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Describe the strategies for creative writing

4 Writing Strategies for Creative Thinking

When your students think creatively, they discover new, original ideas. They open their minds to possibilities rather than seeking expected answers. Creative thinking works hand in hand with critical thinking to help students deepen their learning.

The word creative comes from the Latin word crescere, meaning “to grow.” Creative thinking grows when students are interested, challenged, and motivated. You can foster creativity by encouraging your students to take risks and learn from mistakes. Also, you can use the following writing activities to help students develop four traits of creative thinking: fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.

Fluency

Writer and educator Dan Kirby states, “Fluency is the first consideration. It is the basis for all that follows.” By definition, fluency means “writing and speaking with ease.” It comes from a Latin term meaning “flowing.” This is why fluency is “the first consideration” for creative thinking. Until your students can write freely and get their ideas flowing, they’ll struggle to unlock their most creative thoughts.

A simple writing strategy called freewriting can help your students develop fluency. Freewriting is nonstop, rapid writing in which students freely explore a topic. Here’s how you can teach freewriting:

  1. Ask your students to write nonstop for three to five minutes about a topic. Time them. (Progressively increase the writing time throughout the year.)
  2. Tell them that if they draw a blank, they should write about not knowing what to write about until something else comes to mind. (The point is that they should not stop writing.)
  3. Tell them not to worry about making mistakes. You won’t be grading them for correctness. (Instead, the point is for students to rapidly spin out as many creative connections as they can.)
  4. Afterward, have your students count the number of words they have written. (Over time, their word counts should increase.)
  5. Have them underline at least one idea that surprises or interests them (a creative idea!), or have them exchange their writing with a classmate to do this.

If you ask your students to freewrite every other day, their ability to write fluently will improve, as will their ability to think creatively.

Flexibility

The word flexibility comes from a Latin root meaning “pliant, easily bent.” When your students have to adapt or bend their thinking about something familiar and ordinary, they can discover creative ideas that are unfamiliar and extraordinary.

Artists, composers, poets, and authors apply flexible thinking in their creative projects, but so do scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Albert Einstein says that flexibility is a “measure of intelligence.” The Common Core State Standards require flexibility, expecting students to “write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10).

You can help your students develop flexibility by having them write the same piece to different audiences—perhaps one time to their peers and another time to senior citizens. You can also have them change a true story into a fictional one by changing a few key details. To do this, simply ask students to create an extra column in a 5 W’s chart like this. (The extra column fictionalizes some key details and can be the starting point for a short story.)

True Experience

Story Idea

Originality

Originality is the ability to think creatively in an appealing way. The word originality comes from a Latin root meaning “source.” When your students think creatively, they come up with fresh, original ideas. They take risks and discover new territory. Some of their original ideas may work, and others may not. Help your students understand that taking risks and making mistakes is part of the creative process and can actually help them learn.

To help your students understand originality, contrast it to imitation. To imitate is to repeat what someone else has done. To be original is to produce something unique. It may be a cliché, but “do your own thing” is sound advice when it comes to creativity.

You can help your students develop original thinking by having them write a tumble-down poem. First, they create a sentence with well-chosen words and interesting details. Then they insert line breaks to let the sentence “tumble down” the page, forming a free-verse poem.

Sentence

Marley’s proud head narrows to a spotted snout engineered for eager sniffing.

Tumble-Down Poem

Marley’s proud head

to a spotted snout

for eager sniffing

You can also help your students develop originality by writing a family story and then turning it into a historical marker.

Elaboration

Elaboration means “to explain something in greater detail.” It comes from a Latin word meaning “to work out.” Strong writing elaborates ideas with specific information; weak writing is sketchy and general. Just as diners are disappointed in a meal that lacks important ingredients, readers are disappointed in writing that lacks specific details.

Your students can elaborate details in their informational writing to explain their topics in full. The Common Core State Standards ask students to elaborate with “facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.2.B). Your students can elaborate details in narrative writing to develop characters, establish settings, and create drama and suspense. The standards ask students to elaborate with “narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing,” as well as “concrete words and phrases and sensory details” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.3.B, D).

To help your students check for elaboration, have them ask these questions:

  • Does my writing include a lot of specific details?
  • Are all of my details relevant and important?
  • Do my details answer my readers’ questions about the topic?

You can also use writing activities to help students practice elaboration. For example, you could have them write a review of one of their favorite foods or meals. As they develop their reviews, remind them to look for places to elaborate their ideas with what they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch when they eat the food.

Top tips for creative writing

Crafting an original work of fiction, poetry, or creative non-fiction takes time, practice, and persistence. While there’s no exact science to creative writing, the following tips will help you get started:

1 Write about what you know

Beginning writers always get told ‘write what you know’, but it’s good advice. Use settings, characters, background, and language that you’re already familiar with and create new stories from the world that you already know. This is like using research you’ve already done. And remember, your background, what you bring to the act of writing, is as valid as what anyone else can bring.

2 Write about what you don’t know

Use your imagination to create new situations, new characters, new relationships, even new worlds. Choose to write about a different period in history, or a place that you’re not familiar with. Where your imagination needs help, fill in the gaps with research. The best thing about being a creative writer is creating.

3 Read widely and well

Writers love reading. Make yourself familiar with the published landscape of writing in your chosen field, whether it’s modern poetry, literary fiction, thrillers, short stories, or fantasy. Nothing encourages good writing like reading good writing.

4 Hook your readers

Nobody is forced to read your novel or short story, so it’s important to hook readers right away. Your opening sentence or paragraph should encourage them to continue, perhaps by making them laugh, or exciting their curiosity, or just making them want to find out what happens next.

Consider the intriguing sting in the tale of the opening sentence of George Orwell’s 1984:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

It seems like a very traditional opening and then – thirteen? You want to know more and so you read on.

Now look at the first sentence of Raymond Carver’s short story Viewfinder:

A man without hands came to the door to sell me a photograph of my house.

Just a short sentence but with so much that we need to have explained. We’re hooked.

5 Get your characters talking

We find out about the people we meet through what they say to us, how they say it, their choice of words, their accents, their verbal habits. Readers should be able to do the same with fictional characters. People on the page really start to live when they start exchanging dialogue.

Writing dialogue needs a lot of work – making it fresh and authentic, editing repeatedly to get it right – but it’s worth the effort.

6 Show rather than tell

Too much description, too many adjectives and adverbs, can slow up your narrative and cause your readers to lose interest. Where possible, it’s better to show you readers what a person, the atmosphere in the room, the relationship between your characters is like – show, that is, by what they say, how they interact, what they do. It’s more effective than telling the reader through wordy piles of information.

This is a tricky one. You have to do some telling so it’s important not to become obsessive about avoiding it.

7 Get it right first time

Try to get your first draft as near perfect as possible. Few writers manage this kind of quality the first time but no one ever wrote great literature by aiming low. On the contrary, aim for the best and do your best from the very start.

8 Keep polishing

If you don’t get it right first time, you can do what most writers do – polish and perfect through the editing process. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that editing is the same as proofreading; it’s about much more than correcting errors. Rather, editing involves carefully going through your work to see what to leave out, what to change, finding out what you have to do to improve your writing, make it sharper, tidier, better.

Editing can be hard work. It’s said that Ernest Hemingway took the last page of A Farewell to Arms through nearly 40 drafts, so don’t give up if you feel you’re getting nowhere.

9 Make the most of your opportunities

Many aspiring writers claim they simply don’t have the time to make the most of their ideas. Yet, if you analyse a typical day, there are always those intervals – using public transport, waiting for a friend, time spent in the waiting room of the doctor or dentist – when it’s possible to pull out a writing pad, a laptop, a tablet and just write. Identify your opportunities – five minutes is enough to get a few sentences down – and use them.