Micro Review: The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing

The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing
by David Morley
(Cambridge University Press, 2007)

The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing is intended to be a textbook of sorts for beginning creative writing students at the university level, and it offers a primer on the field of creative writing for these students (as opposed to Myers’ The Elephants Teach or Dawson’s Creative Writing and the New Humanities, which are institutional histories of the field intended for scholars).

Morley offers fair coverage of the three genres generally taught in creative writing programs: prose fiction, prose nonfiction/creative nonfiction, and poetry. He does not seem to favor one aesthetic practice over another (i.e. official verse culture or experimental, etc.), moving from Mary Kinzie to Oulipo, often in the same chapter. Morley also does a good job of covering different modalities by including writing that is performed or writing as performance, either oral or digital, although these modalities are given considerably less weight than practical concerns.

The book is divided into ten chapters:

  1. Introducing creative writing: This chapter merges the history and purpose of the field of creative writing, articulating why it belongs in the academy and theorizing its development since the start of history. Morley advocates for writers to also be voracious readers, mainly within their genres, eschewing how-to books and literary criticism.
  2. Creative writing in the world: Morley uses a conflicts approach to show literary criticism and creative writing to be two sides of the same coin and advocates for writers to practice reflective criticism of their own work. He covers how to use experience as well as language play to make creative writing and briefly describes the field of publishing and editing.
  3. Challenges of creative writing: In this chapter, various writing blocks are described, both imposed by the world and self-imposed, including indifference, rival media, procrastination, etc. Morley then examines challenges for translation, as well as experiment, design, and quality
  4. Composition and creative writing: This chapter outlines different practical matters necessary for the writing practice, everything from establishing discipline to dealing with how-tos and rules to finding the right notebook. The chapter then covers ways to vary or change one’s practice productively.
  5. Processes of creative writing: Morley describes seven process for creative writing here, all of which are heuristic: preparing, planning, incubation, beginning, flowing, the silence reservoir, and breakthroughs and finish lines. He then extends out into post-writing practice and some non-traditional practices like appropriation.
  6. The practice of fiction: Genre-specific introduction to writing prose fiction.
  7. Creative nonfiction: same as above
  8. Writing poetry: same as above
  9. Performing writing: In this chapter, Morley describes ways that writing goes from the page to the stage, arguing that since writing began as a speech genre, that the true measure for a work is to hold up when delivered as a speech act. Again, practical advice is offered first and then Morley branches out into lesser considered spheres of performed delivery.
  10. Writing in the community and academy: This chapter talks about connections between creative writing practice and the larger community, arguing that many writers need to be active in the community by necessity, as the academy or self-sustaining practice is for the few. He also argues for multidisciplinary creative writing practice within the academy, sort of a CWAC approach, if you catch my drift.

One thing I did not like about the book is Morley is dismissive of criticism/theory/philosophy, going so far as to say these things will detract from writers’ practices. I am fond, however, of using theory or introducing theory to creative writers as a way to allow for the development of complexity, which Morley doesn’t allow for. I guess he has to be polemical to fight off the literary factions within the English department.

Overall, I’d recommend adopting this book for classroom use. The book is conceptually similar to Wendy Bishop and David Starkey’s Keywords in Creative Writing, but this book’s structure makes it more appealing to teach with (Keywords is organized alphabetically and it could be useful to assign readings from it as topics come up and need explication). In addition to the chapters that introduce the field fairly well, Morley peppers his pages with gray boxes that include writing exercises, each one with an aim (rationale) for doing them. I suspect this book would work well in a multigenre introductory workshop course, where class time might be devoted to generating new writing and examining student writing in workshops. The book will allow students to get a feel for whether the field of creative writing is for them, while allowing the teacher to develop a class that focuses on students’ writing practice.

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