Habits of the Creative Mind (HCM) is written to be used as a college textbook, however it is not a typical college-level writing textbook by any stretch of the imagination and can (and should) be used by a wider audience.
This new book (published in 2016) is based on five core principles: (1) writing is a technology for thinking thoughts that are new to the writer; (2) the habits of mind that support good writing are teachable and learnable; (3) creativity takes practice, lots and lots of practice; (4) the essay is the ideal form for practicing the habits of the creative mind; and (5) writing is a way of paying attention. It is organized by essays/short readings and writing activities under specific themes relevant to the writing life. More specifically, each essay or short reading is followed by several “practice sessions” with exercises and recommendations for further exploration. Instead of focusing on rhetorical or mechanical principles, the text focuses on building the types of thinking skills that characterize writers which the authors perceive as including, but not limited to, observation, curiosity, openness, creativity, flexibility, responsibility, persistence, composition (in the sense of how things appear together), metacognition, and engagement.
This book made its way onto my bookshelf earlier this year when the publisher (Bedford/St. Martin’s) sent a box of evaluation copies of various English books to my department. The title caught my eye, and I snagged it from the stack along with a few other books and promptly forgot about it entirely until about two weeks ago. As I looked over and reviewed titles to shift a few books around on my bookcase to make room for new arrivals, this book again caught my eye.
I started reading it as I stood and didn’t stop until I was about a quarter of the way in.
The materials and exercises presented in HCM break from convention and encourage highly-divergent thinking. The text encourages readers to be curious about both the materials they read as well as the world around them. The assignments include non-writing tasks like picture drawing, listening to music, podcasts, visual mapping, photography, as well as writing assignments such as keeping a writer’s notebook with observations on your surroundings, overheard conversations, and so on; conducting an interview for a biography profile; and tracking/recording questions you encounter when reading. The text also emphasizes synthesis: seeking and finding connections between the real world, your thoughts and reflections, and the essays/books/articles you read.
At the same time, the book’s strength in being nonconformist is also its weakness as there is a lack of explanation and examples in the text. For more advanced readers and writers this will not present an issue, but for readers and writers new to the craft, it may be challenging. While the authors’ aim is to encourage readers to break away from formulaic, recipe-like writing, many readers and writers can benefit from some of the more traditional (and possibly formulaic) techniques to help them master the basics. As such, I think for those readers this book is best used in conjunction with another text or websites that will help readers see how to go about implementing the excellent good exercises offered by the authors.
Overall, I think this book is simply awesome. I am excited to try the activities and “practice sessions” as I restart my own writing practice. Moreover, the essays and readings are manageable and engaging, and I find myself going back to the book as I contemplate the different topics and styles of writing. I recommend this book for writers, writing students, and writing teachers looking to build their abilities and writing repertoire.