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About this book

Exploring the writing process and its relationship to self, this guide synthesizes critical and creative theories of writing for both writers and readers. Each chapter links a range of theoretical approaches to one practical aspect of writing, using illustrations from fiction, poetry and literary non-fiction, and suggesting practical exercises for pursuing the topic further. The book will enable students to develop literary, critical and psychodynamic understandings of the creative process and to explore a range of key topics.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Creative Writing as a Reflexive Practice

Abstract
My list of requirements for creativity begins with motivation and courage… My second requirement is extensive experience and apprenticeship… the next requirement [is] insight into the workings of the self and into the workings of other minds… Being able to know how your own mind works and how other minds work is an underlying prerequisite for creating great art. Antonio Damasio, ‘Some Notes on Brain, Imagination and Creativity’, 2001, p. 64. It is commonly said that in order to be able to drive a car well we have to stop thinking about it. If we focus too much on the vehicle and how we’re operating it – how the gears work or which pedal to press when – we’re likely to end up in a ditch. The process has to become automatic. Somehow, and sooner rather than later, we have to reach the stage in which we’re no longer consciously concerned about where we put our feet or how to manoeuvre a narrow gap. To drive smoothly and efficiently, we have to lose our self-consciousness and become one with the car. Writing, at its best, is like that too. If we focus too hard on what we want to say and how we want to say it, the page or the screen may remain stubbornly blank, or words may appear but refuse to come alive or convey what we want them to. Only when we stop trying and become absorbed in the work – when we lose ourselves in the writing – does the process begin in earnest.
Celia Hunt, Fiona Sampson

2. The Self

Abstract
The house of fiction does not readily admit the self… Your relationship with it, as its creator, is tenuous, complex, subtle, utterly demanding. You are in it: you are absolutely stripped bare in front of it, exposed; yet somehow you are supposed to make sure that, at the end of the day when the lights are dimmed, the fire’s blazing and everyone is sitting comfortably, it isn’t you they see. Sue Roe, ‘Shelving the Self’, 1994, p. 51. In her reflections on her experience of working on a novel Sue Roe captures the paradox of the self in the writing process. The self is deeply involved in the process – ‘stripped bare’, ‘exposed’ – but at the same time it has to be ‘shelved’, removed from sight. How can we understand the self as reflexive in the way Roe suggests? In this first chapter we provide an overview of dominant trends in thinking about the difficult and much-contested concept of self, in order to locate our own approach and to provide a context for the remainder of the book. When we ask people, as we often do in our teaching, what they think of as their ‘self’, we get a wide variety of answers. Yet one particular idea looms large: the self as an entity existing somewhere inside us, a single real or true self which we are constantly searching for and will someday discover.
Celia Hunt, Fiona Sampson

3. Voice

Abstract
We can learn…to move flexibly back and forth between using and celebrating something we feel as our own voice, and operating as though we are nothing but ventriloquists playfully using and adapting and working against an array of voices we find around us. Peter Elbow, Everyone Can Write, 2000, p. 218. What does it mean when we say that we have ‘found a voice’ for our writing? The word ‘voice’ has a variety of meanings in common parlance. Most straightforwardly, it denotes the sound of the speaking or singing voice received by the ear: the opera singer, Placido Domingo, is said to have a powerfully resonant tenor voice. Metaphorically it is used to denote an empowering process: the introduction of universal suffrage in the early twentieth century is said to have ‘given voice’ to women. This is ‘voice’ conferred by an authority: the right to speak and to make one’s voice heard. This sense of voice is also implicit in an individual’s personal struggle to overcome the fear of speaking: we may say of a young man who has overcome his difficulty of speaking in front of his colleagues at work that he has managed to ‘find his voice’ and now has a greater confidence to express his opinions publicly. ‘Voice’ in these senses is a medium of oral expression of the individual or the group.
Celia Hunt, Fiona Sampson

