What is Creative Writing?

Creative writing can describe either a type of writing or an academic discipline. When the term is used to refer to a type of writing, it can mean imaginative works such as poetry, plays, and fiction as opposed to journalism or business writing, although personal essays and “new journalism” fit in a category sometimes called “creative nonfiction” which lies somewhere on the border between creative writing and other types of nonfiction. As an academic discipline, creative writing is a relatively new area of study and includes several different degree programs and specializations.

Creative Writing Programs and Departments

Currently, there are over 500 programs in creative writing that are members of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). These programs can be organized as independent departments within a university, interdisciplinary programs, or as programs within other departments, most commonly English, although playwriting and screenwriting are often located within theater departments. For students, the main difference is that a degree in creative writing is more specialized while a degree in English or Theater with an emphasis or certificate in creative writing can be more versatile.

Types of Creative Writing Degree

You can study creative writing in a wide range of degree and non-degree programs. Many organizations offer intensive workshops in creative writing, often led by distinguished writers, that offer either no credentials or certificates. These are a good way to get a sense of whether you enjoy the experience of writing workshops. At a degree level, you can obtain Associate or AA degrees in creative writing at community colleges as well as Bachelor’s, Master’s, and doctoral degrees at universities. At the undergraduate level, one can obtain a B.A. in english with a creative writing emphasis, a B.A. in creative writing, or a B.F.A., a more specialized arts degree in creative writing.

At the graduate level, an M.F.A. is the accepted terminal degree in creative writing, usually consisting of 45 credit hours with a strong workshop and thesis component. According to the AWP, it differs from an M.A. in being a studio degree. An M.A. with a creative thesis is another option but is not considered a terminal degree as it consists of fewer credit hours and has both academic and studio components. Writers interested in university teaching careers may continue on to D.A. or PhD degrees which qualify them to teach a broader range of courses.

Creative Writing Specializations

Some writers can write successfully in all genres but many creative writing majors choose an emphasis in one particular literary genre, especially in graduate programs where the culmination of one’s degree is a thesis consisting of a novel, a play, a screenplay, or a collection of poems, short fiction, or creative nonfiction. Some programs, however, do encourage mixed genre or even multimedia theses.

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A wide range of careers are open to creative writers. One can work as a freelance writer, selling individual works to magazines or websites, place books with publishers, or self-publish. Many magazines and websites hire staff writers. People with creative writing degrees can also find jobs as editors or writers in fields such as publishing, advertising, marketing, and business writing. Finally, writers with the appropriate credentials can teach creative writing in schools or universities.