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Keywords in Creative Writing

Keywords in Creative Writing

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Keywords in Creative Writing
    Book Description:

    Wendy Bishop and David Starkey have created a remarkable resource volume for creative writing students and other writers just getting started. In two- to ten-page discussions, these authors introduce forty-one central concepts in the fields of creative writing and writing instruction, with discussions that are accessible yet grounded in scholarship and years of experience.

    Keywords in Creative Writing provides a brief but comprehensive introduction to the field of creative writing through its landmark terms, exploring concerns as abstract as postmodernism and identity politics alongside very practical interests of beginning writers, like contests, agents, and royalties. This approach makes the book ideal for the college classroom as well as the writer's bookshelf, and unique in the field, combining the pragmatic accessibility of popular writer's handbooks, with a wider, more scholarly vision of theory and research.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-533-5
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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    (pp. xi-xvi)

    The idea for this book occurred to me years ago. One afternoon I was daydreaming. I imagined a nineteen-year-old undergraduate thinking of majoring in English, with an emphasis in creative writing. Throughout her high school years, she has written poetry and short stories, and her friends and family have encouraged her dream of becoming a writer. Yet she’s also been told, over and over, that very few people ever make it as writers. If only there were a concise, comprehensive guide to creative writing, she could begin to make an informed decision about her future plans.

    Should that student decide...

  2. Adjunct and Temporary Faculty
    (pp. 1-5)

    The plight of adjunct (part-time) and temporary (nontenured) faculty has been well documented, particularly by contingent faculty themselves. The experience of Ben Satterfield, a former adjunct, is typical. While teaching at the University of Texas, Satterfield recalls that though they “were not shunned like pariahs, the temporary faculty were distinctly second-class citizens, tolerated but not encouraged” (1994, 130). When he moved from UT to Austin Community College, Satterfield’s situation became even worse. He received even less respect from administrators and colleagues and was paid 60 percent less than full-time faculty for teaching the same courses: “Dozens of us shared one...

  3. Agents
    (pp. 5-11)

    For many creative writers—poets, for instance, and writers of experimental literature—agents are largely a nonfactor in their writing careers. There simply isn’t enough money to be made in these genres to warrant an agent’s, or a publisher’s, time and energy. There are exceptions, however. If a client also writes in another, more profitable area, his agent may be able to place his belletristic work. Thus, an author like Stephen Dobyns, whose poetry has been published by Penguin, probably owes his verse publications in trade paperbacks to the fact that he is also the writer of brisk-selling mystery novels....

  4. Anthology
    (pp. 11-13)

    A literary anthology is a collection of works by various authors in a single volume. In Greek, the word is a combination of anthos (flower) and logia (collecting). The Greeks used the word to describe a compilation of epigrams which, like a gathering of flowers, brings the loveliest specimens together in one place.

    In the classroom, the advantages of anthologies are obvious. Teachers want to cover as many representative works as they can; students would like to spend as little money as possible. Anthologies offer a convenient, relatively inexpensive alternative to syllabi made up of a long costly list of...

  5. Associated Writing Programs
    (pp. 14-15)

    If you are currently enrolled in a college or university creative writing degree program, you are probably also already a member of the Associated Writing Programs (AWP), “a national, nonprofit literary organization for teachers and writers. Founded in 1967, AWP is dedicated to serving writers, teachers and writing programs” ( AWP provides members with a variety of services, including a subscription to the Writer’s Chronicle, a journal published six times during the academic year, a job placement service, award contests leading to book publication, a catalog of writing programs, and an annual conference.

    The association represents “approximately 18,000 individual writers,...

  6. Author
    (pp. 15-18)

    In his lecture to the Royal Society of Literature in April 1995, novelist Russell Celyn Jones (1995–96) captures both the surprise of British writers that authors should take up residence in institutional spaces and the U.S. construction of creative writer as wild and wooly outlaw of an identifiable sort:

    Americans do not look on institutionalized creativity as an oxymoron at all. The creative writing course is an industry there, with thousands of students attending poetry and fiction sections each year… . Anyone who has ever attended such a course can tell you that the American writers’ workshop is a...

