A student recently asked me, “What does creative writing have to do with ‘real’ writing?” I thought this was a fair question in its critical innocence and tone of wonder. She was respectful in her inquiry and her question led to a thoughtful discussion, in which we questioned together process and thought, why we need or want to look at life, events and objects around us, gather deeper meaning. We questioned why we might want to explore those very serious critical observations, experiences, creatively.
However, can’t we just take information or an experience as it is in its most literal form and accept that “as is”, and write accordingly? We could, and we often do. But what if there is more information to capture; and what if we can deliver that information in a different way, wouldn’t that be worth exploring? This student looked puzzled, straddled between usually doing the bare minimum, “I will write what I am told,” to wondering about possibility, “what if there is more I can say?” Maybe creative writing is that “as is” but with a twist, where a writer (someone writing) is looking, really looking at something, trying to capture that information, experience, object, with detail and fervor.
There is room for creative writing in our academic, journalistic, literal, and concrete spaces. However, I have observed that the expectation for writing in K-12 school, allows little room for use of creative devices in formalized writing. There is traditional practice in how writing is often taught in school (if there is time and space to teach writing at all) that looks at creativity as not an appropriate device to use in formalized writing. However, that is dramatically changing in professional writing, as many writers have discovered that creative techniques and devices can enhance formalized writing, making it more interesting and engaging to readers.
So why does creative writing matter? Perhaps because creativity matters in many fields and disciplines. Creativity has this way of thinking, knowing, questioning, and interacting with the world around us. That student and I talked about how creative writing is just one creative process and path. Creative writing allows a writer to slow down, observe, question, wonder, and capture that wonderment in words, call it by name, see it in as much sensory detail as an experience or object will allow. Creativity will take an experience, an idea, or an object and connect with it in such a way that whatever the medium (ink, paint, dance, music, photograph), it opens up a pathway to conversation, connection, and meaning-making. As Kay Ryan suggests, this process is not a “frail experience”, not something the artist or anyone just does to fill time.
The difficulty for me in writing—among the difficulties—is to write language that can work quietly on a page for a reader who doesn’t hear anything. Now for that, one has to work very carefully with what is in between the words.