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How to Write a Creative Essay: Comprehensive Tips and Ideas

How to Write a Creative Essay. Complete Guide + Examples

You thought you nailed down the perfect formula for college papers and expected a solid A for your latest creative essay. Instead, you get a long list of snide comments from your professor and a disappointing grade. All because you relied on the same academic writing standards professors have been harping about for years. Now, you find yourself questioning everything you know and have no idea how to deal with such assignments in the future. 

Where did you go wrong? What is a creative essay, really? How is it different from other assignments? Why is everything you know about writing irrelevant when it comes to dealing with creative essays? We’re here to answer all your questions and share actionable advice. But first, let’s get a few definitions out of the way. 

What Is a Creative Essay?

First, we need to differentiate between technical (or academic) and creative writing. The goal of academic writing is to inform, explain, or share information, while the purpose of creative writing is to express yourself. Your usual research papers and informative essays are all about hard facts and objectivity, whereas creative essays are about your thoughts and feelings. Two types of creative writing include creative nonfiction and creative fiction. The former take on the forms of memoirs, autobiographies, and essays, while the latter are short stories, novellas, poems, novels, plays, etc.

So what is a creative essay? It’s a piece of creative nonfiction writing that describes a pivotal event and focuses on your perception of it. 

Common creative writing skills examples include college admission and scholarship application essays, cover letters for job applications, sales pitches, and more. Even a simple email or message can be much more compelling if you have creative writing mastery on your side. Besides, if you are comfortable exploring creative essay topics, it can be an enjoyable and profitable vocation or a side gig. 

By the way, a 2021 study proved that creative writing helps process emotional difficulties and has a major positive impact on mental well-being and mood. The effect was so pronounced that different types of creative writing could be considered a low-cost mental health treatment. If that’s not reason enough to master the skill, we don’t know what is.

Uncommon Topics for Creative Writing

You can find plenty of creative essay ideas online, though we suggest you stay away from extensive compilations generated by AI that rely on stale concepts that won’t surprise anyone. You’d be better off looking at creative writing competition prompts, like the one published by The New York Times, Writer’s Digest, or other reputable platforms. 

We asked our writing experts to come up with a few fresh creative writing topics, so you can also start with our top 10 ideas, adding a personal spin to make them stand out among dozens of cookie-cutter papers on the greatest losses and victories. 

  • A reverse love story. Think of something (or someone) you hate with a passion and examine what brought on the negative emotions. 
  • The Rashomon effect. Describe a pivotal moment in one of your relationships through two or more perspectives, highlighting the differences in perception in your creative essay.
  • It’s good to be bad. Think of a time you did something you knew to be wrong and examine how it made you feel, explain whether you managed to get away with your misstep or if you were caught and punished.
  • Go against the flow. Describe a time when you stood your ground and won over your opponents in an argument at home or at school, specify what made you convincing and how it made you feel.
  • Emergency pack. Explain what you’d pack in your emergency bag, emphasizing the significance of things beyond the basics, and ruminate on the circumstances that could make you use the bag outside a catastrophe.
  • Biggest embarrassment. Instead of a victory or loss, talk about the time that made you feel weak, stupid, or both, and focus on what you did to get yourself out of the sticky situation.
  • Coping mechanism. Think of the ways you handle strong emotions and remember how they came to be, use your creative essay to describe their evolution and events that push the limits of your restraint.
  • Age perception. Consider your physical and psychological age, compare the two, and describe the point in time that made you feel younger or older than you are or exactly your age.
  • The relativity of time. Remember the longest hour of your life when time seemed to crawl and describe what gave you the feeling and what changed when you finally felt normal again.
  • Falling out of friendship. Explain the gradual changes in your relationship with a close friend, talk about what brought it on, and how you handled the transition to new friendships. 

Note that all the creative essay topics above rely on personal experience, as they are designed for nonfiction writing. If your task involves fictional elements, the topic selection could be much broader, from the ways you’d handle the apocalypse to your choice of superpowers.

How to Write a Creative Essay

Armed with a list of excellent topics for creative writing, you are ready to tackle the task at hand. So let’s go over the three stages of crafting a winning creative essay.

