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Apparatus for reading innovative writing.

What's going on with "Innovative Writing?"

I seem to have always been drawn to fiction you might say is “out there.” This seems to have had an influence on the way I write my own fiction. I can’t point to any particular approach or technique I’ve adopted from the authors I admire (beyond the typically derivative affectations common to most beginning writers), nor do I believe I’ve adopted any particular theoretical framework from the secondary texts I’ve read in my quest for a deeper, perhaps more technical, understanding of these authors. Rather, what I seem to have derived from these works is the confidence to allow myself the freedom to play; to allow the work to evolve and emerge in ways I might not have anticipated; to avoid forcing the work into some sort of received or preconceived form.

Across the years, various tags have been affixed to this kind of work: “experimental,” “anti-novel,” “postmodern,” etc. Lately, the term “innovative writing” seems to have emerged as a kind of catch-all for writing operating outside the boundaries of received forms. Indeed, I’ve attended a couple conferences in which the phrase “innovative writing” forms part of the conference title. I’ve been thinking about this of late, of the consequences of writing that is willfully, calculatedly “innovative,” and wondering about the direction in which this kind of self-conscious innovation is leading the practice of fiction writing.

The following email exchange between me and a colleague, edited for publication here on Max Fiction, more-or-less summarizes my thoughts at the moment. I’m sure this is an issue I’ll be pondering for some time.


….Seems to me there’s writing that manifests a certain innovative (however you care to define it) character, and then there’s “Innovative Writing.” The former I might describe with the line (borrowing from the rockabilly canon): “The way I write is just the way I write.” Its “innovative character,” I believe, has more to do with the perceptions of those who receive the work than with the conscious intent of the author. It’s simply organic to the way the writer works.

The other day I caught a snippet of an interview on the radio in which the person being interviewed–no idea now who this was (I think it was someone from the hip hop crowd)–made a comment along the lines of “Don’t try to be different. Just be yourself. If you’re truly yourself, people will naturally think you’re different.” Not sure if that quite gets it, but it cuts back to my early attempts to get Housebreaking the Muse off the launchpad. Originally, I tried very hard to write a “straight” historical novel. But other ideas about how to mold the book kept bubbling to the surface and, ultimately, I decided I couldn’t ignore them. In surrendering to my new approach to the book, I thought to myself “I have to write an ‘Ed novel’.” In other words, I have to write the way I write.

Now, on the other hand, there’s this notion of “Innovative Writing.” To my mind, “Innovative Writing” is something consciously undertaken by the author, usually one quite well schooled in matters of literary theory, literary history, linguistics, semantics, etc., who likes to play around with the piece parts of fiction and create new forms.

I think both of these camps have their merits, but I have a feeling that “Innovative Writing” is more in favor these days than “writing that manifests a certain innovative character.” Unfortunately, I think, the former seems lately to have evolved from “the death of the author” to “Death to the author!” Not sure how long that can sustain itself. Also, a lot of writing that comes out of this camp strikes me as forced or “synthetic” (which may be the point!). For me, the game becomes too much about “Who is more ‘innovative’?” or “Who is being more innovatively ‘innovative’?” As to the latter, well, the author whose death these people seem to wish for lies solidly–and without shame–at its heart.

These reflections leave me questioning whether there’s any reason for me to sprinkle myself with the faery dust of “Innovative.” Given the direction in which the most committed of the “Innovative” camp seem to be moving, I think they’d consider what I’m doing “Romantic” at best, “reactionary” at worst. Probably best for me to make no claims and simply “write the way I write” and see what happens: member of no tribe.

I’ve been amused concerning the rise of the “innovative” in recent years, especially as it seems to reify itself as soon as it’s trotted out–claims to some sort of constant evolution and questioning notwithstanding. Truisms? And as such…?

In any case, it’s clear to me that the “innovators” constitute a clique as much as anything else, and I’m more bemused than amused by terms such as “tribal ecology” because it really does sound on the one hand like hogwash and on the other like some come all ye faithful. I also prefer to think of “innovate” as a verb, which brings my line of thought in with yours, I think.


I give the last word on this The Cramps: