Oct 2, 2020

Creative Writing vs. Journalism

Nicolas Lucente

When we discuss creative writing and journalism, people often think they are completely separate styles of writing. People do not think the two styles of writing have similarities, which for the most part this is true. Creative writing is used when we are writing fiction, while journalistic writing describes news stories and real events. However, professional writers should not just be good at either one or the other. A professional writer should be comfortable writing both from a journalistic standpoint and a creative writing standpoint. Why might you ask? Why should you be good at writing creatively if you are a journalist and why should you be good at writing journalistic works if you are only a fiction writer?

The Two Are Not So Different

While on the surface level the two styles of writing seem to have nothing to do with each other, this is a falsely assumed notion. When you are writing as a journalist, while you are writing fact, you also need to include creative elements to your story. Now we are not referring to making anything up, but we are referring to story and sentence structure. When you are writing a journalistic piece, it is important to hook a reader and have them maintain a constant interest throughout the story. Again, this does not mean making things up to make the story seem more interesting, but it does mean how the story flows in a manner that not only makes sense, but also captivates the reader. Both creative writers and journalists write stories. A journalist writes fact and a creative writer writes fiction, but all stories share a key element. That key element is the natural flow of the story. That also includes a hook and a plot that creates a cohesiveness that your reader can follow. This concept takes creativity, so in a way if you are writing a journalistic story, you need to understand how to creatively tell that story.

For example, let's take a look at 60 Minutes. 60 Minutes is a journalism driven show that portrays stories and in a fantastically creative way.The journalists on 60 Minutes do not simply interview someone for the entire show. What they do is they dive deep into the story, putting themselves into the field to show you exactly what is happening with an interview tied in to explain the event from a different perspective. The coordinators of the show specifically do this in a creative way to attract audiences.

Now, while we are talking about writing and not broadcasting, this example carries over just as well as any other. Take a look at autobiographies, everything in an autobiography is nonfiction, journalistic work. However, the author tells you their story in a creative way in order for you to not only follow, but enjoy what you are reading and yet still learn something.

60 Minutes is a journalistic program that is aired on CBS. The program covers stories all over the globe. Image courtesy of The Africa Paper.

From a creative writer’s perspective, journalistic writing might feel out of your wheelhouse. However, it is not that far off from what you are already good at. A creative writer already understands how to creatively portray a storyline. This is a concept that some journalists have a hard time with. Some creative writers make up stories purely from their imagination, but some creative writers also base their story on their real life experiences. Journalism is simply a creative way of portraying real life, timely events that have occurred. With basic training in the field, a creative writer will theoretically have all of the elements that they would need to write a story based on what they have witnessed and gathered in the field. This act is not all that different from forming a story in your head. The difference is simply writing what you see versus what you come up with. Then, you would just write the story based on what you saw. Like mentioned prior, both journalists and creative writers write stories.

All stories have a hook, a plot, and a conclusion. It is important for creative writers to also understand that not everything has to come from one’s imagination. Real life events can also have an impact on your writing. While for journalists this is all they write about, creative writers need to have this skill in their wheelhouse as well to be the best writer they can possibly be. A true professional writer should understand this phenomenon and be comfortable doing both journalistic and creative writing work.

Career Opportunities

You may only want to be an author or you may only want to be a journalist, but sometimes life throws some curveballs at you and it can be hard to do one or the other. Having the capability of writing both journalistic and creative writing works will benefit your career tremendously. How many times have you seen a journalist release a book? It happens all too often. Being a jack-of-all-trades is something not only writers should look to achieve, it is something everybody should strive to become.

Now that you understand how similar the two styles of writing are, it is not impossible to do both. Why limit yourself to be one or the other when you can do both? If you only wanted to be a creative writer, it would be great for you to write amazing fiction novels that fly off the shelves and possibly even land a movie deal of some kind. However, it is extremely hard to do, not everyone can be JK Rowling. It would also be great to be a journalist that skyrockets to the top early on and become an anchor for a big-time network, but again it is extremely hard to do. Having the ability to write creatively and journalistically opens all kinds of doors for your career.

Write for anyone that gives you the chance to. Find a newspaper, magazine, or journal that is willing to publish your work, both creative and journalistic pieces. Image courtesy of Stoodnt.

If you decide to take on this challenge and strive to be a jack-of-all-trades, it is still important to pick a focus. Much like how when you go to college, you have to decide on a major and a minor, the same goes here.You have to decide between journalism and creative writing which would be your major and which would be your minor. That doesn't mean that they won't get a similar amount of attention, it just means that you have to decide which career path you would rather put more energy into.

For instance, your day job can be a journalist at a local station or paper trying to work your way up the pendulum. While in your off time, you are working on a creative writing piece-- whether that is a book, a screenplay, or poetry. On the flip side, if you decide you really want to  dive headfirst into the world of creative writing, your side hustle would be to do freelance work for a local paper or a magazine of your choosing. Either way it is important not to limit your possibilities. The world of writing, both on the journalistic and creative side, can be a hard place to find success.

Though, when you are working hard to perfect your craft in the two styles of writing, success will eventually come in time. And sometimes, this success is not in the field that you expected it to be. Maybe you wanted to write great fiction novels and end up finding success with your coverage of sports or politics. Maybe you wanted to find great success in your coverage of up-and-coming bands or the music industry and you somehow find your way through the fiction novels that you have been writing on the side. That does not mean to give up on one or the other. It is simply a wake up call that says, “You are good at this, your other stuff needs some work, but keep going.” The point being, be as open minded as possible and accept all challenges, and hurdle every obstacle thrown your way.

Comfort with your writing, both journalistically and creatively, comes in time. Just stick with it and you will get there. Image courtesy of CNN.

Comfort Will Come

An important word in this article is “comfortable.” Professional writers should feel comfortable writing journalistically and creatively. What you decide to do with this ability is completely up to you. All we are saying is that it is important to write in both ways no matter your career path. Also, it is important to understand that if you are good at one or the other now, that you won't be great at the other form of writing right away. Do not expect to jump from journalism to creative writing and vice versa and feel comfortable doing so immediately. That comfort will come in due time, as will the recognition for your work.

At first, your writing will be subpar and that is more than okay. As writers we need to soak in all the information that is thrown at us and adapt, learn from our past experiences and through our peers. This means you have to take a leap of faith knowing that if you act as a sponge, that you will eventually find comfort in both writing in a journalistic and creative way.