How Creative is Creative Writing: What does it mean to be an English major?

“No matter what anyone else tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”  -Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society.”

When I told my dad I was going to study creative writing at university he asked me, “But isn’t all writing creative?” That is a question that has stuck with me ever since.

The easy answer is yes, the capacity to take words and arrange them in a legible order to convey a specific message does require some degree of creativity.

However, that doesn’t mean that all writing is creative. If you’ve ever read a lab report that is drier than mummified bread you know full well that is true.

“It’s not like writing the 10-page research paper for my history class, when I’m working on a creative project I think with a different voice in my head,” said English major Millie Tyler. “I’m not just writing about my characters— I’m creating a whole new part of myself.”

There are three main literary genres of creative writing: poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. These writing styles have a much stronger emphasis on imagination and inventive thinking than scientific or academic writing.

“It’s like word magic,” Tyler said. “I get to turn these little black and white marks on the page into living and breathing characters that communicate ideas and feelings that give real-world problems a voice in a personal way.”

Fiction is the classic stories full of intrigue and magic in a world often not so different from our own. Whether it be dragons and knights, space-cowboys or the kindly old man who lives on the corner with a secret past, fiction is what most people first think of in regards to creative writing.

Not only is fiction the most commonly read type of story in Utah, but it also makes up a vast majority of the film and television industry. Fiction includes the bedtimes stories we read to our children. It’s used to convey morals and instruct the reader how to live good lives in their own “real” worlds.

Poetry is the seemingly terrifying medium that takes a few brief words and tames the deepest, darkest secrets of our souls. Poetry is distinctly personal and every reader brings something of themselves to the page that the author didn’t necessarily intend on.

Whether a Shakespearean sonnet or free verse shaped like a cityscape, poetry has a way of going beyond the words on the page to create a visual reaction that a page full of paragraphs can’t. If fiction is film, poetry is traditional visual art – a singular moment transformed into magic.

Creative nonfiction is the best of both worlds: it is a story and a visual work. In fact, you’re reading it now. The most common type of nonfiction is journalism followed by memoir. Creative nonfiction allows for a lot of play in structure that fiction doesn’t take kindly to.

“One of my favorite CNF pieces I’ve ever written was a map essay,” said SUU creative writing Alum Gerod Wallace. “The background was a map and then each spot on the map had its own story.”

To quote Robin Williams’s character John Keating in “Dead Poets Society”: “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

“Just like a dancer or an artist, creative writing is my form of expression,” said Elsa Torgerson, a senior creative writing major from Monroe, Utah. “It is what I pour my efforts and energy into, hoping to create something beautiful and worthwhile. I wanted to become the best writer I could be and I knew that dedicated study would afford me that opportunity.”

Creative writing doesn’t have the same goals as academic writing, where the conveyance of information is the purpose. Creative works attempt to express something and move the reader.

“Creative writing is something that I have gravitated to since I was young—probably as a result of my obsession with reading,” Torgerson said. “It allowed me to explore new worlds and ideas, often answering the questions of, ‘what if?’”

SUU English majors spend their time in grammar and theory classes, hotly debating the proper way to spell “obsequious” while creating entire worlds in their heads. Sometimes this works better for some than others.

“A few semesters ago I was in a fiction writing class where the goal was to co-write and publish a book in one semester,” said Tyler. “That’s crazy! A good novel takes years to write and that’s not accounting for the differences in opinion and vision among twenty-five co-authors! We spent weeks on world building, just trying to make our fictional little town of Refuge, Nevada as real as possible. We thought of everything from whether or not we have a separate middle school to where each building was located on main street.”

Most English majors study creative writing because they are the new generation of authors aspiring to be the next King, Grisham or Rowling. But according to studies done about the current job market, English majors are the hot new hires in almost any field.

“I hire English majors because they know how to write, but more importantly they know how to think for themselves and how to analyze a problem,” said Steve Strauss, known as the country’s leading small business expert and author of “The Small Business Bible.” “They are interesting, well spoken, and opinionated – they can take a position and defend it with logic and reason because they love to read and they know a lot of things.”

The biggest differentiator in business is now in good writing. People who can write well are a hot commodity in the digital world where a few words can make or break a business. Strong writing is professional; it makes businesses look good and communicates a message of responsibility to customers.

Maybe it’s not a question of whether or not you want to take another English class. Perhaps it is a question of needing to.

Story by: Alexis J. Taylor