The Benefits of Writing 6: Creativity!

I will let the reasons listed by my comic strip alter-ego, Mr. Fitz, stand on their own – I don’t need to repeat them.

What does need saying is that creativity in writing is often discouraged in school in favor of formal writing, academic writing, analytical writing. Billy Collins has said that high school is where poetry goes to die. I would add that it is often where creativity goes to die.

All writing should be creative writing.

When I give students a chance to be creative, they often don’t know what to do. They are used following instructions to get a grade. They are not used to creating something for the purpose of… well, creating something out of a sense of fun or a need to say something.

I’d like to propose some simple ideas to incorporate creative writing into your English classroom, even when you aren’t teaching creative writing. You might check my December post about having fun writing for more ideas. And what follows is not an exhaustive list – just a few ways to get started.

Have students write out of frustration. Ray Bradbury has written (in “The Joy of Writing” from Zen and the Art of Creative Writing) about the value of writing about what annoys you, about injustice that enrages you, about wrongs you think need writing. I often let students write about such topics from their “frustration map” for argumentative essays. It can be just as valuable to encourage them to write about a frustration in fictional form. I’ve done it a lot in my comic strips about standardized testing and standardization – and the idea that creativity is “fluff.” I just got a new idea – pair an argument about a frustration with a fictional treatment of the same topic. Which one makes a better argument?

Have students create new stories from the literature you’ve read. When we finish a novel or play, I nearly always give students the following options: Write a sequel, prequel, or “side-story” (a story that takes place “off-stage” from the main plot) about the piece we just read. There is a long tradition of this: Wide Sargasso Sea is a take on Jane Eyre. Lois Lowry’s Son is, in part, The Giver told from a different perspective. With Romeo and Juliet alone, I’ve had sequels about the surviving characters and the difficulties of maintaining the peace, side-stories about Rosaline, Benvolio after he leaves the stage in Act 3, and (best of all) a one-act prequel about how the family feud between the Montagues and Capulets originated in an argument about the best way to prepare pasta. It was written in rhyming iambic pentameter. It validated my entire teaching career.

Have students write to a theme. Give students the chance to write fiction on a theme from the literature you’ve been reading. Writing is the act of taking abstract ideas, including themes, and making them concrete. What kinds of characters would best express and explore a theme from the things you’ve been reading?

Have students write about something they learned in another class. Have students take a piece of history, a bit of science, an idea they explored in an elective, and try to fictionalize it. I learned about Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe in Earth/Space Science in 11th grade. I’m still working on a play about them. I remember that material better than if I’d written an essay about them. I’ve read many books about them!

Have students ask “What if?” and let them go wild. I have them make a list of “what-ifs” and encourage them to write stories about one of them.

Encourage students to play with genre. They can look up playwriting format, poetry formats, screenplay formats… Ask them to transform something you’ve read into a different genre, or come up with something original and pick a genre that suits it. I recently had a student who was writing a dialogue-heavy story. I told him it sounded a lot like a play or screenplay. I looked up the format and began transforming it in minutes.

The late Sir Ken Robinson once asked why we value analyzing literature more than we value actually creating it. I share his concern.

If you doubt it’s worth it to let them exercise their creativity, please read the comic strip above again.

Image via Created by David Lee Finkle.

Do you encourage students to be creative? Share some ideas in the comments below! You can connect with me on Twitter @DLFinkle or on Facebook at

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