Creative writing doesn’t have to be creative.

I once sat with an aspiring writer and listened as he talked about writing. I kept quiet and allowed him to put forward his view on how one should write a book. And from what I gather from him, I was of the opinion he had it all wrong.

A story has to be out of this world, he said. I rolled my eyes.

A story does not have to be outlandish or spectacular. This is a common mistake newbies make when they approach creative writing. They think that the plot has to be totally wild and ideas centered upon things no-one has thought of. So they spend their time trying to find ideas to out-do the one before.

Unfortunately, creative writing is about the art of writing, where one is able to tell a story in the most creative of ways. It’s the style.

Imagine a campfire where you sit around with fellow writers, and each one is to tell a ghost story. The plot is the same. There is a ghost and the ghost wants to scare people, foolish enough to stumble around in a cemetary in the dead of night.

As you listen to the each writer spin their tale, you will notice that there are differences not in the story but rather in the way the story is told. Each writer has a voice, unique to their view point of the subject matter. This is the capstone to creative writing.

Creative writing doesn’t have to be creative. It could be an old story, but the retelling of the story is creative.

The tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet is well known to everyone, and through out the years; there have been countless retelling of this same tale. The characters may have changed, the places change, the period change yet it is the same story. What makes the retelling good? The creative way it was told.

That’s what creative writing is all about. It is the way you tell a tale. It is the clever use of chapters, sentences, dialog, flashbacks, language, etc. The old saying, Master the rules then break them, holds true to creative writing.

As for the aspiring writer above, I read through his draft and honestly, he could not write. For all his ideas about creative writing, he could not write a proper sentence.

How then can you truly embark on creative writing when the basic foundation of it all (a sentence) has not been mastered?

There is a story waiting to be told, all around you. You just need to use your voice and tell it. Remember the campfire scene, when you put words to paper.

Happy writing!

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28 Responses to Creative writing doesn’t have to be creative.

  1. Lua says:

    wow- sounds like you’ve met one annoying aspiring writer! 🙂
    I completely agree with you on the fact that creative writing is not merely about what you’re saying but how you’re saying it.
    Some of the most striking stories I’ve read that took my breath away were about ordinary, daily events that could happen to anyone, anytime… But it was the way the author explained the events and how he observed people, dialogues and filtered them through his/her perspective that made it really fascinating.

  2. Maclean Patrick says:

    Ya. A writer is a story teller and his work is as good as how well he tells the story.

  3. A story does NOT have to be out of this world! I agree!

    A *good* story is where you build yourself up, fine tune all your elements as you go, and EXPLORE your newly created surroundings as you–while interacting with each charcater along the way.

    You build a lot of character (no pun intended!) and *depth* to the story plot line–which is a badly needed thing these days BTW–and you’re engaging your reader as you go:

    You *make* things happen just for the sake of being both creative and imaginative!

    Without LIMITS, there is *nothing* one cannot do with their writing! But if you are constantly restraining yourself–because the mainstream says so…?–you’re not going to get anywhere with your book.

    It’s okay to experiment! That’s what I keep telling people! Don’t be afraid to be who you or what your characters are!

    Create novels and stories through your own personal experiences. Use *that* as your fodder for your writing!

    Creative writing–in layman’s terms–is where you let yourself GO.

    No worries. No fears. No criticism. Just let yourself GO.

    It’s the only way we can all become better writers.

    If we’re not afraid, then what can really stop us?

    That’s the question beginners should ask themselves.

    Not: “What can I write?”

    But: “Am I afraid or am I not afraid to this? Do I have the strength and conviction to see this through–no matter what?”

    Most writers want in for the money, the fame, the fortune.

    The way things are going with the mainstream, fewer than .000000001% actually get there.

    Nobody’s making money like they did in the old days. There are a *few*, but not many to make much of a difference.

    If you want to write and tell a story, then dump the idea that you’re going to be the next Publisher’s Darling Author.

    Concentrate on the *story*. The ART and the CRAFT of being able to fully articulate yourself on paper or on screen.

