what types of questions you may need to cover in your essay, to previous pieces of text you’ve read that may be useful as evidence.
You don’t want to spend too much time on this section, after all – it is just an initial brainstorm. So, set yourself a timer for ten minutes, plug in your favourite playlist, and let the ideas flow naturally.
Using this creative essay writing technique will really help you to gather some initial ideas on what your essay might explore, and will get you ‘in the zone’ to begin your research and planning.
2. Create a storyboard/outline
Once you’ve gathered your initial thoughts on your essay topic, you’re going to want to start formulating them into a plan of how to tackle your assignment. After all, there’s nothing worse than sitting down in front of your computer and thinking “so, where do I go from here?”
Before it comes to putting pen to paper, creative writers always produce an outline of what direction their story is going to take and what it is they want their writing to say. For essays, it should be no different.
Storyboards are an excellent creative writing technique to help writers prepare narratives, either with a brief story outlining the plot diagram (or in this case, the ‘plot’ of your essay), or with an extended illustration of the story, broken into ‘frames’ (or in your case, into paragraphs).
Though it does not need to be long, you should still create a basic outline which includes; the introduction/the thesis, the main points you want to discuss, followed by the conclusion that draws it all together and summarises an answer to the thesis. Remember to include any evidence you may need to use to back up your points. Ultimately, as long as it’s clear and makes sense to you, it doesn’t matter how you go about creating your essay outline.
3. Think about your reader, constantly
When it comes to writing, it is essential that you always bear your reader in mind. You need to have a clear understanding of who will be reading your essay and how you can write in a way that will hold their attention throughout it.
For creative writers, they spend a lot of editing time to ensure that their writing is as engaging as it can be, often including lots of intricate details and additional snippets of information to enrich the story.
Although essay writing is usually limited by strict word counts and the genre of which you are writing in, you should still make way for plenty of editing time during the writing process so you can make your essay as engaging as possible.
If you are writing an essay for a teacher that has set you the question, then they probably have at least another 15 or 20 essays to read in the marking process. Though it’s important for you to still include the obvious, it’s a good idea to try and be original in your writing – perhaps trying a new structure, or including arguments from lesser known but still relevant thinkers and writers which may spark the reader’s interests.
Use a combination of different sentence starters and structures to keep your writing fresh and interesting. Good flow is critical to making your essay easy to read – so check this too as you’re editing through your writing. You want to create a fine balance between using new sentence starters and making your essay difficult to read.
4. Live within your writing
Any great writer will tell you that the secret to their success is by living amongst their writing. Okay, not literally – but by knowing every minute detail that goes on within the realm of their story.
For example – they may be writing a short story about a knight who is on a conquest to rescue a princess from a tower. However, if you asked the writer what that character ate for breakfast, or what time they went to bed the previous night, they’d be able to give you an answer because they know their characters so well.
This should be no different with your essay writing. Make sure you know and understand every detail of your essay, and, if you have the room, expand on it within the body of your text.
These details can be anything from interesting facts about any Literature or writers you’re critically reviewing, to unique details about theories to demonstrate your reading around the subject. Remember, the more you can convince the reader that you are a master of your topic, the easier they will find it to grade you highly!
5. Always create an enticing opening
If you ever pursue Creative Writing as a summer course or as a main subject in further education, one of the most common creative writing tips you’ll be given is to create the best opening possible. The start of your writing sets the entire premise for the rest of your work; you need to give the best impression possible to convince your reader that they will enjoy the text.
Creative writing often opens with a hook that will grab the reader’s attention from the start. Through ways of disrupting chronology, using vivid imagery, or posing thought-provoking questions, all writers aim to achieve maximum impact from the start and entice the audience to continue reading.
As with any good piece of writing, you need to ensure your essays have something enticing to offer the reader from the start. Your reader will make an initial impression of your writing right from the very first sentence: begin with a solid introduction and they’ll be keen to keep reading on.
There are a few ways to create an enticing opening. You could try using rhetorical questions to make them become active in their reading, or use imagery to paint the scene of your essay, like you would as a creative writer. You could even include a quote from an authoritative writer which sums up the premise of your essay, demonstrating your wider reading.
Just remember, your tutor or teacher will probably have lots of other essays to mark. If you can make yours interesting and stand-out from the very beginning, you’ll engage them much more than if you were to follow the same pattern as all your other classmates.
6. Enrich your writing with detail
Ask any reader or writer what makes writing engaging, and they’ll tell you it’s all about the detail.
Read the two following excerpts of text:
“William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 23, 1564 to his parents Mary Arden and John Shakespeare. Shakespeare was the third child of eight.”
“On a quiet spring day on April 23, 1564, Mary Arden and John Shakespeare welcomed their third child, a son named William Shakespeare. Born and raised in the thriving market town of Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare grew up amongst a large family of eight siblings – but by no means did the business of family life ever affect his talents.”
