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as an adjective, as some descriptive term, is in the fact that I cannot
conceive of ‘creative’ as something available to an attitude of discreet
choice, as though one were able to agree or not, as its interest quickened
or wanted in one’s thought of it.
also, the desire for communication by human beings with other human
beings. The origins of writing systems relate to the desire and, perhaps
also, the need for a system of preservation and record, that continues
what human origin, comes Creative Writing?
case, to encourage, and quite often admire it? Why does this Creative
many people, appearing in so many types, roles and locations?
on art. Creative Writing offers an instance of both, almost exclusively
built of the most common of human communicative tools – words –
adopting and adapting these to a purpose that seems at once universal
and selective, simultaneously. To consider the origins of this, what
must surely be our most pervasive art – on whose undertaking so many
other arts rely – and our most commonly undertaken form of creative
communication, would seem a natural action; yet relatively few have
speculated on it, and, indeed, most of these have considered Creative
Writing entirely in relation to its products, not to its actions. Where it has
been considered in terms of its actions, not its end results, the analysis
has located itself in a notion of difference or strangeness – but not in the
idea of Creative Writing actions as part of our wider human landscape,
but, indeed, because we are human.
ixx On Creative Writing
What, then, is Creative Writing? Let me put forward two propositions
to situate this question – though not simply to situate it in terms of its
material manifestations (i.e. the physical evidence that it leaves behind)
to consider how (and if) these propositions offer useful insights.
Proposition I: Concerning the Nature of Creative Writing
‘Creative Writing involves a set of activities, or process that can be
discovered by the investigation of disseminatedworks.’Thisproposition
can be considered by reference to:
(1) Creative Writing primarily involves ﬁnished works?
(2) Acts and actions of Creative Writing can be observed in ﬁnished
works? (The deﬁnition of ‘action’ used here is ‘a collection of acts,
the deﬁnition of act is ‘something done’.)
(3) No unﬁnished works are created by creative writers?
(4) All works of Creative Writing are disseminated?
(5) All dissemination of Creative Writing occurs, and has occurred,
(6) There is always a direct relationship between acts and actions of
Creative Writing and disseminated works?
under the term ‘process’?
Proposition II: Concerning Human Engagement with Creative
‘Creative Writing involves personal and social activities with the
intention of producing art and communication.’ This proposition can be
considered by reference to:
(1) All works of Creative Writing have aesthetic appeal?
(2) All works of Creative Writing clearly communicate?
(3) Intentions in Creative Writing are always met?
(4) Creative Writing is solely an act or range of acts?
(6) The personal and social activities of Creative Writing have equal
(7) Communication and art always hold equal status in society?Introduction xi
One thing informs these propositional questions: that is, the human-
action that CreativeWriting exists, but that it is in human understanding
that Creative Writing has evolved and continues to evolve as both an art
and communication. With this in mind, statements made by creative
writers reveal much, if both the actions and results of Creative Writing
are kept equally in mind.
the cool drawing room of our country house, as I was running
downstairs with my butterﬂy net on a summer day half a century
always there with me; there’s the red sand, the white garden bench,
Duval-Smith and Christopher Burstall. Here there is memory, there is
writerly technique, there is action and thought and the presence of a
of memory to the writer’s page. How, then, to incorporate love into the
critical understanding of what Creative Writing might entail? Or, as is
equally important, to consider the nature of love in an act, and a result,
that is both art and communication? Creative writers regularly release
ideals and ideas about Creative Writing. Sometimes these are incredibly
or poem or play, their daily lives, their loves. Other times they reference
The fact that they frequently move ﬂuidly between the individual and
holist, their personal experiences and the public ones that inﬂuence
andimpact upon them, isindicative oftheﬂuidity ofCreativeWritingas
a practice, while reminding us likewise that Creative Writing, as a range
of results, rarely stays still for long.
I was rescued by Paul Engle’s Writers’ Workshop in the mid-1960s,
didn’t read that kind of crap. But somebody else out here did, andxii On Creative Writing
assured him that I was indeed a writer, but dead broke with a lot of
a life preserver, which is to say a teaching job. That same autumn
he threw another to the world-class writer Nelson Algren, and yet
another to the Chilean novelist Jose Donoso. All three of us were
headed for Davy Jones’s locker for sure.
