Date of Publication: 18 August 2021
A popular subject here at Oxford Summer Courses, and at many universities here in the UK is creative writing. As a subject, it can really improve your writing skill, especially helping to improve your essays and other forms of academic writing.
But what exactly is it all about? And if you’re new to the subject, how can you get started?
Creative writing is all about using your imagination and creativity to express ideas and thoughts in a way which is personal to you. Quite simply, it’s about adding your own ‘flair’ to writing, going beyond the traditional boundaries of academic or other technical forms of literature.
Learn more about what creative writing is, what the different types are, as well as some top tips on how to get started – all with this helpful guide and introduction to creative writing.
What is creative writing?
As the name suggests, creative writing is a form of writing that goes beyond the traditional realms of normal, professional, academic or technical forms of writing.
Instead, it encompasses a number of different genres and styles across a whole range of fields of both fictional and non-fiction writing; storytelling, playwriting, poetry, prose, journalistic, and more.
Though the definition can be quite vague, creative writing can, for the most part, be considered as any type of writing that is original and expressive of oneself. Typically, it can be identified by an emphasis on narrative craft, focusing on elements such as character development, narrative and plot, infusing its structure with imagination, invention and story.
In this sense, creative writing can technically be considered any writing of contemporary, original composition – it’s bound by no standard conventions and uses a whole range of elements in its craft.
In an academic setting, creative writing is typically divided into fiction, poetry, or scriptwriting classes, with a focus on writing in an original style, not defined by pre-existing structures and genres.
What are the different types of creative writing?
Creative writing comes in many forms, encompassing a number of genres and styles. There are lots of different types of creative writing, which can be categorised as fiction or non-fiction. Some of the most popular being:
- Fiction: novels, novellas, short stories, etc.
- Poetry and spoken word
- Personal essays
What makes a good piece of creative writing?
First and foremost, it’s important to note that there is no pre-defined description of what it means to create a ‘good’ piece of creative writing. As the very name suggests, creative writing is an imaginative process, created by the individual with all their quirks and personalities.
Creative writing doesn’t fit one set genre and therefore there will never be an umbrella definition to describe the ‘perfect’ piece. Just think about a Gothic short story and then compare it to the features of a great Romantic poem – the two are so very different – it wouldn’t be unfair to judge them together.
However, with that being said, there are a few general principles that you can follow to make your creative writing as strong as it can be – by making it as authentic and true to you as possible:
- Know your audience – All great stories begin with a target audience in mind – because it’s exactly what you need to know in order to really tailor your writing and connect with them. Therefore, any creative writer should begin their writing by plotting out exactly who they want to read their work. Once you have this in mind, your writing will naturally begin to take direction and flow in a way that seems appropriate to your audience.
- Write what you know – Quite often, the best stories are those which we can connect to and relate in one or another way to our own lives. Or, they’re stories which seem so authentic that you could imagine it to be about the writer’s own life. Now, this doesn’t mean that you quite literally have to write about your life, but drawing on knowledge you have about different elements of our lives to give your story some authenticity and more believability.
- Creativity is key – Creativity is one of the most important elements of creative writing. It’s what sets you apart from other pieces of writing in your genre. Of course, this doesn’t demand that you write a tale about a totally fantastical and mythical world with unique creatures – but simply use your creativity to think a little outside the box and put a unique twist on things; using literary devices like metaphors, alliteration, and varied sentence structure to make your work unique and interesting.
- Push your imagination – One of the great things about creative writing is that there is no definition or rules on ‘how’ to write. It’s a much more subjective genre, and one which relies heavily on your own interpretations. Therefore, you should push your imagination to the limits to see what the end result could be. Some of the most interesting pieces of literature are thought-provoking or make us question the writing or world around us – where could your story take us?
- Plot a loose story arc – Despite the loose bounds of creative writing, it is still advisable to plot a loose story arc for any piece of literature you create. Story arcs are critical at giving your writing direction and purpose, helping you to write the whole piece at a good pace, without writing any superfluous content or ‘waffle.’ Follow your story arc, and your writing will have a strong structure, pace and direction – keeping your readers more engaged.
What are some techniques used in creative writing?
To make their writing stand out, writers often employ several creative writing techniques and literary devices, including:
- Character development – The process of creating a well-rounded, realistic character with depth, personality, and clear goals or motivations.
