Creative writing is considered to be any writing, fiction, poetry, or non-fiction, that goes outside the bounds of normal professional, journalistic, academic, and technical forms of literature. Works which fall into this category include novels, epics, short stories, and poems. Writing for the screen and stage, screenwriting and playwriting respectively, typically have their own programs of study, but fit under the creative writing category as well.
Creative writing can technically be considered any writing of original composition. In this sense creative writing is a more contemporary and process-oriented name for what has been traditionally called literature, including the variety of its genres. The practice of "professional writing" is not excluded from creative writing — one can be doing both in the same action. In her work, Foundations of Creativity, Mary Lee Marksberry references Paul Witty and Lou LaBrant’s Teaching the People's Language to define creative writing. Marksberry notes:
Unlike its academic counterpart of writing classes that teach students to compose work based on the rules of the language, creative writing is believed to focus on students’ self-expression. While creative writing as an educational subject is often available at some stages, if not throughout, K–12 education, perhaps the most refined form of creative writing as an educational focus is in universities. Following a reworking of university education in the post-war era, creative writing has progressively gained prominence in the university setting. With the beginning of formal creative writing program:
Creative Writing programs are typically available to writers from the high school level all the way through graduate school. Traditionally these programs are associated with the English departments in the respective schools, but this notion has been challenged in recent time as more creative writing programs have spun off into their own department. Most Creative Writing degrees for undergraduates in college are Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees (BFA). Some continue to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, the terminal degree in the field. At one time rare, PhD. programs are becoming more prevalent in the field, as more writers attempt to bridge the gap between academic study and artistic pursuit.
Creative writers typically decide an emphasis in either fiction or poetry, and they usually start with short stories or simple poems. They then make a schedule based on this emphasis including literature classes, education classes and workshop classes to strengthen their skills and techniques. Though they have their own programs of study in the fields of film and theatre, screenwriting and playwriting have become more popular in creative writing programs, as creative writing programs attempt to work more closely with film and theatre programs as well as English programs. Creative writing students are encouraged to get involved in extracurricular writing-based activities, such as publishing clubs, school-based literary magazines or newspapers, writing contests, writing colonies or conventions, and extended education classes.
Creative writing also takes places outside of formal university or school institutions. For example, writer Dave Eggers set up the innovative 826 Valencia in San Francisco, where young people write with professional writers. In the UK, the Arvon Foundation runs week long residential creative writing courses in four historic houses.
Creative writing is usually taught in a workshop format rather than seminar style. In workshops students usually submit original work for peer critique. Students also format a writing method through the process of writing and re-writing. Some courses teach the means to exploit or access latent creativity or more technical issues such as editing, structural techniques, genres, random idea generating or writer's block unblocking. Some noted authors, such as Michael Chabon, Kazuo Ishiguro, Kevin Brockmeier, Ian McEwan, Karl Kirchwey, Rose Tremain and reputed screenwriters, such as David Benioff, Darren Star and Peter Farrelly, have graduated from university creative writing programs.
Creative writing is considered by some academics (mostly in the USA) to be an extension of the English discipline, even though it is taught around the world in many languages. The English discipline is traditionally seen as the critical study of literary forms, not the creation of literary forms. Some academics see creative writing as a challenge to this tradition. In the UK and Australia, as well as increasingly in the USA and the rest of the world, creative writing is considered a discipline in its own right, not an offshoot of any other discipline.Those who support creative writing programs either as part or separate from the English discipline, argue for the academic worth of the creative writing experience. They argue that creative writing hones the students’ abilities to clearly express their thoughts. They further argue that creative writing also entails an in-depth study of literary terms and mechanisms so they can be applied to the writer’s own work to foster improvement. These critical analysis skills are further used in other literary study outside the creative writing sphere. Indeed the process of creative writing, the crafting of a thought-out and original piece, is considered by some to be experience in creative problem solving.
It is also believed by some in the academic sphere that the term "creative writing" can include "creative reading" which is the reading of something not typically understood to be a creative piece as though it were creative. This expanded concept further addresses the idea of "found" materials being of literary value under a newly assigned meaning. Examples of this might be product assembly directions being considered "found poetry."
Despite the large number of academic creative writing programs throughout the world, many people argue that creative writing cannot be taught. Louis Menand explores the issue in an article for the New Yorker in which he quotes Kay Boyle, the director of creative writing program at San Francisco State for sixteen years, who said, “all creative-writing programs ought to be abolished by law.”