4. Authorship

Abstract
The most essential stage of the writing process, it is often argued, is the process whereby the writer comes to stand outside the experience he intends to mirror in his book. The chief element of this ‘alienation’ is the conscious desire to examine oneself and the experience from ‘without’, from a standpoint at which both the writer himself and his surroundings lose their concrete features, and separate themselves from everyday reality after a long period of struggle and uncertainty to enter a fluid and less rigidly limited dimension. This new dimension exists only in the writer’s consciousness; within it the elements of reality no longer obey the earthbound laws of gravitation; the minutiae of time and place cease to be important. Jerzy Kosinski, ‘Notes of the Author on The Painted Bird’, 1965, p. 201. The idea of a writing identity brings us to the concept of authorship and what it means to be an author. Over the past thirty years or so discussions of authorship in literary theory have focused very largely on the place of the author in the finished product of writing – or, to be more precise, on the absence of the author from the finished product.
Celia Hunt, Fiona Sampson

5. Creativity

Abstract
Lie down on the bright hill with the moon’s hand on your cheek, your flesh deep in the white folds of your dress, and you will not hear the passionate mole extending the length of his darkness, or the owl arranging all of the night, which is his wisdom, or the poem filling your pillow with its blue feathers. But if you step out of your dress and move into the shade, the mole will find you, so will the owl, and so will the poem, and you will fall into another darkness, one you will find yourself making and remaking until it is perfect. Mark Strand, ‘The Dress’, 1995. In the above poem Mark Strand uses the metaphor of a dress to explore the self in the writing process. The dress, with its white folds, conjures up reason and orderliness, correct comportment in the world. As such, it is an impediment to the creative process; it interferes with the poet’s necessary contact with the more unruly unconscious, here represented by the night and the creatures intensely going about their business in the darkness. Sloughing off the dress removes the impediment, frees the body-self, thus making possible a deeper engagement with the unconscious. Only then can the real creative work begin in earnest.
Celia Hunt, Fiona Sampson

6. The Reader

Abstract
‘The writer’s audience is always a fiction’. Walter Ong, Interfaces of the Word, 1977, p. 53. What role does the reader play in our writing? This is unlikely to be the first thing we think about when we start putting pen to paper; we are more likely to be concerned with getting words onto the page. And yet, as we will discover in this chapter, the question as to whom we are addressing in our writing is just as important as what we have to say. The reader in the writing process For Mikhail Bakhtin, speaking and writing are always acts of communication. Our words are never simply ours; they are always seeking a response. The reader or audience is always present in the utterance and contributes to its shaping (Bakhtin, 1986, pp. 126–29). Bakhtin’s colleague Voloshinov shares this view: …the word is a two-sided act. It is determined equally by whose word it is and for whom it is meant. As word, it is precisely the product of the reciprocal relationship between speaker and listener, addresser and addressee… I give myself verbal shape from another’s point of view (Voloshinov, 1973, p. 86).
Celia Hunt, Fiona Sampson

7. Characters and Selves

Abstract
A character…can always ask a man who he is. Because a character truly has a life of his own, marked by his own characteristics, because of which he is always ‘someone’. On the other hand, a man… can be ‘nobody’. Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author, 1921/1995, p. 55. Much of what we have said so far has emphasised the importance of finding a balance in the writing process between freedom and control, of developing a metaphorical or reflexive relationship with our own material so that it takes on a life of its own within the holding environment we provide for it. This is particularly important when we come to think about the relationship we have as authors with the characters and narrators we create in our fictions. In this chapter we explore several different kinds of such relationships. Characters as autonomous creations In Luigi Pirandello’s celebrated play Six Characters in Search of an Author, the characters of the title – all members of an extended family – arrive unannounced at a theatre where a Director is in the process of rehearsing actors for a play. They are in great distress, having been brought into being by the rich creative fantasy of their author, who has then been either unable or unwilling to give them life within a play.
Celia Hunt, Fiona Sampson

8. Memory and History

Abstract
I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent, and which, once complete, will have no imitator. My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I portray will be myself. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions, 1988, p. 19. To some extent we always write out of our own experience. If this is the case, what’s different about writing specifically autobiographical material? Is there anything special about the way we remember, about the relationship between personal and shared worlds of experience? And what of the reflexivity of re-membering: does it have anything to show us about the writing process in general? At the opening of the Confessions, Rousseau declares his project is a scientific one: he will be ‘true to nature’. Despite the religious overtones of his title and the romantic revelations the book will contain, this is to be writing based on experiential knowledge: ‘Simply myself. I know my own heart,’ he continues. When Rousseau goes on to invoke the ‘sincerity’ of religious confession in this experiment, we need to remember that eighteenth-century science centred on the thought processes of ‘natural philosophers’ such as George Berkeley and David Hume,1 rather than on objectively repeatable techniques. It was subjective in the fullest sense of that term: a sense referring not only to agency but to a process of meaning-making which centres round the individual.
Celia Hunt, Fiona Sampson