The ability to read or, indeed, ‘hear’ the differences between this
piece (written by Kurt Vonnegut) and the earlier piece, by Nabokov, is
That is, we
distinctively human, a result of nature as well as nurture.
our own educations, our cultures, and our physiological conditions
(e.g. what can we hear, and what do we hear in the same way as some-
one else?). But this piece also reveals additional, speciﬁc differences in
understanding, in the way this creative writer engages with the world,
in how he views his place among other creative writers, and in what he
imagines words do, when placed in a certain order and situation.
How deep can we delve, then? And what dwells within here? It is not
merely the individual creative writer and the individual reader. It is
not merely the individual and the group or, more speciﬁcally, Vonnegut
and the culture around him. It is not even simply the present (of the
Creative Writing) and the past (our reading of it here, one, ten, twenty,
how ever many, years after Vonnegut’s death). The equality of the
us, and the acts and actions of the creative writer who undertook this
Creative Writinghas varied, and will vary,over time and space. And the
instances of engagement that this involves will draw on individual and
Commonplace? Colourful? Would Nabokov use it? In what way has
Vonnegut used it? Of course, the sentence in which this word appears is
ﬁlled with direct and indirect references to so many things. It contains a
compliment to Paul Engle. It contains a reference to genre – that is, the
genres that Vonnegut was working in, and around, at the time (science
ﬁction, for example) – and it contains a comment on popular versus
high culture. It also refers to the high quality of work (teaching as well
as learning) being undertaken at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop during
Engle’s time and to the nature of the experience of being a creative
writer associated with that Workshop. The complexity of the experience
Nabokov describes, but it strikes Vonnegut differently, and this his
portrayal reveals. There’s also cultural and societal baggage (though
‘baggage’ produces perhaps too negative a connotation). Both reveal as
creative writer’s place.
To return, then, to the acts and actions, the human activity, that
Creative Writing involves we hear (and sometimes read) all manner of
clues to the nature of Creative Writing. Quite often, the mix of ‘personal’
even, ‘single’ and ‘collective’ views) is complex and highly developed.
It is the result of interactions of circumstance, knowledge and under-
standing, throughout time. Frequently, it contains both direct and
indirect references to action and thought. Always it reveals some of the
ideas and ideals of the creative writer as they involve themselves in
Creative Writing. Take, for example, this from Nobel Prize winner Toni
Morrison, delivered to the American Writers Congress in October 1981.
She is referring, initially, to a comment she’s made earlier (‘We are
toys ...’), in relation to commercialism and a publishing obsession with
That this notion of the writer as toy – manipulable toy, proﬁtable toy
– jeopardizes the literature of the future is abundantly clear. But not
only is the literature of the future endangered; so is the literature
of the recent past. This country has had an unsurpassed literary
the coming decade, if it can hold its own. What emerges as the best
literature of the 1980s or even the 1990s may be writtenelsewhere by
otherpeople.Not becauseofanabsenceofnative geniusbut because
something is very wrong in the writer’s community. Writers are less
criticism have disposessed the writer of any place whatever in the
critical value of his work. Ideas, craft, vision, meaning – all of them
are just so much baggage in these critical systems. The text itself is a
mere point of departure for philology, philosophy, psychiatry,
theology and other disciplines.
Here we can hear Morrison’s ambition – in the year she turned 50,
before she won the Nobel Prize for Literature. We can hear a creative
thenationaroundher,andaclearsenseoftheaudiencesheisaddressing.xiv On Creative Writing
but a writer with a desire to address themes of structural and functional
as part of an historical cycle. This is different in philosophy from the
a societal container made up of individuals. Historical structure matters
here; individuals are not tied down entirely by materialities, but they’re
not able to operate free of them either. In other words, speaking in
shorthand, it is not difﬁcult to imagine Morrison, the creative writer,
writing a novel such as Paradise (1993), in which she portrays conﬂict
between two relatively structured communities.
