Teaching Creative Writing and the how-to genre

[Continuing our series of posts on the development of Frontinus Ltd’s professional and academic imprints.]

The second book we published under our Creative Writing Studies imprint was Teaching creative writing, edited by Elaine Walker. The book consists of fifty short essays, each outlining a practical teaching activity for use on college and university courses.

In many ways the book differs from our first publication, Rethinking creative writing. We wanted, in our initial batch of publications, to experiment by publishing a range of genres, to see how each was received. So: Teaching creative writing belongs to the professional how-to genre, whilst Rethinking is a monograph.

Yet in some ways the books complement each other. For example, in Rethinking, Stephanie Vanderslice argued that many programs over-reliant on the traditional creative writing workshop, with its focus on craft and on building community. Now, some of the essays in Teaching assume a workshop context and indeed focus on craft — though, we suggest, they provide imaginative ways of extending that practice. But others move beyond that context (Ian Williams, for example, writes on how to help students develop a daily writing habit.)

An obvious contrast between the two books is their provenance. Rethinking is single-authored and in some ways that accounts for its strengths: it advances an individual’s vision of a field, written in a distinctive voice. Perhaps such a book could have been written by two, or even three, co-authors, but it certainly couldn’t have been written by a committee.

Teaching, in contrast, draws on dozens of contributors. To do so was very much a deliberate decision. Our strap-line for the imprint was (despite its unfortunate Maoist resonances) ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’. We wanted to involve lots of people, from lots of places, with diverse ideas. The volume editor, Elaine Walker, helped us to realise this vision by putting into practice our desire to ensure the contributory team was highly international.

One benefit of this approach is that it made the book exportable. This claim was verified when, to my surprise and delight, China Remnin University Press bought through our rights representatives, Harriman House, the licence for publication, first in paperback and then in ebook format, in simplified Chinese.

The features I’ve mentioned above put an onus on good editing skills. Here we had the good fortunate to be able to commission, as volume editor, Elaine Walker. I’ve written on this blog before (for example, in Why not a master’s in editing?) about the varied meanings of ‘editing’. Elaine turned out to be accomplished — dynamic, even — in all the forms of editing required here, from selecting contributors, through managing the project (a somewhat thankless task), to honing the structure and content of the text.

As with Rethinking, we took the opportunity to rethink some of those bookish things that people seem rarely to think about. Again we ensured that the imprint page and index were set in readily readable font. In addition, Elaine came up with an appropriately creative way to generate contributors bios that weren’t dull; and Christina Garbutt supplied an index in a thematic form designed to help readers choose varied paths through the book.


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