  7. Block and Procrastination
    (pp. 19-25)

    Death and taxes. Writers and writing blocks. We aren’t writing but we want to write. We hope to (or struggle to) move from one state to the other but we delay. We label those more disciplined than we are as plodders or hacks yet we chastise ourselves for our own procrastination. It’s so easily characterized as either/or: we’re blocked or we’re in volcanic action, sitting down at a computer and rising hours later, dazed and (hopefully) delighted, product finally in hand. It’s a manic-depressive sort of life, we think, though secretly we’d like to… if not plod … then progress,...

  8. Chapbooks
    (pp. 25-29)

    Not quite a book. But almost. Collected. Circulated. Contests for. Used in classrooms. Fine press and electronic. Well and poorly produced. Counts for much and counts for little. Published by others. Self-published. Concrete object. Conceptual art space.

    The creative writing chapbook is a chameleon form. We borrow the name from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and make it our own. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the chapbook is “a modern name applied by book-collectors and others to specimens of the popular literature which was formerly circulated by itinerant dealers or chapmen, consisting chiefly of small pamphlets of popular tales,...

  9. Collaboration
    (pp. 29-36)

    For many, creative writing always has been, is, and always will be a solo art. For others, this assumption has not always—or doesn’t at present—hold true. Consider, however, the entry requirements for the Associated Writing Programs’ annual book manuscript contests: “Each manuscript must include … the following typed statement: ‘This is an original work of which I am the sole author.’”

    Traditionally, creative writers have focused on creating original texts for which they claim solitary authorship. They have done so despite crosscultural, historical, and practical evidence that writing is often—some argue always—a collaborative act. Investigations of...

  10. Composition
    (pp. 36-41)

    Composition is an activity (what we do when we write), an institutional practice (a type of assigned first-year writing within a required undergraduate college course), and, nowadays, it’s also a course of graduate study that represents a field of specialists who call themselves compositionists (and sometimes rhetoricians). Composition is a term that has been in regular use since the late 1970s, and it describes a still-developing and multidisciplinary field (see North 1987). Those in composition studies draw on research in composing practices, theories of reading and writing, linguistics and literature, and the history of rhetoric. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg’s...

  11. Conferences, Colonies, and Residencies
    (pp. 41-44)

    Because the larger world is generally indifferent to creative writing, places and times where writers can concentrate on their writing lives are infrequent. Always, obligation beckons. Most creative writers must work in jobs outside their field. Many have families to shepherd through the day. The phone rings, the trash must be taken out, a friend e-mails to request a luncheon date. One after another the daily duties mount so that a writer may feel she is never going to get her work accomplished. This entry discusses opportunities for writers to escape their normal responsibilities, to grow and develop as writers...

  12. Contests
    (pp. 44-48)

    Publication of most literary novels occurs through a process that has become established over the last half century. Aspiring authors send their completed manuscripts around until they find an interested agent. The agent, working through a network of connections, shows the manuscript to editors he believes will find the novel exciting. Eventually, if the author is lucky, a publishing house accepts the novel and—assuming the writer has no celebrity connections—prints anywhere from two thousand to ten thousand copies. The novel is then marketed through traditional means. Copies are sent to reviewers. Advertisements are placed in trade journals like...

  13. Contributorʹs Copy
    (pp. 48-49)

    The contributor’s copy is the coin of the realm in the kingdom of the small and literary press. In exchange for the right to publish an author’s work, the editors of a vast majority of literary magazines “pay” the author with one or more complimentary copies of the magazine. While the standard payment is one to three copies, some publishers give their contributors up to ten or twenty copies and also provide offprints of the author’s piece. (Those journals that aren’t even willing to ante up a single contributor’s copy—even if they have legitimate financial reasons for not doing...

  14. Copyright and Intellectual Property
    (pp. 49-55)

    According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, which was founded in 1970 to promote worldwide protection of industrial property and copyrighted materials:

    Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce. Intellectual property is divided into two categories: Industrial property, which includes inventions (patents), trademarks, industrial designs, and geographic indications of source; and Copyright, which includes literary and artistic works such as novels, poems and plays, films, musical works, artistic works such as drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures, and architectural designs. Rights related to copyright include those...

  15. Creative Dissertation
    (pp. 55-62)

    Scene: A Starbucks coffee shop in a university town. Two friends, Amy and Andy, sit at a table drinking latte.

    Amy: I’m going on for my PhD in creative writing.

    Andy: (astonished) Why? You hated going to workshop all during our last year.

    Amy: Yeah. But I went to a writers’ conference and listened to the options the panelists on “Living the Writing Life” gave me. And I decided that—unlike you, Andy—I don’t want to flip burgers and write. And sex, drugs, and Hollywood isn’t me either. Anyway, I hated the workshop because I was young and unsure....

  16. Creative Nonfiction
    (pp. 62-70)

    The genre du jour in writing programs, creative nonfiction (or cnf, as initiates refer to it) in reality is as old as the hills, or at least the Romans. In The Art of the Personal Essay, Phillip Lopate traces the genre’s background from Seneca and Plutarch to Japanese and Chinese writers such as Kenko and Ou-Yang Hsiu through Michel de Montaigne—“the giant, the mountain of the form” (1994, xlvii)—to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British writers like Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Charles Lamb, and William Hazlitt. Among his model essayists in the twentieth century are Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Natalia...

  17. Creativity
    (pp. 70-75)

    We use the term “creative writing” throughout this book, but while we examine various writing processes in some detail, we spend less time discussing creativity itself. Yet the adjective modifying the noun is thought by many of our academic colleagues to make us a discipline apart. (Some of them suspect we are practicing a form of black magic in our classrooms.) Even other English teachers claim they’re not capable of responding to an original student poem or story—although those same teachers may have spent their entire careers writing and talking about canonical poems and stories. What makes creative writing...

  18. Editors and Publishers
    (pp. 76-84)

    Marc Aronson locates the emergence of the modern American editor in a single publishing event at the very end of the nineteenth century. Editor Ripley Hitchcock made significant revisions to Edward Noyes Westcott’s manuscript David Harum, which had previously been rejected by a number of publishers. The novel subsequently became “the number one best-seller for 1899,” with almost three-quarters of a million copies sold by 1904. According to Aronson, “The work Hitchcock actually did on the manuscript was not unusual—other editors had also made suggestions for radical cuts and had turned rejected manuscripts into hot sellers—but there were...

  19. Electronic Literature
    (pp. 84-89)

    The arrival of the computer age has affected creative writers profoundly, and no doubt will continue to do so in ways most of us can’t yet imagine. Indeed, if any entry in this book has the potential to become obsolete overnight, it is this one. “Early” writing about Internet culture, which often focused on MUDs and MOOs, a few years later seems as quaint and outdated as discussions of the telegraph or the Pony Express. And “electronic literature” might well include everything from imaginative writing that was never intended to appear on a computer screen but has somehow found its...

  20. Fiction
    (pp. 89-95)

    The rise of creative nonfiction—which began in the late 1960s with the New Journalism and became a seemingly unstoppable force in the 1990s—threatens to preempt fiction as the sexiest—that is, the most marketable—literary genre. Yet fiction remains the backbone of the creative writing industry. While the popularity of other genres waxes and wanes, fiction is the economic engine that keeps the business running, and for that reason in this entry we will look at the financial aspect of creative writing, which receives scant attention elsewhere in this volume. Of all the creative writers, fiction writers appear...

  21. Genre
    (pp. 95-99)

    ”Genre” comes from the French word meaning both “kind” and “gender.” While in English we use genre mostly to refer to categories of literary, musical, and artistic compositions, in the past there has also been a sense that some of these types of work are more “masculine” or “feminine”—more or less privileged—than others. According to M. H. Abrams, since the time of Plato and Aristotle, works of literature have generally been placed in three main classes: “poetic or lyric (uttered throughout in the first person); epic or narrative (in which the narrator speaks in the first person, then...

  22. Grants
    (pp. 99-102)

    As Christine Cassidy notes, “grants come in many forms—cash, time, publication, or a combination of all three” (1996, 17). This entry focuses on the first form: money. Interested readers should also consult the entry on “Conferences, Colonies, and Residencies” for grants that focus on organizations primarily offering time and/or a quiet place to write. “Contests” discusses venues offering award money in conjunction with publication.

    “Free money” is every writer’s dream, and, once in a very great while, some of it may fall directly into a talented writer’s lap. A few grants don’t even have to be applied for; they...

  23. Identity Politics
    (pp. 102-112)

    “Not politics again,” sighs the white guy in a gray shapeless sweatshirt on the far side of the table. “I’m here to learn to write a novel.”

    Woman poet?” she whispers audibly to her neighbor during the reading. “Not a black poet. Not a black woman poet. A poet.”

    On tour, at readings, during workshops, the visiting writer fields any number of predictable questions: “How did you arrive at the idea for your poem (novel, play)?” or “How can I get an agent?” or “What time of the day do you write?” or “What contemporary writers have influenced your writing?”...

  24. Image and Metaphor
    (pp. 112-115)

    ”Show, Don’t Tell” is the motto of many a creative writing teacher (and program), and at the heart of that dictum is the primacy of the image, the “mental picture” our mind sees when we read about something that has an analogue in the real world. Interestingly, as Kristie Fleckenstein points out, while we can disconnect image from language—“we do this every night in our dreams”—without language, “we cannot do anything with those dreams except experience them. Imagistic is logic lodges us in the moment. To be tugged out of the present, to be known as anything other...

  25. MFA (Master of Fine Arts)
    (pp. 115-119)

    The Master of Fine Arts in creative writing is a studio degree that invites comparison with terminal fine arts degrees in dance, theater, and the visual arts. Consequently, the MFA privileges writers as artists while minimizing their standing as academics. Although nearly all MFA writing programs emphasize participation in workshops (along with enrollment in at least a few literature courses), degree requirements vary widely. Options range from low-residency MFAs, in which most teaching is conducted electronically, through the mail, and via telephone and can be completed in two years, to programs that require sixty or more semester hours of coursework...

  26. Pedagogy
    (pp. 119-125)

    Pedagogy is the profession, art, and science of teaching. However, for a keyword with such an apparently innocuous definition, pedagogy inspires in many teachers of creative writing a surprising level of fear and loathing. This loathing—perhaps “apathy” is closer to the truth—is rooted to a large degree in American writers’ very real professional knowledge that most four-year colleges and universities reward publication rather than teaching. As every undergraduate soon learns, faculty members at prestigious institutions are there because their writing has been showered with honors; venerated presses have published their books. Candidates for college creative writing positions don’t...

  27. Poetry
    (pp. 125-131)

    Probably the most significant development in American poetry over the past fifty years has been the eruption of writing by women and people of color. “Eruption,” “explosion,” “outburst”—any of these nouns would be appropriate, suggesting as they do a force long suppressed suddenly finding its way into the open air. The twentieth century, for all its horrors, was also a time when previously silenced poets became vocal. Many of these poets addressed past and current injustices in their poetry; they challenged, adapted, and adopted the dominant poetic voices imposed on them by white writers. But their poetry wasn’t only...

  28. Postmodernism
    (pp. 131-134)

    Defining postmodernism—in imaginative writing or in any field—is a notoriously difficult endeavor, and there are plenty of elitist guardians at the gate telling us we will never succeed. Susan Wheeler in an essay in the Antioch Review is one of the most outspoken. She bemoans the possibility of “successful assimilation” and “trickle-up appropriations,” preferring, instead, to remain “resistant” to interpretation (2004, 148–149). Polemicists like Wheeler can make it hard to sympathize with postmodernism until we remember that the volatility of the term is one of its most stable features.

    Nevertheless, it is possible to make some generalizations....

  29. Reading
    (pp. 134-139)

    Writers encounter the term “reading” in a confusing set of contexts. Writing students are exhorted to read. Anything, everything, and lots: particularly in the genre they are affiliating with. They are told to attend live readings. They are told to read past masters of their genre in order to join the tradition. They are taught to undertake close readings of texts in order to have a language for discussing other texts in their genre. They are expected to read and respond to writing workshop classmates’ texts before the next class in order to help fellow writers grow in their craft....

  30. Rejection
    (pp. 139-141)

    Rejection is the dark door at the center of creative writing through which all who hope to survive must pass. Even the most successful writers have been rejected many times, and developing a healthy attitude toward rejection is essential to every writer. “Success is distant and illusory,” as Joyce Carol Oates points out, “failure one’s loyal companion, one’s stimulus for imagining the next book will be better, for, otherwise, why write?” (2003, 73).

    Because writing is essentially a communicative act, most beginning creative writers want to share their early efforts with someone else, usually family and friends. Not surprisingly, these...

  31. Royalties and Permission Fees
    (pp. 141-144)

    A royalty is the payment made to an author for each copy of a work sold by a publisher; depending on their contracts, authors receive varying percentages of the publisher’s profit per book. “Royalty calculations can include escalations that attach higher rates to greater numbers of books sold,” with authors normally receiving a higher percentage of the take from the more expensive hardbound books. In the early years of the twenty-first century, publishers typically paid 10 percent on the first 5,000 hardback copies and up to 15 percent on anything over 10,000. For trade paperbacks, a figure of 7½ percent...

  32. Schmoozing
    (pp. 144-145)

    ”Schmooze” comes from the Yiddish shmusen, meaning “to chat,” which in turn is derived from the Hebrew shemu’oth, which means “rumors.” The etymology contains both the harmless aspect of schmoozing—friendly talk—as well as its less appealing side—gossip mongering. The creative writing graduate student at the Associated Writing Programs’ annual conference who gushes to the eminent writer, “I loved your latest. Can I buy you a drink?” is schmoozing, even if she is entirely sincere in her praise. That same unknown writer who repeats every word of her conversation to entertain an editor who just may publish her...

  33. Scriptwriting
    (pp. 146-152)

    The challenges of the scriptwriter are markedly different from those of the poet, fiction writer, and essayist. Playwriting is one of the oldest forms of creative writing, while screenwriting is among the newest, yet both the playwright and the screenwriter collaborate in a much larger process: control of the final product is out of their hands. Unlike a poem, story, or essay, which can be said to exist once its author has completed writing it, plays and screenplays in their printed form are merely suggestions of what they might become. While it is true that book versions of plays are...

  34. Style and Voice
    (pp. 152-155)

    “When a reader fancies a particular author,” Ben Yagoda claims, “it could be for any of a hundred reasons…. But when one writer falls under another’s spell, it is generally because of the way the progenitor uses language to forge or reflect an attitude toward the world—that is, it is because of style” (2004, 105). Style, the linguist Peter Verdonk tells us, is “distinctive linguistic expression” (2002, 3). It is, therefore, diction (which words are chosen) and syntax (how those words are put together) and the mood and tone those words create. In fact, every decision a writer makes...

  35. Submissions
    (pp. 155-162)

    Assuming his work isn’t lost in the mail (or in the mailroom), two outcomes await the writer making a submission to a publisher: acceptance or rejection (q.v.). Because the latter outcome is usually the more likely one, we have devoted an entire entry to the process of overcoming the depression and self-doubt associated with a negative response from an editor. The purpose of this entry is to discuss the basics of submissions: how to decide where to send a piece of creative writing and what to do after making that decision. We’ll begin by walking the reader step-by-step through a...

  36. Teaching Jobs
    (pp. 162-170)

    Creative writers have always been teachers, whether they’ve realized it or not. Perhaps they taught, unaware, through their work, which apprentice writers scrutinized as though studying a textbook on craft. Moreover, for millennia authors have been writing about the art of writing. From Horace to Maxine Hong Kingston, practicing writers have critiqued the style and subjects of others (and sometimes themselves). In the United States in the past fifty years, teaching creative writing has become something of a boom industry. It is probably not hyperbole to say that there are now more active creative writing teachers than there have been...