Of course, Creative Writing isn’t as simple as that. Sufﬁce it to say,
human activity almost never can be reduced to a single plain of under-
standing. So we cannot simply go through the pronouncements of
Similarly we cannot, simply, discover the nature of Creative Writing in
in their choice of desk, or in the instrument or technology their use to
subject is a creative writer, make from these the very fact of Creative
Writing. And yet, we cannot do without these either.
The artefactual evidence of the act and actions of Creative Writing –
whether notes and scribbles, complementary works (those pieces of
writing, creative and otherwise, that are produced alongside primary
Creative Writing activity), ﬁnal works or ‘post-works’ (those responses
this artefactual evidence adds to the things that creative writers say,
verbally, some of which are quoted in writing, about what they do, why
they do it, and how the relationship between the acts and actions of
Creative Writing and its ﬁnal, or even preliminary, results interrelate.
These things are pointers, directional guides to what Creative Writing
entails, what it is, as a human practice. Thus, Yevgeny Yevtushenko:
A poet’s autobiography is his poetry. Anything else can only be a
footnote. Apoet is only a poet when a readercan see himwhole as if
he held him in the hollow of his hand with all his feelings, thoughts,
and actions.Introduction xv
In general, in spite of all the intrigues and the dirt that go with it,
sport is a cleaner businessthan literature. There are times when I am
very sorry I did not become a footballer.
Yevtushenko, a creative writer not without the ability to polarise
to his work interact. Likewise, he grounds his writerly identity in his
writerly action – suggesting, even if only brieﬂy, that the relationship
between his sense of self and his sense of the cultural community in
which he works or worked (because these statements were published
and public distance. Compare that with these words from Margaret
Atwood, talking about the writing of her The Handmaid’s Tale (1985):
How did The Handmaid’s Tale get written? The answer could be,
partly on a rented electric typewriter with a German keyboard in a
walk-up ﬂat in West Berlin, and partly in a house in Tuscaloosa,
shouldn’t be here.’ ‘Aw, don’t y’all worry,’ they replied. ‘They only
shootsfamily.’ Butalthoughthesetwoplaces provided,shallwesay,
a certain atmosphere, there is more to the story than that.
While I was writing it, and for some time after, I kept a scrapbook
with clippings from newspapers referring to all sorts of material that
ﬁtted in with the premises on which the book is based – everything
from articles on the high level of PCBs found in polar bears, to the
legal wives, for the purposes of child production, to conditions in
prisons around the world, to computer technology, to underground
polygamy in the state of Utah. There is, as I have said, nothing in
the book without precedent. But this material in itself would not
constitute a novel. A novel is always the story of an individual, or
several individuals; never the story of a generalized mass.
Interesting, here, that Atwood should be drawn to talk about
‘precedent’. Equally interesting that she should focus on the content
so much of the physical circumstances of the writing, even down to the
ﬁne detail of the kind of typewriter used and the entries made in a
scrapbook. These, previously unpublished comments were made in 1989
and eventually published in a book edited by Atwood, Writing with
Intent,in2005.WecanconﬁdentlyassumethatAtwoodwashappytoseexvi On Creative Writing
they appear. We cannot, perhaps, absolutely ascertain if she clariﬁed,
altered or in any way rewrote (however minutely) sections of this,
described in her bibliography as an ‘unpublished speech’ – though she
does suggest that she did not. In fact, we can reasonably safely conclude
that Atwood recognised the changes in circumstances, in location in life,
in personal Creative Writing history – all those evolutionary aspects –
because she tells us she considered exactly that:
Looking back at some of these essays – ‘essays’ in the sense of
‘attempt’ – I feel I might write them in another way if I were writing
we do is embedded in time, and time changes not only us, but our
point of view as well.
Speaking crudely, then, Atwood is covered If what appears in her
book of ‘essays, reviews, personal prose’ is not what she currently
occurrences, then this fact can be assigned to changes in ‘point of view’.
Not that any of this is necessarily orchestrated by the creative writer in
order to dupe the reader. Atwood, like anyone else, is situated in time;
and yet, she has the ability (via memory) to transcend linear chronology.
The fact that she transcends linear chronology, in part, in the act and
actions of Creative Writing is our focus here.