Prewriting Steps to Take Before Handling Creative Essay Topics

First, you need to narrow down the idea. Suppose, you’ve chosen one of the creative essay topics we suggested, you cannot merely list every time it happened to you. Instead, you need to brainstorm ideas and select the one that fits your narrative best. To do that, consider the main point you want to make and choose a story that aligns with it.

Next, settle on a creative essay layout. It can be as simple as a three-act screenplay or as complex as any installment of A Song of Ice and Fire. If you like playing around with several storylines and the word count allows for it, consider writing a braided essay that combines two to four narratives. You can also go with a fragmented essay that consists of several short pieces that are interconnected in some way. You can even format your paper as a personal reportage. To make writing a creative essay easier, list all the major points and order them until the narrative makes sense. 

Put Your Creative Essay Ideas on Paper

The brain dump method is the easiest way of handling a creative essay. Set a timer for 30 to 60 minutes, turn off all distractions, and type everything you can think of for every point on your outline. Don’t bother forming full sentences or correcting typos. You can even write passages out of order when genius creative essay ideas strike you. At this point, your goal is to get as many words on paper as possible.

Considering you’ll likely edit out a bulk of the things you type through brain dumps, plan several sessions and type until you have around two to three times more material than the creative essay requirements call for. After that, take a break and think of other things you could add to the paper. Finally, return to your writing and start putting things in order. Be ruthless and cut out anything that doesn’t match the best creative essays you read, but leave the good parts in. There should be enough material for you to work with and craft a solid piece.

Editing, Proofreading, and Formatting

Students often ignore the post-writing steps of how to write a creative essay, thinking that the hardest part is over. However, editing and proofreading are essential to make the paper look its best and create a positive first impression.

Start by taking a break for at least a few hours and return to revise your creative essay with fresh eyes. Look for things that stand out, and make the paper hard to read and understand. Tighten up your prose and rework word choice to replace weak phrasing with powerful words. Once you are 100% happy with the contents, use advanced spellcheck to weed out errors, missing commas, and annoying typos. Although they don’t detract from the message of your narrative, they make your writing look sloppy and unprofessional, which isn’t an impression you want to make on a college admission board or contest judges.

Finally, check out the creative essays formatting requirements and ensure your entry meets them. It would be a shame to let all your effort go to waste just because you uploaded a Word file instead of a PDF. 

Creative Writing Examples

If you have never handled creative writing topics, our advice won’t do you much good without examples and practice. We suggest you check out writing competitions and read winning stories that are typically updated every year. For example, you can find the winners of The Harvard Crimson Global Essay Competition 2024 here. 

Word of caution: Don’t let yourself get stuck scrolling through endless samples. It’s an easy way to fall into procrastination, and comparing your work with the best writers out there can be truly disheartening. To avoid this trap, set a maximum threshold. Read three essays and take a break to analyze them before deciding if you need to see more. Moreover, reading literary analysis and excerpts can be more helpful than analyzing whole entries. 

Here’s what a creative essay introduction could look like. It sets up the scene nicely and the tone changes dramatically between the first and the last sentences, drawing the reader in and making them curious to learn what the phone call was about.

“I was enjoying a peaceful day at the beach when a shrill sound of a phone call shook me awake. My hands took a while to find the offending noisemaker under the pillow, and the bright screen hurt my bleary eyes. I took the call a second before it would have gone to voicemail, already dreading the news. Nothing good ever came from calls at three in the morning.”

Narrative symmetry or circular structure is among the staples of creative essay writing, so if you don’t know how to finish your story, revisit the set-up and draw on it to formulate a satisfying ending. The example below uses the idea of a phone call to remind the reader of how the story started.

“It’s been years, so I know someone else has my grandma’s number, but my fingers still itch to dial it and hear her voice. I still catch myself thinking of all the things I could tell her about my classes and my boy troubles. I imagine her questions and her admonishments, her smile, and the way she’d ply me with tea and cookies. I know one last call would not make a difference, so I keep my stories inside my head and my memory of her inside my heart.”

As you explore more creative writing examples, don’t just read them. Analyze what makes them good or bad. Think of the metaphors and similies used, the sentence structure and word choice that provoke powerful emotions and draw you in, and consider ways of incorporating such literary devices in your writing. You can also find ways to make bad writing better. Find what doesn’t work for you and imagine what would improve the piece and make it more impactful. It’s a time-consuming exercise, but it will be much more helpful for your writing skills than just reading the essays and feeling like you could never write anything that good. 

