It is almost impossible to go a single day without reading something. Whether an email, social media post, book, or even a store sign, we are constantly bombarded with words. But what differentiates the words we read every day? What is classified as literature vs technical writing?
In short, writing is all of the technical pieces you read, which can include essays, instruction manuals, and storefront signs. Literature leans more towards creativity, encompassing the novels or poetry you might read.
While this seems to be an easy concept, it’s not all black and white. Because, as with anything, there’s always some nuance. And intent matters, too.
What Separates Writing from Literature?
There are two main separations between writing and literature. The first is the intended audience, or rather, the intention of the audience when reading, and the second is the author’s intention when writing.
While the same person could be reading an instruction manual on how to put together a baby’s crib and Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, their intention in reading will be different.
The former is meant to inform the reader of something, in the above example how to assemble a crib, and the latter is meant to entertain (though, of course, not everyone who reads Great Expectations will find it entertaining – their loss!).
Writing isn’t just technical however. It can also be reading signs on someone’s lawn, the daily editorials in the newspaper, or advertisements you get in the mail.
Where the audience for writing is only sometimes purposeful (I mean, who accidentally stumbles upon an editorial and reads it?), consumption of literature is always deliberate. For writing, there often isn’t an intention of the audience, it is just unavoidable. A person can choose to never consume proper literature if they do not wish to do so.
Another separation between writing and literature is the author’s intent.
If they are looking to attract customers, explain a complex idea, or are looking to persuade their reader into believing their report, etc., then they are writing. Their purpose is clear, and they are being intentional with the words they use in order to achieve a specific goal.
Creating literature is more complicated than that. Many authors do not know where they intend for their story to go while they are writing it, or how they will get there. Their primary intention is to be creative, explore the depths of their imagination, and create a piece that will hopefully be consumed and enjoyed by the general public.
Difference Between Technical Writing and Literature
Though technical writing is not the only kind of writing that wouldn’t be classified as literature, it is one of the most prominent types of writing outside of literature. Both technical writing and literature adhere to specific criteria, where technical writing is non-fiction, while literature is predominantly fiction.
Though you can find non-fiction literary works, such as poems, in general, both types of writing do adhere to these two specific genres of writing.
Technical writing is direct, with factual language that is meant to inform or instruct readers. It is normally objective and is intended to either be written for people who are knowledgeable or seeking to gain knowledge on a particular subject, like experts, professionals, and academics.
Technical writing can also encourage people to take action, whether that’s building something according to the specific instructions, or encouraging someone to purchase a particular item. In that last particular case, though, technical writing is usually called copywriting.
Literary writing is more creative and humanistic than technical writing. Its primary purpose is to amuse or to fascinate readers, even when the subject matter is dark or there are moral themes being explored.
Its primary focus is to appeal to your emotions, whether that’s positively or negatively. There are many literary techniques that come with this creative writing style, but this style is written for general readers, not someone who is looking to gain or enhance a skill in a particular area of expertise.
What is Literary Writing?
Literary writing is written art to create a shared emotional experience. Literary works may be poems, essays, stories, novels, or any other piece of written work.
Literary writing is meant to explore. Pieces may explore an author’s creativity, convey specific emotions, or explore shared experiences and emotions. Therefore, literary works tend to be more humanistic than technical or other informative types of writing.
Literary writing also uses literary figures, such as similes, metaphors, and personification, where non-literary writing is usually more straightforward. But even this isn’t a perfect metaphor, because this is definitely a more technical essay and I try to use similes and metaphors to help make the point more clear. Clear as mud, right?
The author of literary works wants to take their readers on a journey through their imagination, and embellishments help with this as they allow the reader to explore a new world through experiences with which they may already be well acquainted.
Literary writing can also refer to specific time periods of writing, where many authors wrote in specific styles or about certain shared experiences, such as during the Renaissance, Classical, or Modernist periods.
As a First Reader for Deep Magic e-zine, for example, we got an awful lot of submissions that are beautiful literary pieces that definitely explore the isolation and uncertainties of the shared experiences due to the pandemic.
I don’t think we’re at a point where we’ll give the pandemic its own period name, though. But that’s okay – because it’s still a shared global experience that’s led to an increase in literary works.
Because of the above, literature is a form of art, with literary writing as the creation process. It pulls out specific emotions from readers and it can be studied, writing would be the process in which studies are written about literature.
The Gray Areas: Where Literary and Technical Meet
There are gray areas in regards to writing and literature; namely social media. Social media is both a way to share ideas and expertise while also sharing feelings and emotions. As such, social media is a gray area of writing – as it’s sometimes spoken rather than written and it uses both literary and technical aspects of writing.
Sometimes, creativity and technical writing go hand in hand to create something better than the individual parts.
Some posts on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, or Facebook, are just there to catch you up on someone’s day, to share recipes, or to post opinions. This would fall under the writing category. Words for the sake of words, to sometimes convince others into changing their opinions.
However, social media is also a creative outlet. It allows for a person’s individuality to shine through, and for specific stories to be told.
Some use social media in order to share their creativity, create stories, and appeal to their reader’s emotions.
It’s difficult in this instance to generalize whether this would be literature or writing. If the author is being objectively creative, using their imagination, and creating new pieces, the definition above would label that as literary writing.
But very few people, if any, including the authors themselves, might think of it as literature.
Conversely, you have script writing. Writing that was in fact created to convey emotions, and is using someone’s imagination, but is being sold as something more visual, and aims to sell itself to a specific market.
Writing Avengers: Endgame, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely tried to take concepts from a comic book, which could be seen as literary writing, and turn it into something many would pay to watch, like a technical writer might. But the actors are reading (and then performing it).
No matter what kind of writing one does, it’s not often an innate skill. It takes years of practice to get good at anything, including creating anything written. While the main difference is that writing is more technical in nature, and literature is more imaginative, any kind of written creation is on a sliding gray scale, rather than being black and white.
Key Takeaways on Writing Versus Literature
Now, I know that not everyone will consider social media or movies as literature or works of art that stand up to Dickens, da Vinci, or whoever else. But they are part of the world today – and they influence so many millions of people that it would be silly to ignore them.
So let’s not ignore them. Let’s look at the beauty that’s there – and appreciate a good story about a time heist mashed up with a superhero story.
Instead, let’s focus on the fact that both writing and literature are here to stay. And that today’s stories will be tomorrow’s classics.
Furthermore, I’ve tried to tackle this question from a very matter-of-fact point of view. But if you really want to know the difference between literature and technical writing? Well, make sure you see what I’ve got in the resources in this article.
Writing Excuses did a great set of podcasts comparing poetry with other types of writing that will really get you thinking.
Then after you check those out, make sure you take a gander at what I’ve got available for you to read in my free online library. Let me know if you think I manage to tell you a good story – full of emotions that’ll leave you feeling like the story was worth the ride.
When learning about anything, it’s important to learn from various reputable sources. These are the sources I used in this article and my personal research to be more informed.