Creative Writing occurs in motion. Creative writers experience
Creative Writing this way. Cynthia Ozick, for example:
To return to the matter of credentials. A bird can ﬂy over any
continent you choose; it’s the having the wings that counts. A writer
can beat home in novel, story,essay or play; it’sthe breathing inside
a blaze of words that counts.
Motion, movement, activity. Similarly, Creative Writing exists, for
creative writers, as perception, memory and action ﬁrst, and as object
and result second. This needs emphasising. Creative Writing, for creative
writers, is ﬁrst and foremost perception, memory and action because it is in
creative writers. And it is in action that the Creative Writing becomes
deﬁned. That is: if the creative writer cannot act in order to pursue the
writing of something, then they cease to be creative writers. They may
have been creative writers, they may even have an existence ‘in memory’,
as creative writers; but they are no longer such. For this reason – though
their daily lives in the worlds of perception, memory and/or action.
Were they to live mostly in the worlds associated with speciﬁc physical
results (e.g. a ‘ﬁnal’ draft, a work completed) and physical objects (e.g.
a ‘published’ novel, poem, shooting script) then they would cease to
function as creative writers; and certainly, at points in their careers, this
cessation would prevent them from evolving as creative writers. Muriel
I must say that my rejection slips, if they fell out of the envelopes at
a rate of more than two a day, depressed me greatly. However, I
had a list of possible weeklies and little magazines to hand, and
immediately I put the poem or article into a new envelope with a
letter to the editor and S.A.S.E. If the work I was offering looked
shopworn, Iwould typeit out again. Themoneyforthesestampsfor
outgoing mail was a pressing part of my budget in those days.
Spark’s recollections here are those of a tyro artist; and they are
certainly those of the determined apprentice seeking approval for what
they are achieving or, in part, what their promise suggests they might
achieve. But that is not all that is being said. There is a systemic sense
to the way the which Spark acts and reacts. And there’s an emotional
and dispositional aspect, which she reveals openly, seemingly without
pretence. Behind this short story of struggle there is, also, intention and
meaning (both personal and cultural meaning). There are feelings and
reasons, which in themselves reveal much about Spark, but also much
about the nature of Creative Writing and its place in the human world.
and the echo of group psychology. And there is a set of cultural and
social rules and relationships that not only impact on action, but also on
devolved, inﬂuenced or applied.
Consider, in this vein, Spark’s very determined need to retype a
manuscript that returned to her ‘shopworn’. We could consider this
activity merely in terms of the niceties of the publishing industry at the
methodical, act? Could it be something to do with a wider interest in
appearance? Could it be some physiological need, relating to feelings
of rejection or the desire for acceptance? Could it be a form resistance?
Or could Spark employ it as an act of bold declaration? Whatever
the short quote, above) it is clear that this is an undertaking of somexviii On Creative Writing
importance, that (in this case) it left some physical evidence, and that it
carries evidence (both physical and metaphysical) about the nature of
so well in his work, Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data
of Consciousness and Matter and Memory, among others – real time
is not subject to the linearisation or compartmentalisation; rather, it is
durational, ﬂuid, unable to be measured by the methods of science or
considered as a series of moments AQ: Have changed ‘series’ from
‘serious’ OK?. Memory plays a role in a contemporaneous way, along-
side that which exists physically around us, and in conjunction with
perception. In addition, not all memory has immediate impact on action,
or even has perceived relevance for the actions being undertaken. So,
rather than seeing Creative Writing acts and actions as determined only
by the observed elements of ‘now’, or by perception based entirely in
direct and immediate links between memory and actions, it is important
interaction is complex and multifaceted and that notions of chronology
determined by the emergence of objects (e.g. works of Creative Writing)
is only part of this story. It is impossible to determine what Creative
Writing is, how it exists, why human beings undertake it, or even to
accurately interpret the evidence that Creative Writing produces with-
out recognition of this fact. Creative writers are negotiating this area
we can approach this very human activity.
1. The Creative Robert Creeley, MLN 89(6), Comparative Literature, December
1974, 1029–1040, 138–139.