- Plot development – The story of your piece of writing – how it develops, unfolds, and moves along in time.
- Point of view – The perspective from which a narrative is told. It indicates who is telling the story and how the information is conveyed to the reader. Quite often writers will play with the point of view of the central character or protagonist to trick the reader and twist their perspective.
- Dialogue – Refers to the speech and conversations characters use to speak to one another. Dialogue and the language choices a character makes can be pivotal in helping define their personality.
- Literary devices – Such as metaphors, similes and alliteration to make creative writing more imaginative and descriptive. These are used in a myriad of ways by writers to make their writing more vivid, interesting and engaging.
Can creative writing be taught?
Of course! Creative writing can be taught, and is a very popular subject for university students, and for those who attend our summer courses.
Those who pursue the subject of Creative Writing will typically study a variety of texts from different periods of time to learn more about the different genres of writing within the field. They’ll become familiar with some of the leading creative writers from generations past to present, as well as some lesser-known and emerging writers in the industry.
Inspired by what they’ve learnt in the classroom, it’s not uncommon for Creative Writing students to also participate in regular workshops and scratch sessions, where they bring a piece of their writing along to class and have it read by other students and the tutor. They’ll leave with constructive feedback on how to improve their writing, or recommendations of other works which they may want to read to take influence from.
How to start creative writing
If you’re interested in getting those creative juices flowing and improving your writing craft, read some of our tips below on how to start creative writing:
- Read as much as you can – For creative writers, inspiration comes from a whole range of sources, but most commonly, from other writers. There’s some excellent examples of creative writing throughout history that all writers should be inspired by. Read a variety of genres by different authors to get a real feel for what type of writing you may want to do. Need some inspiration? Check out our blog: 15 Classic Books to Read
- Start journaling – Starting a journal can really help to unleash your inner creativity. Getting into the habit of writing each day about literally anything that’s preoccupied you that day will help you practice the art of writing. The more regular you journal, the more you’ll build your confidence. You never know, you could even find your next great idea from something you’ve journaled about!
- Attend a Creative Writing summer course – If you’re just starting out as a creative writer and looking to collaborate, share ideas with others and workshop your writing, then joining a creative writing summer school could be a great option. Our creative writing summer courses are designed to help you extend your creative writing toolkit; you’ll analyse some of the industry’s greatest writers, as well as workshop some of your own writing with your peers.
- Practice using literary devices – Literary devices, such as metaphors, similes and rhyme can really help you write more vividly and create really descriptive, imaginative scenes. Practice using them regularly and you’ll soon watch your own creative writing start to flourish. Need some ideas to help you get practising? Look around your house and pick a random object. Then, practice using 5 literary devices to describe that same object – see where your creativity can take you!
- Write, write, write! – When it comes to how to start creative writing, one of the biggest pieces of advice we can offer is to pick up your pen or laptop, and start writing. Whether you have a single conversation starter for a character, or a complete narrative arc, you will only begin your creative writing journey when you physically do it. Even if you have no idea on what to write – look for writing prompt inspiration from all around you. The more you practice unleashing your creativity, the easier it will be to write over longer periods of time.
Creative writing is an expressive form of literature; one which demands you to use your own creativity, imagination and story to portray a particular message, emotion, or plot. It defies the traditional bounds of other forms of writing and is completely subjective to our own preferences and experiences.
For those looking to get started with creative writing, it’s important to really immerse yourself in the world of literature, reading and writing as much as you can – and even workshopping your work where possible. Creative writing summer schools and evening classes are a great way to meet other like-minded students, share knowledge and feedback, and really upskill yourself.
Study Creative Writing in Oxford or Cambridge
Interested in joining a Creative Writing summer course? Learn tried and tested writing techniques from some of Oxford and Cambridge’s greatest published tutors on our 2-week English Literature and Creative Writing summer course.
Whether you’re new to the subject or looking to advance your skill set, our programme will help develop your own writing voice and style, while learning crucial elements of structure to help your work flow. You’ll learn from our expert tutors – made up of literary critics, authors, and university lecturers – in either the historic city of Oxford or Cambridge.
It’s the most influential learning environment, with the most inspiring tutors – guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing!