The Bloomsbury Introduction to Creative Writing
eBook - ePub

The Bloomsbury Introduction to Creative Writing

Tara Mokhtari

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  1. 296 pagine
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

The Bloomsbury Introduction to Creative Writing

Tara Mokhtari

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Covering all of the major genres, The Bloomsbury Introduction to Creative Writing is a complete introductory manual for students of creative writing. Now in its second edition, the book features an updated and expanded chapter on writing for digital media, and new exercises for reading across the genres and writing hybrid forms. Through a structured series of practical writing exercises – perfect for the classroom, the writer's workshop or as a starting point for a portfolio of work – the book builds the student writer from the first explorations of voice and the relationship between writing and knowledge, through to mastery of a wide range of genres and forms. The Bloomsbury Introduction to Creative Writing covers such genres as:
· Autobiographical writing
· Short fiction
· Poetry
· Screenwriting and writing for performance
· Writing for digital media, including video games and social media With practical guidance on writing scholarly critiques of your own work and a glossary of terms for ease of reference, The Bloomsbury Introduction to Creative Writing is an essential manual for any introductory creative writing course and a practical companion for more advanced writers.

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Writing and Knowledge
The exercises in this chapter are designed to help you organize your ideas into tangible material for new writings. You can use the products of these exercises to help you come up with ideas for the work you do in future chapters.
Everything is potential material for the writer. Students are often advised in writing classes to “write what you know,” but what does this actually entail?
According to Immanuel Kant, knowledge is derived from experience—both empirical and synthetic.1 This essentially means that the ways in which we ascribe experience to knowledge is partly about firsthand sensory experiences and partly about applying our judgments (which arguably are also originally derived from prior sensory experiences) to those sensory experiences.
What this means for our writing is that what we know is not restricted to the things which have happened to us in our lives; what we know extends to things like the stories we have heard from our families and friends, the research we do in various fields of work and study, the way certain pieces of music affect our moods, the things we assume about strangers we see in the street, the ways we interpret our relationships and the relationships of others, and the language with which we express ourselves and understand each other.
For example, when I was nineteen years old, I met a famous guitarist at a concert and the band ended up back at my house after the show. The guitarist, as it turns out, had been a junkie for five years until he overdosed and wound up in hospital a few months earlier. He said something to me about his experience which stuck with me for the rest of my life: “A drug addict will steal your wallet and disappear for a few days; a junkie will steal your wallet and help you look for it.” I took this explanation of his experience to be fundamentally about how the desperation of heroin addiction (in contrast with other drug addictions) makes it easy for a person to lie to himself and how a person’s whole identity becomes wrapped up in getting the next hit. It was a highly emotionally charged conversation to have with a stranger about his life experience and the conclusions he had drawn from them, and his revelations made us close friends very quickly. I have never taken heroin myself nor have I ever stolen anybody’s wallet, but this story told to me at 3 am one morning c. 2001 forms part of what I would refer to as my knowledge. I unconsciously applied my prior judgments about dishonesty, desperation, reckless abandon, money, drugs, friendship, and the nature of reverie and regret to a twenty-five word story told to me by a new friend, conjured meaning out of it, and committed it to memory and later to words on a page.
The connection between writing and knowledge is deeply complex, however. It’s about much more than just how our experience transforms into stories and poems. In fact, as you will begin to explore in the next chapter on self-writing and reflection, writing can be as much a way into new ways of knowing as it is a product of existing knowledge. One example of this is the ancient Greek practice of hupomnemata, which Michel Foucault describes as writing which is meant “to capture the already-said, to collect what one has managed to hear or read, and for a purpose that is nothing less than the shaping of the self.”2 What this means is that certain types of writing, especially reflective writing where we record things we learn or bear witness to, can actually help to transform who we are and how we experience the world. This point about how as much as we shape our writing our writing also shapes us is especially important to bear in mind throughout this chapter and also in Chapter 2, but you may discover that it has a broader bearing on your life as a writer. How does your writing practice affect the ways you tend to interact with the world? How much do you actually depend on writing to make sense of things you experience or observe? What are all the nuanced ways in which your knowledge, your writing, and your identity are interrelated?
The following exercises ask you to think critically about some of the things which constitute your knowledge. These are things which you might not think about every day but which play some part in making you who you are and what you understand about the world and about people.
Keep the work you complete in this chapter somewhere close at hand; it will help you if you find yourself getting stuck in the chapters which follow.
The writers’ block myth
If you have ever sat in front of a blank page with a blank mind and the pressure of needing to produce a piece of writing, then you know what people refer to when they whinge and whine about writers’ block. The author of this book rejects the principle of writers’ block, and here is why.
Firstly, as soon as the writer has everything she needs to proceed with the process of putting words down in coherent and connected sentences and paragraphs, nothing will stop him or her. If you have a project to write and the first thing you do is sit in front of a fresh new Word document, then you are doing things in the wrong order. You need to prepare yourself for any literary undertaking before you try to start writing. Different projects require different types of preparation. You may need to go to the library to research and read first. You may need to plan the broader structure by plotting chapters or subtitles or a story line. You may need to sit down and collaborate with somebody who you know is the right person to bounce ideas off of. But beyond all these practical methods of preparing to write something, you also need to do that other thing that writers cringe about all the time: you need to procrastinate! Yes. Why? Because what you are actually doing when you are cleaning your whole apartment top to bottom, walking the dog for the ninth time in one day, making another cup of coffee, or taking your third shower for the day is that you are allowing your mind to synthesize all the components of the project, both consciously and subconsciously. You are thinking about how the final product should read, you are thinking about a piece of research that you know you want to work in but aren’t sure how to, you are thinking about the criteria you need to meet, you are even processing your feelings on the content and the task itself, and what it means for you personally and professionally. So, if you have sat down in front of the empty page before you are ready, then naturally you aren’t going to be ready to start writing straight away—that is not a block; that is simply a premature attempt at beginning to write. Some projects take years of gradual conceptualization (like a novel or a thesis); others take one minute of focused thinking (like the exercises in this book).