2. Daniel Nettle suggests that ‘When a cultural invention like Creative Writing
comes along, it will ﬂourish if it is successful at capturing the attention and
motivation of a signiﬁcant number of people, and it will wither if it does
not’ (p. 102). Intriguingly, he also goes on to suggest there may be certain
‘evolutionary’ advantages associate with Creative Writing (p. 109). Nettle, D.
(2009)TheevolutionofCreativeWriting.InThePsychology ofCreative Writing,
Cambridge University Press, p. 101.
3. Nabokov, V. (1974) BBC Television 1962. In Strong Opinions. London:
Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
4. Vonnegut, K. (1999) New World Symphony. In A Community of Writers: Paul
Engle and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press,
p. 115.Introduction xix
5. Not to say, of course, that this is not complex. Alberto Manguel writes:
‘Whether reading is independent from, for instance, listening, whether it is
of such processes, researchers don’t yet know, but many believe that its
complexity may be as great as thinking itself.’ Manguel drawing from Merlin
C Whittrock’s work on reading comprehension. Manguel, A. (1996) A History
of Reading. London: Harper Collins, p. 39.
6. Morrison, T. (2008) For a heroic writers’ movement. In Carolyn C. Denard
(ed.) What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonﬁction. Jackson: University of
Mississippi pp. 157–158.
7. Yevtushenko, Y. (1963) A Precious Autobiography. London: Collins & Harvill,
8. Yevtushenko, Y. (1963) A Precious Autobiography. London: Collins & Harvill,
9. Atwood, M. (2005) Writing Utopia. In Writing with Intent: Essays, Reviews,
Personal Prose, 1983–2005. New York: Carroll & Graf, p. 92.
10. Atwood, M. (2005) Writing Utopia. In Writing with Intent: Essays, Reviews,
Personal Prose, 1983–2005. New York: Carroll & Graf, pp. 99–100.
11. Atwood, M. (2005) Writing Utopia. In Writing with Intent: Essays, Reviews,
Personal Prose, 1983–2005. New York: Carroll & Graf, pp. xiii–xiv.
12. Ozick, C. (2003) On being a novice playwright. In Maria Arana (ed.) The
Writing Life: Writers on How they Think and Work. New York: Public Affairs,
13. Spark, M. (2003) Emerging from under your rejection slips. In Maria Arana
(ed.) The Writing Life: Writers on How they Think and Work. New York: Public
Affairs, p. 54.
14. Bergson, H. (1910) Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of
Consciousness (F.L. Pogson, trans.). London: George Allen and Unwin.
15. Bergson,H.(1911)MatterandMemory (N.M.PaulandW.ScottPalmer,trans.).
London: George Allen and Unwin.PARTI
When speaking about ‘Creative Writing’ it is sometimes the case that
we are speaking about two things. That is: the activities of Creative
Writing and the ﬁnished works that emerge from the activities of
Creative Writing. However, most often the term ‘Creative Writing’ is
used to refer to the activities we engage in. The results of these activities,
alternatively, are most often referred to by their speciﬁc ‘artefactual’
names – for example, the ‘poem’, ‘script’, ‘story’ or ‘novel’ that emerges
from the acts and actions of Creative Writing.
This separation in language also represents a separation in attitude,
a separation that was extended by the strength of the focus during the
consumerist ideologies, supporting an economic system increasingly
became highly commodiﬁed. In a metropolitan rather than rural focused
production system, no longer trading in a relatively leisurely fashion
in hand-crafted objects or in a close community of labour exchange,
consumerism involved productandpurchaser,theroleof theproducer–
at least as it pertained to the recognition of the individual, or to place of
the personal – grew less signiﬁcant. That is not to pass judgement on the
goods and services for consumption and on the desire, and ability, of the
consumer to purchase these goods and services. If there was a producer
referenced at all the role of producer ‘branding’ was more notable than
the actual activities of that producer.