    It’s okay to make mistakes along the way–don’t be afraid to! Just focus on the *story*.

    Focus on everything there is and keep it that way. Don’t waver, don’t have second thoughts, don’t doubt your ability!

    Concentrate on YOU. Forget the guy whose made a million bucks off his books and focus on *you* and your story.

    Write, write, write. Don’t ever stop–except for breaks, sleep, showers, and PS2 matches.

    Don’t stop writing. And when you’re finished? Go to the next one!

    And keep at it!

    This is what makes a good writer a great one!

    If you can tell a story and tell it *well*, you won’t need the mainstream’s permission or approval to publish when the time comes.

    Because by then…? You can do it yourself without fear or recrimination.

    BECAUSE YOU DID IT!

  4. I really likewriting creative. It’s such a great way to express yourself. You can talk about supertaboosubjects in parable.

  5. tarina2010 says:

    Thank you for this insightful advice. I just started my own creative writing blog and I will think about what you said in my future endeavours.

  6. bookszeus says:

    Voice. Yes, the voice of each writer must be their own. There is no use trying to copy another writer’s style. Learn from them, sure, but find your own voice and your writing will sing.

  7. Great insight! I believe that creative means original. But here is were most beginners go wrong. There is no original, untold idea! There are however as many ways to tell a story as there are people to tell it. The “original part” is everyone’s unique perspective upon the world. A real creative person can unveil a common story or idea from an unique perspective, using all the available means of expression. And that is the mission of any creative: to make people realize that something great lies everyday around them.

  8. TaleTellerin says:

    Good advice. I mean, human kind has been telling stories ever since we could form words – okay, sentences. So it’s probably save to say that there is no story anyway which has never been told. What is original is the way to approach it, to tell it as you say.

  9. alexclermont says:

    I’ve had to tell something similar to someone a few weeks ago. We had just seen “She gotta have it” by Spike Lee and I mentioned that I liked what he had to say. She mentioned that she had already thought about the themes he brought up. Well, I argued, the thing that was more important than the ideas was the way he presented those ideas. There’s nothing new under the sun. Really. There’s nothing new…

    However, I DO disagree that you need creativity to tell a story in interesting way – especially with a story everybody is familiar with. It takes imagination to make a ghost story gripping. What different way can you build suspense between the point where it’s known that there is a ghost, and point where the protagonist becomes aware of it (or vice versa)? That takes creativity!

    • camertz08 says:

      He kind of said that…

      “Unfortunately, creative writing is about the art of writing, where one is able to tell a story in the most creative of ways. It’s the style.”

  10. Inspiring, thank you

  11. janelwalls says:

    I like your views on writing. I love to write my own style, but had thought that it wasn’t good enough because I’m more focused on painting a mental picture with my words than I am with trying to come up with something so off the wall that it just gets…well, sort of silly. I sent off a short story to an e-magazine once, and got the response back that “Wow! was I great at setting up an image, but I wasn’t good with story lines, so my stuff wasn’t worth their time”. That sort of killed my writing for a bit, but I got back into it after a while, deciding it would be more for fun for me than for the idea of ever getting published. I’m just now starting to sort of drift back into the wanting to be published thing again, but am not counting on it ever happening. Thanks for your thoughts.

  12. drtombibey says:

    The best way I know to invent a character is to hang out with quirky people and embellish them from there.

    Dr. B

  13. thoreyo says:

    Hi there 🙂
    I like your article and I totally agree, being creative is in the approach. Of course, we mustn´t forget that writing “out-of-this-world” stuff *can* be a part of it- but it´s certainly not a requirement!

    Thorey

  14. ✩viva la write girl✩ says:

    This is good stuff right here. check out my creative writing blog. more specifically check these posts out:
    -under the olive tree
    -the woman of gold.