Secondly, there is nothing useful about the term writers’ block. As soon as you start fretting that the reason no words are coming out is because you are irrationally blocked somehow, you are loading anxiety on top of your state of unpreparedness. This is not going to help you. In most cases, if you decide to go for a walk, do some reading, or cook a meal, as long as you make a deliberate effort to think about the best way into the piece that you want to write before sitting down again in front of that looming blank page, you will come back to it ready to start something. In some cases, especially when you want to write something which is personal and private, or something which requires you to do a bit more living or a bit more writing in other areas before you can do it justice, you can begin to collect your ideas slowly over a period of time while you work on other projects which you are more ready for. Regardless of the circumstance, there is no literal block, there is no immovable obstruction between you and your words, and so abandoning the notion of writers’ block could be the difference between completing something and never starting it in the first place.
So, the essential element to overcoming the Anti-artist Formerly Known as Writers’ Block is often just time and rumination. But what happens when you need to pump something out in a limited time frame and you have too many distractions or no idea of quite where to start? Well, the natural antidote to not writing anything is writing something.
This exercise is called “stream of consciousness” writing (sometimes it is referred to as free writing). There are many different approaches to this exercise. Some authors have used stream of consciousness as a method for writing entire novels. Ideally, you might begin all your writing tasks with five minutes of stream of consciousness writing. You can do it on a regular basis to strengthen your ability to write without censoring your thoughts or trying to grammatically alter your natural voice.
This exercise is timed and it should take exactly five minutes to complete. The premise of stream of consciousness is simply to put pen to paper and write continuously anything which enters your mind without censoring yourself or trying to use perfect spelling and grammar. Your goal is to fill as much of the page as possible in a timed five-minute period. If you look at that terrifyingly white page and your imagination doesn’t kick in straight away and you think, “what the hell am I going to write, what am I even doing here,” then you should write the words “what the hell am I going to write, what am I even doing here,” and keep writing exactly what pops into your head continuously for five minutes. Soon your creative consciousness will emerge from the panic or tiredness or distractions of the day and you will begin to come up with some very interesting spontaneous writing.
You don’t need to show anybody what you write in stream of consciousness exercises. The point of it is to practice deliberate awareness of your conscious thoughts and allow them onto the page without fear of judgment.
Focused procrastination
“Focused procrastination” may sound like an oxymoron, but it is an art form unto itself! The following series of tasks will help you practice dedicating the time you spend to performing otherwise mundane activities to conceptualizing a piece of creative writing with a little help from one of the tidiest poetic forms: the haiku.
A haiku is a short poem which originated in Japan. It consists of only three lines and usually deals with themes of nature and life. Because the haiku form is so short, it inevitably describes a single tangible image with a corresponding mood or tone. This requires the poet to consider the order of information presented in the haiku. For example, here is a haiku called “Blowing Stones” by the Japanese master poet Matsuo Basho (note that it is a translation from the Japanese, and so the syllable scheme is not consistent with the English haiku standard):
Blowing stones
along the road on Mount Asama,
the autumn wind.3
Here the image is of the windy road on the mountain in autumn. The mood might be described as somber or solitary, the autumn wind blowing stones almost the same way a person might kick a can while walking along a path. The subject of the poem is not revealed explicitly until the last line, but it is alluded to through the object in the first line. Implementing innovative ways of exposing the subject matter is a feature of the haiku form.
Traditional Japanese haiku (or hokku) consists of a total of seventeen “on,” which loosely translates to “syllables” in English. The first line has five “on,” the second line has seven “on,” and the third line has five “on.” English-language haiku is a little more lax about syllable counts, but it can help with composition and memorization in this particular exercise to restrict your haiku to the approximate breakdown of five syllables for the first and third lines and seven for the second line.
This task will get you to practice writing without writing. You could do it at home while you are doing laundry or some other mundane task. You could do it while you are in transit on public transport or in the car or walking through the city.
Your task is to compose a haiku poem in your head while you are away from your desk, and memorize it. You will need to keep it in your mind for one week before committing it to paper.
At some point when you have a few minutes to think while you are doing some regular daily activity, compose a haiku. The haiku needs to be inspired by a scene from your everyday life. It needs to be three lines long and adhere to the conventions of English haiku form. Begin to compose your haiku and try to memorize it. Recite it aloud. Tell it to a friend. You can modify it as you think more about it over the course of the week by rearranging the lines, replacing adjectives with more relevant or accurate nouns, tightening the syllable count, and playing with the communication of the image you want to convey. Keep the haiku in your mind, but do not write it down.
After having mentally worked on your haiku over the course of about a week, write it down in its final polished version. If you happened to get really into the exercise and composed a few haikus, then write them all down now.
Share your haiku with your study or workshop group and talk about your process. Was it difficult to compose something without being able to look at it and scrutinize how it appears on the page? Was it then difficult to remember it? Did you think of your haiku at strange times during the week, for example, before falling asleep at night, in the shower, or at dinner with friends? When did you find you were thinking about it most clearly? Did you find yourself mentally writing lots of haikus during the week instead of just one? And how might this exercise of writing when you are not writing help you in other writing projects?
The reading writer
We’re often told as early career writers that we must read. Our teachers tell us this all the time. The burning question is, why, exactly?
Being a writer is a privilege, albeit one that is often obscured by ...

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