Of course, the word ‘production’ is being used instead of the words
‘Creative Writing’ or ‘creating’, to indicate this was a consumption and
2Creative Writing Primarily Involves Finished Works? 3
production cycle of a distinct kind and that it impacted upon how we
viewed Creative Writing. In the case of Creative Writing, the words
‘creative writer’, or ‘creator’ or ‘maker’ might seem more appropriate to
indicate the often individual nature of the acts and actions of Creative
Writing and to highlight the fact that not every piece of Creative Writing
was destined to a commercial exchange. Indeed, this is part of a point
worth developing later. Here, however, the important aspect of the
historical proﬁle is that it was product-consumption related, even while
culturally the latter 20th century saw the rise of individualism and the
declarations of the importance of individual voices. In the case of
economics, it was not the individual human ‘maker’ who held sway
but the individual human ‘receiver’. This was a cycle dependent on
the willingness of individuals to purchase, to receive according to trade
focused on artefactual brand (even in the case of services where
Language, then, whether verbal or visual, whether denotative or
‘works’, and demoted the relevance of ‘working’ or ‘undertaking’ to a
secondary rank in which efﬁciency, delivery to the market, adherence to
a promoted brand, and clarity of what was on sale, far outweighed the
accuracy of production information. Indeed, while later in the century
evidence of some Western concern with ‘fair trading’ or ‘exploitation’
of non-Western producers became evident, for the greater part of the
20th century the West, where consumerism most strongly ﬂourished,
devoted itself far more to delivery of goods and services than it did to
the question of how – physically or, indeed, ethically – these goods and
services were delivered. This focus on end commodity result even bore
an alternate moral standing by which the product, in the broadest sense
of the term, was expected to be available when and where the consumer
required it. The moral imperative of satisfying the consumer came in
Rather, it carried with it symbolic and cultural intention, high culture,
low culture, ‘well-made’, ‘poorly-made’, ‘expensive’, ‘cheap’, signiﬁcant
or dominated. Categories and ideals that transgressed the boundaries of
the material, but were always entirely tied to it.
We could take this historical perspective back further for Creative
acts and actions of creative writers owed much to the commodiﬁcation4 Part I: Concerning the Nature of Creative Writing
borne on the back of the ideal of copyright. Copyright, founded as it was
on the ‘concept of the unique individual who creates something original
observed the deductive shift, because in this deﬁnition the conﬂating of
‘something’ with ‘labours’ locates copyright in end, indeed ﬁnal, result
rather than in the labour, or creating itself.
From this perspective, we can extend such analysis to show how we
have seen considerable importance placed on ‘works’ rather than on the
in her chapter in The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in
Law and Literature, asks:
Will the author in the modern sense prove to have been only a brief
episode in the history of writing? By ‘author’ we mean an individual
who is the sole creator of unique ‘works’ the originality of which
warrants their protection under laws of intellectual property known
as ‘copyright’ or ‘authors’ rights.
This is a reasonable question to ponder, if we begin with ‘works’
rather than ‘working’, because if authorship is located in the ownership
of completed artefacts then of course the authors of The Construction of
Authorship are right to ask whether such a concept has any permanency.
Ownership of artefacts has to be seen as fragile because artefacts can be
exchanged, can be traded, can be sold, valued and re-valued, placed on
the market, or stored for future exploitation. But what about actions?
What about the acts and actions that a creative writer, or group of
creative writers, undertake? Once undertaken – even while being under-
taken – who owns these? If they are not contracted to someone else – say
in the case of a ﬁlm script or novel produced according to a pre-writing
contract – if they are not contracted to someone else, can anyone other
than the creative writer or writers ever own them? Indeed, to be entirely
accurate, what actually is it that is contracted if the writing of a work is
contracted? It is not the act or actions of the creative writer that, say, the
ﬁlm company of publisher has contracted; rather it is the work or works
they produce. They have, most deﬁnitely, contracted the labour, but if
the labour produces only labour and no result, would the contract be
seen to have been met? This question, too, we might visit later. But, for
creative writer contracted simply to write but never to be expected to
deliver some work or works to those who had contracted them.