    Let me know what you think!

    http://www.tala92.wordpress.com

  15. It won’t matter if you have this amazing idea if you can’t write it in an interesting and gripping way. I’ve fallen in love with stories that had pretty basic plots, but it was the way the author wrote the story that had me turning the pages. =)

  16. jahumm says:

    What you say is true… otherwise wouldn’t we have run out of stories a long time ago? There are only a few plots, but as many stories as there are people to tell them.

  17. Alistair says:

    Totally. I’ve read a ton of outlandish fiction from aspiring writers and without any actual writing ability it’s only ever going to be words on a page.

    Of course, that doesn’t meant that my own outlandish fiction isn’t a classic in the making… 😉

  18. camertz08 says:

    buddy! It almost sounds as if you were describing me five years ago!

    I have said the same thing, and hold to it, though your words are very true. Mastering the art of story telling does indeed mean mastering grammar and basic sentence structure.

    However, having the next big idea is generally different. You see humans, as a population, like to categorize things– Chick lit, lit fiction, so on and so forth– so giving them a story they can’t categorize until they have read the ending is something that most writers strive for. While the creative writer doesn’t have to be so creative as to describe something that no one has ever heard before, or twist reality in a way no one has, there is still that dream and notion to find something that everyone is yearning to hear.

    Sentence structure and grammar are the first areas of mastery for a writer, the generation of a mind blowing novel or short story is the next or final.

    Thank you for reading my thoughts,

    Caleb A. Mertz

  19. Lager Boy says:

    Creative writing is all about you. It doesn’t have to be different in the first place because the writer is already different and unique himself or herself. There is no need to even stress the word “creative” in creative writing. just the word “writing” would be appropriate enough to describe the process and prevent further confusion.

    My two cents 🙂

  20. Pingback: Creative writing doesn’t have to be creative. (via Maclean Patrick – A Malaysian Writer Speaks about his Daily Nonsense) « Philadelphia Stories Weblog

  21. This was well written and wise. Thank you for reminding writers “Each writer has a voice, unique to their view point of the subject matter. This is the capstone to creative writing.

    “Creative writing doesn’t have to be creative. It could be an old story, but the retelling of the story is creative.”

    Voice and vibrant characters can bring nearly any plot to life.

    Lynn
    http://www.writeradvice.com
    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers

  22. letterstomyformerself says:

    Completely spot on. Creative writing is about making the ordinary erxta-ordinary, that is having the ability to set a scene with a woman washing the dishes and chatting about Christmas dinner that covers three pages and being able to make your readers WANT to stick with that, for the whole scene. Sure, some people write about far off lands and extraordinary events, but even in those stories, people have to eat and sleep and wash and so on, and we have to hear about it for the story to be grounded in some kind of believable reality. Well done and well said!

  23. msbluestocking says:

    A valid point with regard to authentic voice and storytelling/writing…I can always detect the difference when reading someone else’s material whether or not they are using an authentic voice, “speaking their truth” I believe we as human beings may not always tell the truth but we all have this innate sense of what truth is and we are able to distinguish truth from being deceived especially by an authors “voice.”
    I would also like to make the point that many times “less is better.” Many times in creative writing we tend to get a little too creative, I am certainly guilty of it…:-) Thanks!

  24. This is a great article. One of the best days in a writers life is the one where he realizes that everything conceivable has already been written and re-written. I think the true strength of a story is in the complexity and conflict in the characters; this has a direct affect on the way the story is told. If you ever have the time, check out my work at neilmdonnelly.wordpress.com and tell me what you think. Once again, awesome post!

  25. i love this. honestly portraying our perception of the world around us is the key to being a good writer. i’d be honored if you checked out my creative writing blog: http://realmofthecrow.wordpress.com

    thank you, jesse stonefield

  26. zarebear says:

    Exactly. All have a different and beautiful perspective of the world around us. Ideas beneath stories are never really over and used and done. Used ideas usually are the main “meat” of what all of us base our stories on. But if we use beautiful language and approach an idea differently than another it is “ours”.

    There surely are ideas out there we never have indeed heard of.
    Who knows when we’ll find it?

  27. marcusriddle says:

    Solid post. Thanks for the read 🙂

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