While different colleges and professors may use alternative interpretations of this term, in most cases creative writing is characterized as any kind of writing that assigns primary importance to creativity, narrative, self-expression and originality rather than communication of information. The boundaries of the genre are rather loose, so sometimes you can see examples that may or may not belong to this category. For example, a typical news article is not creative writing, because its primary goal is to present facts, not express the writer’s feelings (even if his/her opinion is quite transparent). Meanwhile, a feature story (i.e., a narrative text about real events) is creative writing, because it is primarily concerned with narrative and characterization.
Leadership studies and creative writing may not seem to be the most natural mix – however, this opinion is very superficial. More and more often leadership programs in business training start viewing creative writing as a useful set of skills benefitting future leaders in a variety of ways: from teaching them to find more original solutions to problems and improving their critical thinking to decreasing their stress levels. In other words, you are likely to encounter such assignments in your leadership studies course at least occasionally; it is the job of this guide to teach you how to deal with them.
While it may seem that creative writing has few applications in leadership studies, it is exactly why it is so important to learn it. The language of business and official documents is known to be dry, drab and generic – but it does not have to be this way. You can make these and other papers much more effective at performing their functions by a calculated use of expressiveness and other aspects of creative writing.
Usually you will receive your topic from your professors, or at least a general outline of what kind of work you should write. Contrary to what you may think, many types of assignments in leadership studies belong to creative writing. Case studies, mission statements, business letters, speeches, employee rulebooks – all of them have elements of creative writing in them.
When choosing a topic, consider these issues:
Here are a few examples of what you should look for:
In leadership studies, you will normally write nonfiction creative writing, i.e., various creative applications to achieving real-life purposes in leadership: motivating employees, persuading potential customers, influencing partners and so on. This means that before you start writing you have to make it clear for yourself what exactly you work on, what the primary purpose of your text is. Do you instruct the reader how to perform a task? Do you share news to change the reader’s opinion? Do you ask questions? Decide what you want to do and shape the rest of the text around it.
Even if you have a good idea of what you want to write, you should set aside some time specifically to generate ideas for your piece. You may find new and original ways to express yourself or turn your writing into an unusual venue. Here are some brainstorming approaches you may use:
Having an outline ready before you start writing the assignment per se is important in all types of writing tasks, but especially so in creative writing. The reason is this – while in a typical academic assignment you primarily have to deal with facts, evidence and your own findings, in creative writing you focus on creating the right impressions in the reader. Outlining an academic assignment makes it easier to write, but there are only so many ways to arrange your facts. The worst that can happen is that your text will be disjointed or that you will forget to mention something. In creative writing the lack of planning the lack of planning means that the text may just not work as a cohesive whole.
It always pays to “hook” the reader with your opening sentence, but nowhere is it as important as in creative writing. In addition, one of the purposes of this task in leadership studies is to test your ability to grasp the attention of your audience and steer it in the right direction with your words, which means that your professor will be particularly critical of the way you start your piece.
Therefore, make sure your opening is memorable. Here are some ways to make it so:
This classic writing tip works just as well for creative writing in leadership studies as it does for academic or fiction writing. Sometimes you fall in love with some element of your text – it may be an elegant expression, a line, a sentence, an idea or even the entire paper. You like it so much that you try to fit it into your writing no matter what, but for some reason it just does not work. It may be because it does not fit the requirements of the assignment or because it is actually not that good. If you find yourself in such a situation, find it in your heart to get rid of it and restructure your writing in a way that works.
The best writing in the field of leadership is firmly associated with a specific tone. It is energetic, crisp, laconic and efficient. Look for ways to express your thoughts in as few words as possible, avoid vagueness and be precise in your wording. Eliminate excessive and unnecessary elements in your text – it is a good advice no matter what you write, but especially so in this case. If you can drive your point home without a specific word, sentence or paragraph, get rid of it. Adjectives and adverbs are the first candidates for deletion. Some of them you can remove without harming the text, others can be avoided by using nouns and verbs that are expressive enough by themselves (e.g., ‘to trounce’ instead of ‘to win decisively’).
If you find that something is wrong with a typical academic writing assignment, you can usually get it into shape by rearranging its parts, removing or adding something. With creative writing, things are often not that simple. When you see that the text does not work as a whole, the only way to improve it is often to dramatically alter its structure or use a completely different approach. In other words, the changes you have to introduce may be so great that it is sometimes easier to start over. Do not be afraid to do so – it is a normal part of creative writing, and sometimes it is easier and faster to start from scratch than to try and salvage parts of your first draft.
Knowing what to avoid is just as important as knowing what to do. Here is a list of things you should avoid in your creative writing.
Proper grammar and spelling are just as important for creative writing as for any other type of academic work. Even the most perfect and original work will be rejected if it is inconsistent in its voice, contains multiple typos, incorrect grammar structures and the like. After spending hours or even days writing your assignment, it may be tempting to just hand it in, but do not allow this feeling to ruin all this work. Take a break from writing (at least a few hours, but a few days is better, if you can afford it) and reread the text a few times. At least once do it aloud – it will allow you to notice mistakes that eluded you in written form.
It is just as easy to fall into the opposite extreme. After spending so much time writing the paper, you may be afraid of spoiling the results by missing a mistake or two, and thus spend hours upon hours rereading, polishing and perfecting it. It is especially true for creative writing – you can edit such a paper as many times as you like and still be dissatisfied with it. Remember: editing is a process with diminishing returns. You may discover new mistakes and imperfections on a tenth pass, but they will be so few that correcting them is a waste of time. Limit yourself to two or three thorough passes – it is more than enough.
The main purpose of any text written by a leader, be it in business or anywhere else, is to convey a clear, definite message. You should make this message immediately obvious – your readers should not have problems finding it. Do not place it in the end of the text – it confuses the readers and makes them perceive you as hesitant and vague.
While some people perceive multi-clause compound sentences and five-syllable words as a sign of high intellect, it is a wrong impression. Readers of business messages do not have time to decrypt the meaning of your words. Leader’s writing should be crisp, efficient and easy to grasp. Stick to the point. Break long sentences into short ones. Do not use a five-syllable word where a single-syllable will do.
Being a leader means representing authority, and passive voice undermines this impression. It makes your writing look weak, inefficient, indecisive and cumbersome. Sometimes one cannot avoid it, but in most cases, you can replace a passive sentence with a better active one.
It is hard to pin down what specifically one has to do to pen a perfect creative writing piece – after all, it is called “creative” writing for a good reason. The primary goal of this assignment is to force you to be original, to think independently – which means that the less formulaic your writing is, the better. We hope that this guide will help you move in the right direction.