Tag Archives: literature

Top Five: Books for Creative Writing

We all approach writing differently.

Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. James Joyce wrote in a white coat while lying on his stomach in bed. Truman Capote wouldn’t begin or complete a piece on a Friday.

Lucky for any Capoteans out there, it’s not Friday. In celebration (the first celebration of ‘it not being Friday’ that I have partaken in), i’ve created the first episode of ‘Scribe Life’ to put some ideas out there about my top books to help with creative writing.

In short, the process is not as simple as being a creative genius who spits out Shakespearean prose daily (or maybe it is for some, but definitely not for me!) It requires brainstorming, editing, revising, and possibly the occasional ripping and throwing of drafts. So why not have some guides handy for when you need help along the way? Whatever I have difficulty with, the five books I have included in the video below offer much needed help when I need it.

 

Credit where credit is due- I’ve listed the books included below:

Image attribution: Old books by David Flores, CC. 2.0

The Modern Relevance of ‘Kafkaesque’

I recently read a blog about the overuse of the term ‘Kafkaesque’. Before I go into what I believe the pros and cons are of the potential for haphazardly throwing this word around, I’ll offer up the definition;

‘Of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especiallyhaving a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality’- Merriam Webster

‘Marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity’- Dictionary.com

Some things to note:

  1. Dictionary.com also lists the meaning for ‘fortuitous‘ to mean ‘fortunate’- so no confidence there, given that ‘fortuitous’ only implies chance and NOT luck. Merriam Webster also defines this word by ‘luck’ (side note: I almost lost a bet as to the meaning for ‘fortuitous’ due to these definitions- thus, the apparent rage)
  2. There is no definition offered for Kafkaesque (or Orwellian, for that matter) in either the Macquarie or in the Oxford English Dictionary (both of which correctly define ‘fortuitous’, by the way)

Therefore, I believe we have touched on the first con: just because a word is defined on an internet dictionary, doesn’t make it a reliable source.

Merriam Webster also shows that there was a spike in the search for this term in 2016 and 2013. The latter being for Kafka’s 130th birthday and the former due to the reviews of the recent Man Booker prize winning The Vegetarian being frequently described as ‘Kafkaesque’.

Although usage of the word doesn’t generally seem to come from a place of understanding of Kafka (how can it when there’s no reliable definition anyway?) I do believe it gives Kafka a relevance he might not otherwise have had to modern readers. Just as the Stella Prize prompts reviewers and readers to lend greater acknowledgement to female authors, the more a reader likens a popular book to Kafka via review, the more likely they are to turn to him.

Now, full disclosure: I am, to put it lightly, partial to Kafka (my featured photo is my own framed picture of him). So perhaps I simply want him to have the credit he is due? But I also believe that he holds relevance for readers.

Consider A Hunger Artistthe story of a man who’s profession is starving himself, ostensibly for entertainment. Revellers seem to believe that he is secretly seeking food and watch him intently. He ultimately makes his home in a cage in the circus and his former admirers loose interest and choose instead to view the spectacle of the stables nearby. Eventually he is forgotten entirely, starves in his cage and is (spoiler alert) consumed by a panther. At this point, in his final act, spectators finally take notice.

This strikes me as a prevailing theme in popular entertainment. Judy Garland was forced to steal candy bars as a result of being starved so that she could be an acceptable spectacle in the 1930s and 40s, only to eventually be consumed by the same spectacle that had made her famous (most viewers had lost interest as she grew older). Now, in a similar fashion, reality television is a dominant mode of entertainment. Those involved are spectacles of humiliation until they are no longer of interest and, in a final act of humiliation, are discarded for the next star vehicle. This is not to mention that fact that his theme of the alienation of the artist from society has been a recurring theme in literature and film that continues today.

Whatever Kafkaesque might actually be, Kafka is an author who continues to hold relevance today because his metaphors can be carried to the present. I’ve mentioned his relevance without taking into account the spectacle of Gregor Samsa in Metamorphosis or the bureaucratic hell that Josef K finds himself in The Trial (which, when it was written was already starkly before its time in the similarities to fascist Germany).

Image attribution: Taken by Jade Thrupp on 5 June 2016 

Creatives and Creative Nonfiction

“I would rather be well-versed about myself than about Cicero” Michel de Montaigne- ‘Of Experience’, 1588

Throughout my time studying creative writing, I have sensed a general undertone of distrust regarding the merits of creative nonfiction. Given the opportunity to write a creative piece, when the offer to present a work of nonfiction is presented, I dubiously look the other way.

My reading habits enforce the same unspoken ideal. Recently, I have been plagued by internal pressure to return to fiction after having read the memoirs Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein and Just Kids by Patti Smith. (‘Fiction!’ my brain insists, ‘Enough dabbling in memoirs’.)

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this industry hasn’t garnered the same prestige with prose writers as fiction. Perhaps because it’s considered easier to write about experience than to conjure whole worlds? But to recount an experience in the way that compels a reader to commit to 200 or more pages of well-crafted prose is a substantial and noble task. Think about the last time you sat across from a droll colleague who insisted on telling a long-winded story about their weekend… need I say more?

Another pervasive attitude may be in the consideration of influence: how can I write great prose unless I am inspired by the likes of Joyce or Kafka?

If Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, is the state of current nonfiction, I can only conclude that this is a genre worth fighting for. I choose to hold her up as an example of what is, in my opinion, inspired creative nonfiction. I do so in the knowledge that, in the process, I fail to address the works of such great nonfiction writers as Primo Levi, Susan Sontag and Michel de Montaigne.

Great prose should influence our reading habits, not genre.

 

 

Photograph by Jade Thrupp, taken 10 April 2016