Which one did you prefer? The one with the detail? Precisely.
Just as creative writers include plenty of detail and description to enrich their work, so should you with your essays. Essays can become quite dry if you solely focus on the academic, but you can include extra details to keep them exciting.
Though this may be difficult for essays with a strict word limit or ones that are quite scientific, you can definitely add relevant details to essays which are centred around the humanities, literature, theatre or history. For example, if writing about a play by Bertolt Brecht, you can mention the political changes that were occurring in his home-country in the time and how these influenced his work.
Including extra details and snippets of information will not only keep your reader engaged, but demonstrate your confidence to read around the topic and take your learning to the next level; this self-guided, independent study will really impress the reader and could earn you extra marks.
7. Don’t conclude with ambiguity
To be ambiguous or not – that really is the question. Creative writers often have mixed feelings about using ambiguity as an effective creative writing technique.
Sometimes, leaving an open ending can be great for letting the reader make up their own opinion on the subject, but most often, audiences are irritated by ambiguity because they want to know the full resolution of a story. But this is certainly a mistake you don’t want to make when writing your essay!
Ensure you always fully conclude your essay so the examiner/marker understands what you have learnt during the process and what your final answer to the essay question is. Unlike creative writing, your teacher needs to know that you’ve understood and formed a final conclusion on your work – it’s literally what will earn you marks.
But you also need to make sure that this conclusion is clear and easy to find. With lots of essays to mark, your teacher will be looking for a clear and concise ending point – don’t be ambiguous or ‘fluffy’ or, like most readers, they will get frustrated.
8. Edit, edit edit!
Editing is arguably one of the most important creative writing techniques all writers must use. It’s near impossible to write the perfect piece of literature in your first draft. Especially with essay writing.
Stephen King wrote in his memoir on the craft: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
And he makes a great point. When editing, especially when needing to cut down on word counts, it can be really difficult to comprehend cutting out sections of text you’ve spent time constructing with care.
But to make your work the best it possibly can be, you need to be brutally honest with yourself and ask the question; “is this really adding value to my work?” If not, scrap it and, if you have space in the word count – add something even more enriching.
Ensure that when you are planning your essay, you leave enough time to review and edit your first draft. Go back to it after a break and read it through with a fresh pair of eyes. You may spot some glaringly obvious mistakes which you may have missed in the first draft!
9. Peer review
Using your peers to review your work is another effective creative essay writing technique to ensure your final piece work is the best it can be.
Lots of creative writers will ask their friends, editors, and even focus groups to read and review their work as part of the editing process. Peer reviews can offer many insightful details including:
- Finding any loopholes or incomplete stories
- Checking for grammatical and spelling errors
- Help to cut out irrelevant details and ‘waffle’
Once you’ve completed and edited your essay, why not ask a friend or family member to read through and sense-check it. It’s worth asking someone outside of your class to read through, so not to give them any ideas for their own ideas! They’ll help you to identify any sections that don’t make sense, may need improvements, or have incorrect grammar or spelling.
Peer reviews can be daunting; your writing is a product that you’ve created all on your own, and it can be nerve-wracking for someone else to criticise your work. But remember that all criticism is there to help make your writing better and hopefully earn you more marks. It can only benefit your essay!
10. Keep a note of your ideas
All great writers keep a notebook by their side, ready to jot down any ideas that they may think of or learn about. This is a great thing to do with essay writing too – you’ll be surprised how many ideas may pop into your mind randomly, such as when you’re out and about shopping, or on your commute to class – and they could be your best ideas yet!
This doesn’t just have to be during the process of writing just one essay. Any ideas that didn’t make the final cut for one piece of work may just be helpful for another in the future – so keep them in a safe place, should you ever need some inspiration!
Creative writing and academic essay writing actually have a lot in common than you may have once thought; both ultimately aim to engage an audience and convey a particular message, theory, or point of view.
In this respect, using creative writing techniques within your essay planning and writing can help you to produce a more enriching, engaging and ultimately, better piece of work than you may have created before.
All the tips included in this list are regularly used by some of the most established writers in the world – so have been tried and tested with proven success. Begin using them in your next assignment and get ready to see your writing stand out against the rest!
Develop your Creative Writing Techniques this Summer
Want to take some time to improve your creative writing techniques? Put pen to paper and feel inspired with an English Literature and Creative Writing course this summer.
A Creative Writing summer course can teach you so much about writing and your own techniques, and can provide you with so many transferable skills to help benefit your academic writing in the future.
Join us in the spell-bounding city of Oxford, where you’ll have the opportunity to spend 2-weeks working on your craft, experiencing a new cultural setting, and making friendships with other passionate writers from around the world.