  37. Theory
    (pp. 170-178)

    In the shabby linoleum halls of the academy that many creative writers currently inhabit, we have lots of definitions of, attitudes toward, and theories about theory. Indeed, no single key term can change the physical face of a writer as much as this one. For most, the immediate response is—if not hives—then a frown, smirk, toss of the head, grimace, body twitch—which indicate attitudes ranging from involuntary rejection to downright revulsion. Like David Lehman, many take the high road, see themselves as writers at the Alamo, united against critics—we write it, they talk about it (and...

  38. Therapy (and Therapeutic)
    (pp. 178-186)

    Many writers describe their will to write as springing from a complex mixture of intellectual concerns and activities that support their fascination with language, their desire to investigate or understand thought, their commitment to self-knowledge (spiced by general or even unrelenting human curiosity), their drive to communicate (particularly for the introverts among us) or to develop a speaking platform (particularly for the dispossessed). Many authors also point to the affective dimensions of their craft, admitting that writing is also therapeutic process and a necessary constituent of their daily lives. Jeffrey Berman and Jonathan Schiff lay out the connections between writing...

  39. Translation
    (pp. 186-190)

    Anyone who has taken a foreign language class and attempted to translate either from the source language into English or vice versa knows the difficulties translators face. Even fluent bilingual speakers may have trouble with an accurate rendering in writing, and those who are learning a new language from scratch struggle mightily with grammar and vocabulary, syntax and tone. One can illustrate just how much meaning and nuance are lost in any translation by using a popular computer program like AltaVista’s Babel Fish ( Here is what the previous sentence looks after being translated from English to French and back...

  40. Two-Year Colleges
    (pp. 190-194)

    Most of the research on creative writing focuses on students enrolled in either four-year colleges and universities or graduate programs. In sharp contrast, there is very little material about teaching creative writing at the community college level, although most two-year college English departments offer creative writing courses. Because there is so much basic research yet to do, two-year colleges are a potentially rich source for future investigation. This entry will be limited to an examination of four significant aspects of community college creative writing courses: staffing, resources, student population, and student motivations and goals.

    A large research university, especially one...

  41. Vanity Press
    (pp. 194-197)

    According to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) guidelines for fellowship for creative writers, a vanity press publication is defined as one that does any of the following: “requires individual writers to pay for part or all of the publication costs; asks writers to buy or sell copies of the publication; publishes the work of anyone who subscribes to the publication or joins the organization through membership fees; publishes the work of anyone who buys an advertisement in the publication; or publishes work without competitive selection” (U.S. Office of Management and Budget 1999, 5–6).

    Of course, if the...

  42. Workshop
    (pp. 197-200)

    Loosely defined, the workshop model of artistic development is probably as old as art itself. Historians believe that ancient Egyptian sculpture and wall paintings, for instance, were the result of a communal effort involving both skilled artisans and those in training. Certainly, the medieval craft guilds exerted an influence on apprentice-master relations in the arts, and Renaissance painters often employed underlings who would complete the uninteresting background work for a master painter, just as Renaissance playwrights occasionally relied on apprentices to help finish their plays.

    In the context of twentieth-century American literature, however, the word “workshop” has come to have...

  43. Writersʹ Resources
    (pp. 200-202)

    If we define a writer’s resource as a place where one can find “information on the art, craft and business of writing” (Pack 1998, 24), then Keywords in Creative Writing is itself intended to be one of the best available writers’ resources. Many of the entries in this book answer specific questions creative writers are likely to have about the profession (the reference list alone provides a wealth of articles, books, and Web sites to explore). “Conferences, Colonies, and Residencies,” for instance, discusses how to connect with master writers, editors, and publishers and how to find the time and place...

  44. Writing Groups
    (pp. 202-206)

    Writing is often a solitary occupation. Granted, our race, gender, and class will shape the things we are likely to say, and the literature we create struggles to find voice amid the deafening din of all the writers who have come before us. Yet when a writer sits down at her computer, she is alone. Even if she writes in the bustle and hubbub of a coffeehouse, once she begins to compose, she is—in very obvious ways—on her own. All writers know how frightening it can be to face this isolated (and isolating) process, and writing groups offer...