Yesterday morning, I read the late Stephen J. Gould’s fascinating essay, “Dinosaur Extinction.” An hour later, I was reading the instructions in an attempt to assemble a flying toy fairy (batteries not included).
As I pondered the impact of extraterrestrial bodies slamming into the earth and watched as the mechanical fairy stood motionless on the ground, it got me thinking about the creation of these two very different types of documents. I reached this conclusion:
Whether it’s a novel, a scientific essay, a newspaper story, or an instruction manual, all writing is essentially creative writing.
“Creative Writing” often conjures up a limited notion of the novel, the short story, or the poem. Yet, no matter how mundane or unimaginative a piece of writing may seem to be, an element of creativity is required to produce effective writing. Creativity is an element in all forms of writing for two (at least) main reasons:
1. Just as a fiction writer must imagine the world through the minds of their characters, the instruction manual writer must place themselves in the world of the person who will ultimately be assembling the toy fairy or drywalling a room, or making a recipe for waffles. Leaving your own assumptions behind and actually imagining another person following your instructions is essential for the writing of effective instructions.
2. A fiction writer must decide which details to provide, how to pace the plot, and other matters of structure to deliver their story most effectively to their reader. Writers of non-fiction material must do exactly the same thing. Rather than writing with a lock-step formula, effective writers must explore and create a wide range of alternate ways of presenting their material. Great expository and persuasive writing is lively, employing imagery to engage the reader and effectively deliver material with the greatest clarity and impact.
So, whether you are writing a step-by-step instruction manual for the assembly of a computer desk with 3,265 pieces, an essayist arguing for the existence of life on other planets, or a blogger writing about writing, you are a creative writer.