Contrary to popular belief, creative writing is not limited to fiction. In reality, it is a term with remarkably vague boundaries, with different sources, traditions and even individual specialist having their own take on what it means. However, it is possible to boil all these definitions down to something that would be true in most cases, no matter which definition is used by your college. Creative writing is any text that is primarily focused not on the information it communicates, but on the narrative elements and expression of the author’s feelings, emotions and thoughts. As a result, nonfiction may belong to creative writing as long as it uses techniques and styles commonly associated with fiction. For example, a memoir or biography is only limited to truthful, nonfictional narratives, but they are narratives nonetheless. If you move away from simply imparting the data and include fragments that would not be out of place in a novel or short story, it is creative writing, no matter what you talk about.
Even the presence of narrative is not necessary for a text to belong to creative writing. If you write a personal essay concerned with expressing your thoughts and emotions about a certain topic, or a descriptive essay and use creative writing techniques (e.g., metaphors and similes, fiction tropes, alliterations, assonance and other expressive means), it is creative writing.
Now, what does it mean for the relationship between creative writing and women and gender studies? These two areas overlap in many different ways. You can explore a concept or idea from a woman’s perspective. You can write a piece of narrative prose focused on issues this discipline deals with. You can explore the role of women in a well-known historical event. Recently, we saw many instances of disciplines incorporating the aspects of women and gender studies into their courses, which means that you may encounter them even if you do not directly study this subject. In this guide, you will find everything you need to deal with this task successfully.
Depending on the decision of your professor, you may either have a clearly defined task, including the genre, word count, general guidelines and sometimes topic, complete creative freedom or anything in between. Even in creative writing, where the requirements and limitations are generally less strict than in academic texts, it is important to understand what you need to do before you start. So:
If you are free to write whatever you like, you may have to choose the genre of your paper. If you have to follow the professor’s instructions, you have to learn the specifics of the genre you have been assigned.
Women and gender studies offer a host of topics and venues for creative work, and if the instructions of your professor do not limit you, it may be difficult to decide what to choose. Here are some recommendations that can help you direct your thoughts:
Eventually, you should end up with a manageable topic interesting for both you and your potential audience, e.g.:
Use the journalists’ approach to writing. When they have to write about a newsworthy event, they write down their answers to six questions:
Simply answering these questions will allow you to determine the most important aspects of the issue without delving deep into it.
Some students believe that creative writing presupposes that you should simply start writing anything that comes into your head, without limiting your imagination. Usually, it is a bad idea – while in theory it sounds like a way to let your creativity flourish, in reality it leads to constant repetitions, omissions, poor cohesion and rambling, which is bad for both fiction and nonfiction.
That is why you should first decide what you are going to write. For a nonfiction assignment, prepare an outline, where you jot down what you will mention in every part, define the primary ideas of each paragraph, how you will connect them, how you will grasp the reader’s attention in the opening and what you will say in the end.
For a fiction assignment, you have to write a scene list – write down all the scenes in your text, who participates in them, where they happen, what leads up to them and how they are connected to each other.
One of the most common mistakes made by people attempting creative writing is trying to write and edit at the same time. You write a few sentences, come up with an idea how you could have expressed yourself better a few lines before, return, correct a few words, start writing again, find out that the sentences do not fit each other as well as before and get bogged down in minute corrections and revisions. As a result, you progress very slowly, lose the momentum and forget what you wanted to say in the first place.
Instead, focus on writing and fight the urge to get back and correct what you already wrote. You will have plenty of time to revise, and this way your writing will look more natural as a whole.
Do not think that if something is obscure, hard to follow and complicated, it will create an air of mystery that will force the reader’s interest. It may work for some chosen few famous writers (and it is a good question how well deserved it is), but in most cases it annoys the readers and makes you look pretentious. Do not be tempted to be complicated for the sake of being complicated.
This is one of the primary tenets of creative writing. When you have to impart some information, it is nearly always better to show it to readers rather than to tell about it. Using too much description, padding your text with adjectives and adverbs and riddling your text with information dumps slows its flow and makes readers lose interest. For example, if you write about how men and women were treated differently in a company you were with during your work placement, you can describe it in general terms – or you can do it faster and more effectively by giving an example.
When we deal with people in real life, a huge portion of our impression about them is formed based on how they speak. What they say, how they speak, how they greet us, their favorite words, their accent and verbal tics – all this comes together to characterize a person, and we can make numerous conclusions about his/her background without asking anything. Do the same for your characters. Do not let them all talk in one voice. Give them individual speech, unique for every single one.
Creative writing is different from other types of texts in a sense that it is much more open to later changes, subtractions and additions. If you find yourself stuck on a particular paragraph and have trouble wording something, do not force yourself to continue working on it. Jot down in a few words what you wanted to say so that you do not forget it and go on writing, either right after the problematic passage or starting with a completely different fragment. You will return to this place later on, and chances are, it will not cause you nearly as much trouble.
Once you have finished writing, it is not yet time to edit. If possible, set your text aside for at least a few days – it will help you forget how you wrote it and allow you to view it from a fresh perspective. After that, simply read it, trying to perceive it in a way a first-time reader will do. See how it all works as a whole. Which parts seem to be particularly powerful, what you like and what does not impress you. Jot down your considerations – they will help you further perfect your text.
Editing and proofreading are different things, and for the best results, you should not mix them up. Editing deals with the text on a larger scale: you analyze its general structure, see if individual parts flow well one into another, look for inconsistencies, omissions and redundancies. You may discover that you have missed something, or that a fragment you particularly like does not work with the rest of the text. Try to edit, rearrange, add and subtract to make the text into a more cohesive whole.
Proofreading is concerned with the text on a smaller scale: you look for individual grammar and spelling mistakes, check if you have mixed up any homophones, make sure you know the meaning of all the words you used, that you consistently used the same person throughout the text and so on. Do not rely on spellcheckers – they can help you notice the basic mistakes, but are very limited when it comes to analyzing complex grammar structures and differentiating homophones. Either dedicate time to proofread your text yourself after taking a break from it for a few days or hire a professional proofreader.
Once your text is ready, find somebody you trust and ask him/her to give you an impression of your work. It may lead to unexpected and not always pleasant discoveries, but there are no other ways to get a look at your writing from a different perspective.
Creative writing is a huge and diverse field, and only experience and regular practice can make you really good at it. However, this guide will help you get started – simply follow it, and your next assignment will not be nearly as difficult as you thought!