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Creative Writing vs. Technical Writing: What's the Difference?

Writing is writing, right? Wrong! Creative and technical writing are as different as, well, maybe not night and day, but smoke and steam, at least. They are two sides of the same coin and not mutually exclusive.

What is creative writing?

Creative writing is...well, creative. As the Literature Wales organization very aptly puts it, “creative writing is the very fine art of making things up...in order to reveal illuminating and dark truths about the world and our place in it.”  But it isn’t just making things up; creative writing encompasses a broad range of both fiction and nonfiction. Poetry and novels, of course, but also children’s books, blogs, memoirs, plays, and short stories.  

What jobs are available for creative writers?

If you intend to be a creative writer, you have to keep an open mind. There are a lot of jobs available to you, but not if you remain dead-set on devoting all of your time to writing the great American novel and only the great American novel. Editing, publishing, freelance articles for websites or magazines, and journalism are all wonderful ways to incorporate your love of the creative with your need for a paycheck. Many writing jobs are cross-discipline, so you shouldn’t discount technical writing positions just because you’re a creative writer.

What is technical writing?

Technical writing, yes, is technical, but it too applies to a very wide range of genres. The goal of technical writing is very different from that of creative writing. Technical writers strive for illumination as well, but generally about more tangible things. They provide clarity about specific subject matter: instruction manuals, grant proposals, resumes, and text books.

What jobs are available for technical writers?

Jobs in this market have a reputation for being more stable. Technical writing jobs might include grant writing, instructional writing (help sections, manuals, etc), business proposals, or all manner of other documents for companies and organizations. Technical writers often have a great deal more to do with technology, and the career paths are wide and varied. Teaching is a great option for either discipline, depending on your background.

So what’s the difference?

Style: There is a distinct difference in the sentence structure and linguistics of the creative and the technical. While a biography can be a piece of technical writing, it can also be written the way a romance novel would, appealing to the senses and pulling at the heart strings.

Since technical pieces have such a specific purpose, they are written objectively and sometimes mistaken for dry and sparse, because they must to be to-the-point. Instead of dialogue and detailed description, the author uses supporting facts and clear explanation.

Purpose: CW may teach the reader something the author never intended, and everyone who reads it responds differently. While creative writing may be for anyone who picks it up (which is not to say it does not have an intended audience), technical writing is generally for a very specific audience. It has a more concrete goal, and every person who reads a work of this nature should take away essentially the same information. The creative writer hopes the reader will find their own meaning and purpose, while the technical writer makes their meaning and purpose unquestionably clear.

Genre Requirements: There are boundaries and specifics for writing in each genre, but there is more freedom in creative writing. It likes to push limits, to make the sum of its parts more than its whole, and the guidelines are quite vague. While some types of technical writing grant more leeway, others have a very rigid recipe for their construction, and the technical writer must, for the most part, follow the rules.

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