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What Is Creative Writing?

How to write creativelyA number of ALLi advisors and members, including Joanna Penn, Alison Baverstock, and Jane Dixon-Smith are making  their way to Manchester in August, to  take part in The Guardian Masterclass in Self-publishing  (August 4th).

I’m going to be talking about Writing Creative Fiction and Nonfiction.

The title of that workshop always leads somebody to ask first, what is creative nonfiction? (Because they think only fiction or poetry fall under the heading of creative writing). And then to the question of what creative writing itself actually is.

Creative Writing

For me, it’s partly a question of craft. Creative nonfiction uses some of the techniques and devices that we traditionally associate with fiction: dialogue, scenes, description of character and place.

It’s also a question of language, an alertness to words, to sentence structure and rhythm.

But mainly it’s something indefinable. In his great essay on creative arts, the  Spanish poet, Frederico Garcia Lorca, spoke of “dark water”, water that gathers its darkness from the fact that it is deep, and “black sound”, the fathomless empty, openness that resonates with “the mystery, the roots… the fertile silt that gives us the very substance of art”.

Lorca’s word for this was duende, a Spanish word roughly translates as “soul”. Duende is the heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity that accompanies the creative experience, the “mysterious power which everyone senses and no philosopher explains”.

This is the power of the creative,  impossible to adequately define,  unmistakeable when its experienced.

I’m thinking a lot about  this topic as I  blog my forthcoming book, Go Creative! It’s Your Native State, where I’m sharing lots of thoughts about creativity and the creative process over the coming weeks.

But what do you think? What’s your definition of creative writing?  Can it be defined? Can it be taught? Is it a question of form (fiction vs nonfiction) or genre or something more ineffable?

Share your  thoughts in the comment box below.

 

 

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12 Responses to What Is Creative Writing?

  1. Dan Holloway July 11, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    I would hesitate long and hard before supposing I could add anything to what Lorca says. I grew up reading the diaries of Virginia Woolf, the letters of Colette, and the travels of Patrick Leigh Fermor, so I have absolutely no issue with the idea of creative non fiction. I think I would probably go back to Plato (was it Plato? It feels like something from the Symposium which I studied during my doctorate) and the distinction between poiesis and mimesis. Creative writing is simply that – creating or making something new. Uncreative (?) writing is a reflection of what is there, a shadow.

    Of course, it is more problematic than that because these days we question whether true mimesis is possible at all – what does “reality” look like that we think we can reflect it or capture it? The answer is, of course, that we have only our own construct of reality, so the copyist’s work is actually the copy of their own construct and is, therefore, a bringing of something new into being.

    That said, if we are allowed to think in metaphors and fuzzinesses, you’d be hard pushed to beat Plato and the bringing into the world of things that have sprung from your soul (“children of the soul born in beauty” I think he calls it – I remember having to write pages and pages about what the “in” of “in beauty” meant in that context). Personally, I’d say fiction vs non-fiction is a bookshop’s artifice to help with shelving and the idea that creativity cannot span both is a bit potty. Two of my very favourite books of recent years, Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Katelan Foisy’s Blood and Pudding are “non-fiction” but most definitely creative

    • Orna Ross July 11, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

      What a lovely (learned) comment! I completely agree about creative nonfiction. That many literary foundations and arts councils won’t fund nonfiction books because they define creative or literary as fiction and poetry only is, as you say, more than a bit “potty”.

  2. Marta C. Weeks July 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    Look forward to reading more.

  3. Stephanie Jefferson July 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

    In answer to your question of whether creative writing can be taught it is both yes and no. I believe one can guide another in ‘seeing’ beyond what is there. helping them to think in more than one dimension. One can teach and learn the art of sentence and paragraph structure to weave a story. However, pulling this all together such that it creates a dynamic structure filled with texture and emotion within the reader comes from within the writer himself. It is something that the writer must experience within himself before he can create this for another. It is not a one shot attempt, but a craft that requires hours of practice.

    • Orna Ross July 12, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

      Nicely put Stephanie. Sounds like you teach writers? As to the hours of practice, oh yeah! Who was it said being a writer was like having homework for the rest of your life.

  4. Warren Shuman July 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    We are the sum of our life experiences. Life teaches us, I go to school everyday of my life. . Creating a story-world with authentic characters;their flaws and merits, their special voices, is not just a technique for me. Like an actor, in my mind I become the character, think like the character and speak like the character.They have a history, a back-story that defines them.and thus provides realism to my story-world. I am the Hero, and I am the Villain, we two give birth to the rest of the cast. Creative writing can be an esoteric experience.There’s an old expression: “If you don’t read, you can’t write”. As an avid reader since I was 7-8 years, that’s true. However, I believe we have to Live… to write; have a panoramic vision of life and the world, and a passion for what we write.

    • david james July 11, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

      From my forthcoming book Developing Writing Skills, I append a section on CW:

      30. CREATIVE WRITING

      Creative Writing is a term used to distinguish imaginative writing from discourse, which is simply written or spoken communication or debate. Sometimes discourse may be employed within an imaginative work, as in the Joyce passage in Chapter 27. It depends on the writer’s intention; whether it’s informative or imaginative.

      Creative writing allows more scope than discursive writing. Its structure is looser than that of a formal essay, brevity not being a major issue. The reader is prepared to wait; indeed he or she is often teased by not being told who or what is at stake. This may either absorb or bore a reader, depending on the quality of the writing and the needs of the moment.

      In schools this element of the curriculum may be a welcome relaxation from the strictures of formal instruction. For a moment the discipline of grammar and even logic are relaxed. The words pour forth, the pages accumulate and the constrained writer is off the leash. The downside of this is that the resulting effusion may well be unintelligible to any intended reader.

      On the other hand it may well be that within that heap of discarded pages lies the soul of genius. But whatever the outcome, the toil is never in vain. You may discover your metier is in another more disciplined form. Or you may just stick to jokes for blokes or angry letters to The Times.

      • Orna Ross July 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

        Interesting David. I would describe this sort of effusion as ‘freewriting’. For me, creative writing is more craft based — so while it begins with the sort of outpouring you describe, it will go through a refining process and that can take a lot of time and effort to get the words just right.

    • Orna Ross July 12, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

      So true Warren. About a decade ago, I started applying the creative principles I brought to writing fiction and poems to all the other dimensions of my life. No other act or idea I’ve experienced had such a profound effect. The School of Life became a whole lot more fun too! :)

  5. David James October 31, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Yes, that’s it, Orna – creative writing is freewriting refined.

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