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Can academic and creative writing go together?
Formation affects writing skills
Obviously, as we move forward in our education we are willing to improve our writing skills and our knowledge and understanding of how grammar works. During our university years we are required to write academic papers and essays, reports on researches, therefore, we also tend to pay more attention to formalities and how to be objective.
The problem is that because we become eager to develop our college production, we usually forget about creative writing.
As I'm trying to come up with a good proposal to apply for a PhD program I'm also working as a freelancer, writing, proofreading, and translating. I don't really choose my texts' genres, but while I'm doing my job I realize how easier it is for me to write in an academic-like style - a more objective, descriptive and informational style, that is - than to create something like a narrative or poem.
When I was a teenager I used to write poetry frequently; it worked as a scapegoat. Nowadays, I can find some getaway in researching and writing about a topic I'm interested in. Creative writing has just become much less prolific, even though I still try to produce some.
What you read is what you get
Personally, I also got used to do more academic reading and because of my bachelor and master's degree in Literary Studies, even novels gradually became sources for academic reading. What bothers me is that I now have such a critic eye for stories I just can't simply enjoy them as entertainment; I'm always analysing structure, language, narrative strategies... (I remember like it was yesterday how nightmarish "Twilight" was for me, because of the weak Portuguese translation and the simple, dumb construction of the story.)
What is more, I tend to be objective as hell when writing about a research. I like to make it simple and quick, since long papers, with whole unnecessary paragraphs are boring and you end up wasting a preciouss time reading those redundant explanations.
During master's program I got used to accomplish 10- to 20-page essays in a week time frame. On the other hand, almost 3 years came by without me writing a single short story whatsoever. Fortunately enough, I've never stopped blogging, and that helped me to stay somehow "artistically creative".
Similarities between academic and creative writing
Although we think academic and creative writing are completely different styles, there are some general qualities one can approach to achieve both a well-written formal paper and a good narrative or poem. Independently of what is your "textual goal", you should look for a strong structure by defining your key terms and working on making them clear to your readers - whether in implicit or explicit forms. For all genres it is important to know your target audience as well as having a transparent purpose in your head - although the way in which you are going to convey your purpose may vary.
Academic papers demand objectivity and lucid explanations, preferably followed by specific, solid examples. Everything must be planned before you start, so that you'll have a well organised and articulated composition. Creative writing, on the other hand, doesn't need to follow any specific rules when it comes to formalities, as long as it's effective. In this sense, organisation is not important, but articulation is; you must have strong characters and a convincing story line. Thus, instead of worring about a plan, one should turn the attention to a first draft - you can, of course, take your time to develop a plan or a quick outline, but having a draft is really what you should look for, so that you can rewrite and refine it as you please.
In each case, as you may know, practicing is crucial and there is nothing wrong with acquiring a few creative abilities to be used in your college work. Eventually, your personal style will show up in academic writing and you shouldn't be afraid of that if you keep in mind what are the necessary tools of the trade.
At this point, I do have some former teachers who can recognize my texts without me having to sign a paper. In fact, I did the proofreading of a friend's master's dissertation and the teacher who oriented her asked if I was the one who corrected the text because of the edition - now, she says I'm the one to look for when you want to chop things off! It really was a great thing for me to stick to my writing style, but always taking the rules into account - and by that I mean not going too much outside of the box of formal writing.
There is no place for crazy experimantion or innovation in academic texts, even if you're attending a Fine Art or Creative Writing college because your main purpose is to be analytical and as translucid as possible. You can do that in a prose and sometimes it may work, but the risk of getting low grades or negative assessment from the examining bank will be way too high. (And if you don't know the teachers, it's specially hard to tell whether they are keen on innovating, or prefer to follow traditions.)
That being said, don't try also to be so extremely traditional to the point of sounding like an old-school, highbrow scholar. I did know a fellow student who've been criticized a lot by the teachers for being excessively competent, thereby, arrogant. To this day, I overhear people saying they can't stand reading this person's articles because of this overtly flowery language resulting in annoying, tedious texts with no objectivity. Besides, how are you supposed to improve your skills if you already consider yourself a formed scholar before finishing college? In this case, being overconfident is a probable sign of naivety.
The tip about not trying to be perfect works well with both formal and informal writing, hence we can't make anything perfectly. Flaws are interesting and assure your humanity - an asset academy is frequently regarded as failing to recognize even though it's always there.