What is creative writing anyway?

When many people think of the term ‘creative writing’ they automatically think of fiction writing: novels, short stories, and sometimes, poetry. But can’t non-fiction be creative too? And, if so, what constitutes creative non-fiction? For example, should this blog post be classified as merely my way of transmitting facts to my readers, about writing, etc? Or is it more than that? And what does the term ‘non-fiction’ mean anyway? If non-fiction is always meant to be factual, then shouldn’t the term reflect that?

Recently I’ve been reading a book called Writing Creative Non-Fiction: Determining the Form, edited by Laura Tansley and Micaela Maftei (both graduates of University of Glasgow). The book is a collection of essays exploring what it means to write non-fiction. In their introduction they talk about the creativity which is necessarily inherent in all types of writing, even criticism. I have to say that I found this to be refreshing. Even though I predominantly write fiction, I also enjoy writing reflective (and yes, critical) essays sometimes, and think these can be just as creative and enjoyable to write as a short story (although perhaps they are more difficult to sell). In the past I have rarely done anything with the essays I’ve written, believing them to be ‘non-creative’ and therefore ‘just something I’ve written for myself.’

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One argument I’ve heard many fiction writers make, and indeed which I myself have made, is that by writing fiction we can explore the inherent truth of an event or a series of events in our lives in a way that non-fiction would not allow, because writing a non-fiction piece would necessarily require remaining true to the facts. By fictionalising something we can keep the emotional essence while changing the details around.

But is there any reason why this could not be done in non-fiction too?  As the back of the book jacket says: ‘Whether we tell stories and understand them as fiction or non-fiction, or whether we draw away from these classifications, writers craft and shape writing—all writing. No experience exists on a flat plane, and recounting or interpreting events will always involve some element of artistic manipulation: every instance, exchange, discussion, event is open to multiple interpretations and can be described in many ways, all of which are potentially truthful.’

Perhaps now that these writers have set the record straight about what constitutes creative writing, we can be free to explore further possibilities for ‘non-fiction’—whatever that means–in our writing.

If you’d like to read their book, you can get a copy from Amazon by following this link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Creative-Non-Fiction-Determining-Form/dp/1780240244

How about you? What do you think constitutes creative writing? What kind of writing do you mostly do, and why? If you are a fiction writer, have you ever tried writing non-fiction, and if so, what has been your experience of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please do leave a comment.

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