What Is The Point Of Creative Writing?

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.

–Toni Morrison


  1. Thank you for your interesting post about creative writing. I have just started a creative writing course and have wondered about the questions you posed in your post.
    I think creative writing sometimes reflects an overuse of descriptive words that drag a story out unnecessarily but when I read Toni Morrison’s quote I understood the subtlety of this style of writing. I now intend to commit this quote to memory.

    “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.” –Toni Morrison

    1. Yes, all writing takes time doesn’t it? However, it seems that creative writing is an especially slow and careful craft. Creative writing calls for the writer to stare, stand still, listen, feel, and that is not always easy when we are surrounded by technologies and lifestyles that are instant and super fast. Creative writing resists that and asks the writer (and reader too) to take their time. It takes practice!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the Toni Morrison quote. She is brilliant and speaks so honestly about writing. She does challenge writers to make considerations about language and what language can do.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post. It was a fair question from that student and one I think many of us have grappled with. What’s the point? Creativity takes courage and I believe that words are profound and transformative.

      I look forward to more conversations with you and thank you for being a part of the “life and write” community.

      I’d like to hear how your creative writing class is going. What kind of writing are you doing?

      1. What helped me discover creative writing? Well, I joined a writers group at work. I have had it in my head for years I was going to write the greatest novel ever. LOL! my problem is that I can never get over 10,000 words without the story falling apart. I decided to work on my characters development, this led to several dozen small snippets of time that tell a story.

      2. That’s great you work with other writers willing to put together a group. A writing group is nice to have if you can find one. The right group can keep you encouraged and motivated, and keep you focused on craft.

        Yes, I am in awe of the novelist turning and turning words into a long thickening drama. Knowing your characters well helps you do that so it’s good you work on character sketches. It really is something, writing a novel.

        Nice to have you as a part of the community of “life and write”. Hope to continue to hear from you.

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