The subject of Jaszi and Woodmansee’s book is copyright and
‘appropriation’ and it would be churlish to criticise their conclusions.Creative Writing Primarily Involves Finished Works? 5
They place their focus on artefacts and their contributors produce clear
which the analysis begins away from artefacts and towards the acts and
actions of creative writers and Woodmansee’s consideration of whether
authors will continue to exist becomeserroneous. Of course, authors will
of authorship. I take authorship here to be the activity of authoring; and,
as psychological act of creating, not about whether interpretation of the
works of others is a form of authoring, or about whether authorship is as
much a wider cultural activity as well as an individual one, or about
commonsense concept of the ‘maker’. Naturally, this approach brings
together the idea of the ‘creative writer’ with the idea of the ‘author’ and
that, in itself, raises many questions. But because this conﬂation has also
been generically, colloquially and even critically undertaken by many
others, it would seem simplest to let it remain, at least for now.
Jaszi and Woodmansee are not unaware of the problems in all this,
explaining in their Introduction that:
To merit copyright an ‘expression’ must be ‘ﬁxed,’ leading to the
exclusion of a wide range of improvised works and works of oral
writers are ﬁxed and how many are in motion, part of a continuum of
action, inseparable from the action beside them, before them, or after
them? Naturally, a ridiculous question because human actions are only
future acts and actions that may be undertaken. To recall some related
comments by Henri Bergson brieﬂy:
From Creative Evolution:
Let us start, then, from action, and lay down that the intellect aims,
ﬁrst of all, at constructing. This fabrication is exercised exclusively
on inert matter, in this sense, that even if it makes use of organised
material it treats it as inert, without troubling about which animated
it. And of insert matter, fabrication deals only with the solid; the rest
escapes by its very ﬂuidity.6 Part I: Concerning the Nature of Creative Writing
From Time and Free Will:
On the one hand we attribute to the motion the divisibility of the
space which it traverses, forgetting that it is quite possible to divide
this localizing of progress in space did not amount to asserting that,
From the Creative Mind:
I was indeed very much struck to see how real time, which plays the
leading part in any philosophy of evolution, eludes mathematical
treatment. Its essence being to ﬂow, not one of its parts is still there
when another part comes along.
philosophers, was the result of an artiﬁcial re-grouping of conscious
life. What would direct vision give – immediate vision, with no
And this from Time and Free Will:
The whole difﬁculty of the problem that occupies us comes from
of things, taken from a ﬁxed point by that special apparatus which
is called an organ of perception – a photograph which would then
be developed in the brain-matter by some chemical or psychical
process of elaboration. But is it not obvious that the photograph,
if photograph there be, is already taken, already developed in the
very heart of things and at all the points of space? No metaphysics,
no physics even, can escape this conclusion. Build up the universe
with atoms: each of them is subject to the action, variable in quantity
and quality according to the distance, exerted on it by all materials
That is probably enough of a selection from Bergson’s philosophical
writings to give a ﬂavour of them to those unfamiliar with his work, and
enough to suggest equally how a concentration on ﬁxity, and a failure
to deal adequately with the active aspects of human activity, humanCreative Writing Primarily Involves Finished Works? 7
how this might thus relate to the actual status of ‘completed’ works of
If, on ﬁrst thought, the sense in which a work of Creative Writing
is ‘complete’ when released to a readership or audience suggests we
might use these ‘completed’ works as focal points for a consideration
asks us to think again about how we co-locate such discussions with
those about Creative Writing itself. Equally, the statements of creative
writers about their activities frequently undermines the suggestion that
is – ever truly complete. To take the comments of one of Henri Bergson’s
near contemporaries, Ernest Hemingway:
you have communicated your emotion, the sights and sounds to the
reader, and by the time you have completed this the words, some-
times, will not make sense to you as you read them, so many times
hear about it. But you do, you read it in covers and you see it all the
places that now you can do nothing about it.
Hemingway expressing here the creative writer’s desire to ‘do some-
thing about it’, to take action to correct some element of their writing
that notions of the object, of ﬁnality, of completeness, denies them easy
access to correct. To stay in broadly the same period, add to this these
observations from the diaries of Virginia Woolf:
This from Sunday 22 January 1922:
... The birds wake us with their jangling about 7 o’clock; which I
take to be a sign of spring, but then I am always optimistic. A thick
mist, steam coloured, obscures even twigs, let alone Towers Place.
Why do I trouble to be so particular with facts? I think it is my sense
prod it with my pen. I try to pin it down.
And this from Saturday 2 August 1924: