Creative writing, as a term, was invented in the 19th century to express the idea that there was writing, and then there was creative writing. With use, the expression has lost meaning and now creative writing is synonymous with writing fiction or poetry, as opposed to writing nonfiction. But at Stone Soup we think that it is is important to stick with first principles. Since our founding in 1973, our goal has always been to publish writing by children that is creative in the primary sense of the word: writing that is inventive.
A clear problem that we find reading through the stories and poems that are sent to us for consideration by children, their parents, grandparents, and teachers is that so much of the work sent is inspired by reading that it is itself not creative. The source of inspiration for writing that is genuinely creative is life itself. You will find that the stories in Stone Soup tend to be about life – and that is the reason.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of America's first great writers, was also one of the first to use the term "creative writing," and to discuss it relative to reading. In his Phi Beta Kappa Oration of 1838 he said that "There is then creative reading, as well as creative writing." Creative reading implies a dynamic act, it implies a reader who brings his or her own life to he reading – full engagement. It is the natural way with children to fall into books.
Amongst children it is common for the child who loves to read to also be the child who loves to write. It is often true that great writers are also great readers, but it is almost invariably true with children that reading and writing go together. Of course, it is from reading, largely, that children learn to write.
The greatest problem we find in reading through manuscripts sent by children (and their parents, grandparents, and teachers) in the hopes that we will publish them, is that so many of the child writers are so clearly readers of writing that is itself not creative. To create is to invent. It it is to bring something fundamentally new into the world, to say something that hasn't been said, ideally in a way that it hasn't been said before. Because we are each different, if we each write from the center of our own differentness, then it is not such a tall order to write creatively. The problem comes when we don't write from the center of our being.
One of the biggest impediments to creative writing is the fact that stories and poems are themselves inventions of culture. There are many literary traditions – not all of which are informed by the goal of being fundamentally creative. Clearly, works that are produced for the mass market are, by definition, works in which the goal of accessibility to the largest possible audience takes precedence over the goal of the author speaking from his or her soul. Unfortunately, there is a smaller literature written for children that speaks from the author's souls than there is for adult writers. And children, I think, are less in control of what they take in than are adults. We adults negotiate the thicket of unlimited options to choose what we want, but we have more agency than children. But what children have is a remarkable closeness to unbridled curiosity, and a drive to learn. That drive to learn is part of the drive to grow up.
If you find that your child, or your students, are stuck in writing that is not particularly creative, that their stories and poems rely on formula and cliche or ordinary ways of talking about the world, then you will need to give them a little push. You will find at the Stone Soup website hundreds of stories and poems that we have selected, for decades, out of literally tens of thousands of submissions. The best of what you will find here are transcendentally best, works that reward reading and re-reading. But even at our most ordinary, I think you will find in Stone Soup's stories creative writing that engages creative readers, and that will inspire your child or your students to reach into themselves to find the words and the way of weaving those words together that genuinely reflects the unique way in which they experience the world.