Quotation of the Week: Richard Marius

Here’s a favorite from one of my own teachers, Richard Marius:

“All writers create. I am always annoyed to hear fiction and poetry called ‘creative’ writing as if writing that explains, describes, and narrates – nonfiction – should somehow be relegated to the basement of the writing enterprise to dwell with the pails and the pipes. To assume that only fiction and poetry are ‘creative’ is to imagine that fiction writers and poets are somehow superior to scholars, journalists, and others who report, explain, and describe. A good case may be made for the proposition that the most truly original and creative writers in our society today work in nonfiction – Tom Wolfe, Gloria Emerson, Roger Rosenblatt, Carl Schorske, Joan Didion, Joe McGinniss, John McPhee, Garry Wills, Robert Caro, David McCullough, Roger Angell, Barbara Tuchman, and a host of others.”

Source: Marius, A Writer’s Companion, first edition (New York: Knopf, 1985), 15.

6 thoughts on “Quotation of the Week: Richard Marius

  1. Heather says:

    Well, I do see his point. But I think there’s this assumption built into that quote that people only mean fiction and poetry when they say “creative writing.” In fact I think for most people the category *does* include nonfiction, screenwriting, etc—I’ve never heard people say that only fiction and poetry “count.” I think part of the problem is that we don’t have an adequate vocabulary for talking about nonfiction. There seems to be a clear genre difference between a college research paper, a personnel file and a literary essay. Even though all are (hopefully!) nonfiction, and yes, all writing is an act of creation, I wouldn’t call all of them creative writing per se.

    We write in so many ways, for so many different reasons, and as humans we need to find ways to categorize all the information that gets thrown at us. While that does lead to oversimplification and stereotyping, it also helps us to make sense of the world. I think the issue of how to describe a piece of writing as “creative writing” is a problem for the publisher and marketing department, and that we might be getting a little hung up on the semantics of the word “create.”

    I don’t know why I had such a strong reaction to this quote, and maybe if I wrote more nonfiction I’d feel differently. I write mostly poetry, so what do I know?)

  2. John Vanderslice says:

    Certainly nonfiction has come a long way since 1985 (date of that quote) in terms of being accepted in the academy–at least at my school!–and that's a good thing. If you use words carefully and imaginatively, you're being creative, period. Folks might be interested to know that in England the real battle for acceptance is with screenwriting. Screenwriting is taught almost exclusively outside of creative writing programs. To take a screenwriting class is not to take a creative writing class. They are considered–administratively and substantively–to be different beasts. If one studies screenwriting, the thought goes, one is learning how to be an industry hack, not a creative writer. As I'm not a screenwriter, I don't have a dog in this fight. But I have to wonder about the fairness, and the utility, of this assumption. Or am I simply wrong and things are different in England than last I heard?

  3. Erika D. says:

    Thank you both for the comments. I can't add/confirm/deny anything about England, John, but what you say sounds interesting.

    I do think that the 1985 date is significant and unquestionably, much has changed since then. Nonetheless, I do find that there's still sometimes an unfortunate tendency to equate "creative nonfiction" only with "memoir" or "personal essay" when in truth, creative nonfiction really does span other types of writing, writing that "explains, describes, and narrates" matters beyond the self.

  4. James Bent says:

    Totally true – create simply means to make something, to make something exist – so creativity is everywhere, even in the "evil..aghhh" corporate world (it's not that bad). I do write fiction, but I also work as a Learning and Design Consultant within the Learning and Service Design industries, and unless I could create things, just like all my colleagues and co-workers, then we wouldn't have a business.

    I've always thought, and I might need to be corrected, that Art, which I take to cover Arts & Humanities – including journalism and non-fiction, fiction and "creative-writing" – simply means doing or being or creating, which pretty much applies to everything. You could say that people go about everyday in the "Art of the Human Race".

    I keep a daily 1000+ word offbeat fiction short story blog ( jamesbent.com/blog ), which just about keeps the balance of creating for them (work) and the creating for me (my short stories, also for interested readers!) in check.

  5. Erika D. says:

    Thanks for your comment, James. Your blog looks intriguing.

  6. James says:

    Thanks Erika,

    it feels like it's just got a hold of me and I'm going with it. Intending to start writing a second novel at the start of the next year, using the blog writing as a basis for style.



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