Can we identify the special qualities that make a piece of writing creative writing? In this chapter I have tried to answer this question, but in ways that will open doors to writing as practice. Most of us will be readers and listeners before we become writers, but reading and listening are for writers active and ongoing. We need to become experts in listening to voices, in sensing what it takes to make a story, in discovering images that stay with us and somehow compel our attention, in knowing about the worlds people inhabit—those they wish for, those they visit or live in from day to day.

What makes certain voices, images, worlds and stories important to a writer, and others less so? My term for this power of shaping and selecting is imagination. To know what we enjoy in other people's writing means that our imagination is already at work, and that we ourselves are selecting the stories, styles, characters and settings that will go on attracting this power and winning its approval. Sometimes an unusual combination of words can stir the imagination, sometimes a dramatic scene in a story, poem, play or film, or in a real life experience.

Reading is therefore important to all writers, and in this first chapter I have endeavoured to introduce some of the ways we might read as writers. The question a writer will always ask is: 'What can I learn from this or that piece of writing as art; how can it influence my own work?' But there will be other questions too, about how a character's experience of time is shaped for him or her, how a writer gets across the sense of a real experience, how he or she builds up a story's world, creates the sense of voices under pressure. How does the writer attract and hold our attention—in this poem, in this scene of a play?

But just as important as reading is the fact that we need to be alert to the real world, to the way people and places make us feel, in other words, to actual experience and its sensations in time—the stuff, basically, which art transforms. The passages I have chosen all demonstrate—in one way or another—not just a fascination with experience but a need to make it worth our attention.

The chapters that follow are organised according to genres, beginning with memoir or life-writing, but as this introductory chapter suggests, we can, if we choose, begin to see in every genre the same features that make writing creative: voice, world, image and story.

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