Pro Tips for Writing a Creative Essay

The only way to get better at creative essay writing is to practice. The more you write, the better you’ll become. But if you take the tips from expert writers, you can master the skill sooner. Here are a few ideas worth testing:

  1. Work your way back from the ending. If you can’t think of a good way to begin a creative essay, write the ending first and rewind the story to the point where it makes sense to start it.
  2. Read, analyze, and keep notes. Whenever you read fiction or nonfiction for pleasure, take note of the phrases and ideas that stick with you. Create a file or a Notion page with the best ideas, such as creative ways to start a paragraph or smooth transitions. Revisit this file before embarking on a new writing quest.
  3. Layer in details about people and settings. One-dimensional characters and places make for boring stories. To make your creative essay dynamic and memorable, add details that speak to all five senses and introduce small quirks, but make sure they serve the narrative. 
  4. Incorporate extended metaphors or themes. Use simple things, like weather patterns or setting details (flowers, colors, clocks, etc.) throughout the creative essay to tie different scenes together. For example, the ticking of a clock can signify tension, while a character constantly checking the time could transmit annoyance or impatience.
  5. Know when it’s time to ask for help. Sometimes, it’s easier and faster to pay for essay assistance than to keep struggling. Professional writers will help you wrap your head around requirements and provide a template for you to follow.

Finally, we recommend saving all your creative writing attempts for posterity. Analyzing the progress you’ve made over the months and years can be very motivating, especially when you run into writer’s block or feel like your efforts aren’t rewarded. Besides, you never know when the time comes to recycle an old idea with your new skills.
Need More Creative Essay Writing Help?

Of course, we couldn’t fit everything we know about how to write a creative essay in a single short blog post, but we tried to cover our bases and share the most relevant tips and tricks to help you deal with this assignment. Still, no amount of helpful advice can save your grade if you’re out of time and energy to complete the task and submit it for grading. That’s where our expert writers come in. They can take over at any stage of the writing process, from coming up with an idea to editing and proofreading the piece. Just say write my paper, and we’ll match you with a professional writer best suited to completing the task.

Need More Creative Essay Writing Help?

Of course, we couldn’t fit everything we know about how to write a creative essay in a single short blog post, but we tried to cover our bases and share the most relevant tips and tricks to help you deal with this assignment. Still, no amount of helpful advice can save your grade if you’re out of time and energy to complete the task and submit it for grading. That’s where our expert writers come in. They can take over at any stage of the writing process, from coming up with an idea to editing and proofreading the piece. Just say write my paper, and we’ll match you with a professional writer best suited to completing the task.


  • What are the key elements of a creative essay?

    If you think of writing a creative essay as a story or a script, its three key elements include set-up, conflict, and resolution. The first act should introduce the main characters and their motivations, and set the scene. The second act should hold ever-increasing tension that culminates in an explosive conflict, while the third act should come with a final resolution of the issue.

  • How do you start a creative essay?

    An attention-grabbing opening is critical for a creative essay, just like it is for other types of writing. You can start with a provocative question, a surprising action, or a line of dialogue. Setting the scene of the event is also a common practice, as it helps draw the reader in and set the mood of the piece. In most cases, you won’t have a thesis statement, but the introduction of a creative paper should work like the first act of a movie, introducing the main characters and setting up the conflict.

  • Can I use personal experiences in a creative essay?

    You can and you should, as most creative essays are short-form memoirs or autobiographies. In most cases, you’ll be required to provide a piece of non-fiction, so while you can flesh out the story with poetic details, the main events and characters should be based on your experience or that of another person.

  • How long should a creative essay be?

    There are no hard rules when it comes to working on a creative essay. It can be as short as 500 words or as long as 2,000 words. Refer to the professor’s instructions, admission essay requirements, or the contest rules to learn the maximum word count.

  • What are some unique creative writing techniques?

    One unique type of creative essay writing is the hermit crab essay. It takes on the “shell” of another type of writing, such as a subreddit, Twitter thread, recipe, or pep talk. It’s important to match the form of the hermit crab essay to its context to justify the structure. For example, if you want to become a chef, you can describe your first experience in the kitchen in the form of a recipe your grandmother shared with you.

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