Why Use Creative Writing In Freshman Composition?

Why Use Creative Writing In Freshman Composition?

If adding a bit of imaginative reading and writing does not deter the current emphasis on rhetorical theory but rather supplements or enriches composition courses, why isn’t it incorporated into the curriculum? In some cases it has been, but in most it hasn’t because of the underlying misconception that creative writing doesn’t have much to offer academic discourse.
— "Creative Writing as a Bridge to Better Academic Writing in Freshman Composition"

Read the full work by Ashley Christensen and Judith Weeks here

The world of academic writing revolves around research, presenting facts, and drawing conclusions. While the purpose of an academic paper may be cut and dry, the language used to get a point across doesn’t have to be. Consider some of the most well-known examples of non-fiction—from Malcolm Gladwell’s statistic-driven work to history and culture giant Guns, Germs and Steel. Despite their educational value, these books manage to capture the attention of academics and laymen alike. While creative writing strategies are more often associated with fiction, their mechanics can be applied to craft more engaging academic compositions.  

There are many ways to incorporate creative writing practice into a composition course. Have students write a poem or a video script about a topic explored in class. Or after they have read a short story, have them develop an original scene with dialogue that emulates the author’s writing style and covers a theme presented in the story. These types of activities will not only strengthen students’ creative and academic writing but also help them to find and value their individual voice as a writer. Here are some of the high-level benefits of using elements of creative writing instruction in freshman (or other) composition courses:

Show, Don’t Tell

Consider these two sentences:

  1. “I like lemonade.”

  2. “There’s nothing in this world as refreshing as the crisp citrus smell and the tangy taste of a glass of lemonade.”

They each conjure up two completely different images. Using rich descriptions in writing is often referred to as “show, don’t tell.” While academic writing doesn’t provide much capacity for flowery descriptions, there’s no reason to be clinical, either. Creative writing gives students the practice they need to develop a descriptive vocabulary that they can apply to academic writing. Have students read something like Show vs. Tell, and then have them list some of their favorite fiction authors and books—sharing with the class what draws them to the author’s writing, descriptions, and language.


A novel devoid of dialogue lacks a human connection. It drives storylines, providing insight into characters’ personalities and motivations. Academic compositions should be strengthened with quotes from sources that provide a unique perspective or additional insight. With fiction texts, help students see what descriptions matter in the text and where the dialogue makes important connections between points in the narrative.  

Start Strong, End Strong

Successful novels have a compelling introduction and satisfying ending that ties up any loose ends. These same creative writing mechanics apply to academic writing. Have your students identify the beginning, middle, and end of their work, outlining where and how they’ve created any narrative threads. Encourage them to make their point up front, stay consistent in the tone and focus of their composition, and end with a strong closing argument. Make sure that the fiction pieces you assign clearly display these important structural elements.


Novelists and other creative writers get feedback from editors and pre-publication reviews from their peers. Have students share their work with classmates before, during, and after completing a draft. Instead of having them simply assess for grammar and validity of their arguments, encourage them to be thoughtful about the composition’s readability and style, too. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits you can give students in a composition course is beginning insights into style. Consider photocopying a chapter about style from a creative writing guidebook like Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft and sharing it with your students.

We’re not suggesting that you spend a lot of time on this in your courses. You don’t even need to make it an entire unit if you want to start small and experiment. Simply pick some of your favorite fiction texts and assign them during the same time you’re covering topics like voice, detail/description, and organization. Show students how fiction writers shape their work and connect with readers—and then also compare this to other nonfiction essays you have assigned.

If you’ve tried some of these strategies before, please share what you have found that works and what doesn’t.

WriteLab brings together Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence, and English Language Instruction. Student writing is analyzed in seconds with the WriteLab app—giving students feedback and suggestions on how to revise and polish their draft.

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