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Truth vs. Creativity

They require a different set of writing skills yet many, even media students, are confused between the two. Natasha MH helps to briefly explain what sets them apart.
By Natasha MH

“Journalism and creative writing are two opposite ends of the literary rope. Their difference is grounded on the fact that journalism relies heavily on the truth, facts, current events, and knowledge. Creative writing, on the other hand, comprises much on art, fiction, and imagination. This is why these two ends don’t meet,” wrote writer Angelo Lorenzo in his article Truth And Creativity: Journalism Vs. Creative Writing. And I thank him for that elucidation. The problem is, many people confuse these two. The worse is when people who are good in creative writing assume they would have the knack for Journalism (only to question their credibility later). Not necessarily true, and hopefully this article can help to demystify the apples and oranges.

Throughout my career in writing, I noticed that many of my news reporter colleagues were not from journalism background. Some were previously lawyers, some studied accounting or political sciences, were literature majors like myself, but the one thing they all had in common was their analytical talent for understanding statistics, interpreting data, induction and deduction reasoning. With added training, these misfits of sorts rose to become some of the best writers in the country. Interestingly, I find that the ones who struggled the most to adapt were those who had a flair for frivolous writing, loved reading novels and possessed a transcript of A’s in English composition. So why couldn’t they adapt, you ask? It’s not difficult actually, only a slight misunderstanding of expectations.

Journalism stems from honesty and grounded observation. The ability to be objective is crucial for fair and balanced judgment. Creative writing stems from desire. The pursuit of the imagination – the wilder the better – and the luxury to be subjective. Therein it separates the literary psyche between the two. Journalism began as a way for people to chronicle their daily events that helped to disseminate information about their town as early as 1400. Creative writing existed much earlier – with pictures carved in cave dwellings as a form of expressive thought, a need or yearning to share a story. Ask a creative writer to explain how the avalanche took place in less than 10 words, and he will give you a cold stare. Ask a journalist, “That’s more than enough for people to know.” Thus, it’s all about keeping it short and simple. This is why if you’re good at writing hard news, chances are you have a good shot at copywriting too where the basic principle is akin to journalism: “minimal words with maximum impact”.

Writing hard news is a challenge of construction. Word economy, accurate diction and pressure from deadlines can affect newsworthiness. So you have to mince your words thoughtfully but skillfully. Creative writing is about exposition. A stunt you can even pull at the eleventh hour if you’re a confident wordsmith. You are more liberal to expound a simple description, add fluff, spice and what have you, while news reporting requires accuracy, brevity and being apt. To be succinct takes discipline and it is not surprising that someone who can write hard news well can also double as a great feature writer. Their narratives are terse and tightly woven like a high quality tapestry. The case may not always be so with the opposite. A good creative writer may not necessarily be skilled at writing hard news let alone in mastering journalism. When a creative writer is so accustomed to being free with his prose and word limit is not so stringent, it becomes a slippery slope to write a convincing hard news without being idyllic with your words. You may find it harder to compress 700 words of explanation into a 300-word account. What becomes of the other 400 equally important words, you may gasp in frustration? To a creative writer, those words are seminal to evoke one’s senses, provide depth of thought or to develop a profound imagery. To a journalist those words are simply redundant and costs space and money. And thus, this brings us to the point of functionality and purpose.

But fret not. Both skills can be honed. The key is to know how different they are so you know when to switch gears. That is why in mass communication schools, students are exposed to the various types of media writing because well, there are so many: writing press releases, copy for advertising, scriptwriting, speechwriting, to name a few. Once you can tell the difference, you will be able to sharpen those writing instincts.