9. Geography and Culture

Abstract
One must penetrate into the country […]. Sharpen one’s eye on the land. Hélène Cixous, Stigmata: Escaping Texts, 1998 pp. 3, 19. What happens when ideas and themes are transmitted between cultures? When I read a book written out of another culture and under conditions I haven’t experienced, how much of what’s going on in it can I really understand? Can I ever fully know what the relationship is of that book to its cultural context? I may have been told that a particular novel presents a radical viewpoint, or that a poet’s style is characteristic of his generation or school. But to some extent I have to take this on trust. ‘Often if you just read poems by someone from another country you don’t know where you are – you’ve got to situate them in their context,’ as the Editors of Modern Poetry in Translation acknowledge (Sampson, 2004b). Conversely, how much of what I write must be perfectly comprehensible to every reader, regardless of context? Can good writing rely on shared cultural assumptions – whether that’s an understanding of the myths of Ovid or of British TV programming in the 1970s – or must it always assume no prior knowledge? To put it another way, can there be such a thing as context-free writing; or is writing which is filled up with local cultural meanings actually more filled up with human meaning, since all humans live at least partly within local cultures?
Celia Hunt, Fiona Sampson

10. Embodied Selves

Abstract
Yet thy eternal summer shall not fade Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st; Nor shall Death brag thou wand’rest in his shade When in immortal lines to time thou grow’st. – Shakespeare, Sonnet 18, 1971 p. 1311. We can think about books as a form of virtual reality. All writers have bodies. And yet books are often read as if they do not; as if there were nothing beyond the margin. Reviewers and academic critics may talk about a text being what the writer themselves ‘says’ or ‘believes’, as if the writer were only a characteristic way of thinking, a self on the page. Even when it is in evidence – at public readings or signings – the writer’s body may become merely a function of the text. As Roland Barthes says, with irony, of the personal myth-making which surrounds much authorial hype: To endow the writer publicly with a good fleshly body, to reveal that he likes dry white wine and underdone steak, is to make even more miraculous for me, and of a more divine essence, the products of his[…] inspiration. (Barthes, 1981, p. 31)
Celia Hunt, Fiona Sampson

11. An Essential Self?

Abstract
I am; yet what I am none know or cares. Clare, J. ‘I am’ 1972, p. 601. Much of the time, when we reflect on ourselves as we are engaged in the writing process, we do so as individuals. We think in terms of developing an individual voice; of the particular life experience which we want to inform our writing; or of the character or image we have thought up ourselves. However sometimes – perhaps when we read about an experience we recognise, or when we have the sense of writing on behalf of a constituency – we experience ourselves as part of a group. In particular, we may have this experience because of aspects of our identity which seem inalienable. These characteristically include race, sexuality, gender and disability or illness (see Embodied Selves). But such identities, seen as being of our essence, are frequently as much thought about by people not being actively categorised in these ways as by those who are; and they may limit – or exaggerate – perceptions about our roles as writers or about our texts. As we saw in the chapter on Culture and Geography, thinking about race is culturally relative: that’s to say, it varies from culture to culture and also according to the perceived racial identity of the thinker. Very often the writer positions himself as a member of a particular culture in order to establish his authority to carry out a specific critique.
Celia Hunt, Fiona Sampson

Conclusion

Abstract
In this book we have endeavoured to show how reflexivity is a central feature of the writing process, and indeed, of the creative process in general. Whether we are thinking about what it means to find a writing voice, or our stance as authors in relation to our work in progress; whether we think about our relationship to imagined readers in the writing process, or to ourselves as readers of our own writing, or to the characters and narrators we create in our fictions; whether we think about our relationship as writers to history and memory, or to geography and culture, or to our bodies; reflexivity — the ability to move fluidly back and forth between an inside and an outside view of ourselves and our material — runs throughout as a theme. We have suggested that exploring this reflexivity, both through understanding it conceptually and entering into it experientially through writing practice, can help us to develop as writers.
Celia Hunt, Fiona Sampson
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