Creative Writing – It’s All in the Mind

Literature is sometimes mistakenly portrayed as occupying a rarefied realm, as being the playground of those endowed with a unique gift. But recent research in psychology and philosophy of mind has dissolved these distinctions by exploring how  “literary” devices such as storytelling and the imaginative use of language have their roots in the most mundane and everyday – in the way we experience our bodies and interact with our material and social environment.

In this article I outline how in my creative writing teaching I draw on this exciting new area of “cognitive” approaches to literature and the arts. As an example, I focus on metaphor – the describing of one thing by comparing it with another. Metaphor is incredibly important in literature – both in poetry and in fiction. But, as has been explored in recent cognitive linguistics, literary uses of metaphor have deeper roots in everyday language and thought: metaphor forms the vital link between abstract concepts and our sensory, bodily experience of the world.

Creative writing and reading are intimately bound up together. The writer is a kind of reader because when she is writing she constantly gauges the effect of her writing on a possible reader. And the reader is a kind of writer because it is only the mind of a reader that a novel, for example, can be realised: until then it is only a series of ink marks on paper (or, these days, pixels on a screen). What I try to convey in my classes – in part by drawing on the deep, universal roots of creativity, as explored in contemporary psychology –  is that creative writing is not just for a select few, but is available to anyone who responds to language. It’s not the gift of a select few, but a human gift.

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