Rethinking indexes: the case of Teaching Creative Writing

Anthony Haynes writes: Most publishers’ standard contracts require authors either to compile their own indexes or to bear the cost of hiring a professional indexer. I’m glad to report that we do things differently with our Creative Writing Studies imprint: we hire a professional indexer and we bear the cost.

We do this because we think an index is an integral part of a professional or scholarly publication. In the process of helping readers to discover or retrieve information, the index helps to display the content and the conceptual framework of the work.

For our the index of our latest publication, Teaching Creative Writing: Practical Approaches (published in hardback, ePub, and PDF editions on 30 June) we have, as with our previous publication, Rethinking Creative Writing, employed the services of Christina Garbutt.

For Teaching Creative Writing, however, we asked Christina to develop a new approach. Teaching Creative Writing is not designed to be read solely in a continuous, linear, manner. Rather, the book  is designed as a flexible tool.

The body text comprises fifty essays, each outlining a practical idea for teaching creative writing. Users of the book are likely to have diverse needs and interests. One might be a novice teacher, looking for ideas to start out with; another might be an experienced professional seeking to extend their repertoire of approaches. Similarly, users will be working in diverse settings – for example, on undergraduate courses, or in adult or continuing education courses, or perhaps teaching online. Some might focus on  a particular genres, while others might range more widely.

For such a book, few readers will be interested primarily in tracing the development of a specific idea from the beginning to the end of the book. Readers are more likely to want to find the best way to dip into the book and then to choose a reading path  leading from one essay to another.

We therefore asked Christina to develop a thematic index. To do this she created the following main headings: characterisation; developing skills; developing writing practice; exercise duration; fiction; genre; particularly suitable for…; performance; poetry; point of view; reading; setting and context; structure; students’ common needs; virtual learning; and voice.

Under each heading she provided more detailed information. For instance, under ‘Genre’ are four sub-headings: Fiction; Non-fiction; Poetry; and Song-writing and then the detail. For example, under ‘fiction’ here comes: fantasy; flash fiction; for children; micro-fiction; monologues; drama; short stories; suspense; and young adult.

Many of  the detailed entries are written descriptively to help readers to decide which to dip into. For example, the entries under ‘Point of view’ read:

  • Using free indirect style to gain narrative flexibility
  • Using multiple view points for narrative enrichment and development
  • Writing from opposing viewpoints

Overall, we hope this approach helps both to convey to users the kind of book it is and to find their way around according to their own interests.

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About Anthony Haynes

Director, Frontinus Ltd Communications Associate, FJWilson Talent Services

2 comments

  1. As someone who is responsible for the index for the current edited collection I’m working on, and made the initial stab at an index for my last co-edited collection on writing, this sounds phenomenal. As an info professional (I’m a librarian by day) and an avid reader, I find indexes to be invaluable tools, and it saddens me that many publishers do not understand the value of a good index – or how one done by the untrained can unnecessarily hobble a reader and lead them to not use a book as often as they otherwise might. Kudos to you for understanding the importance of the index as a tool!

    • Thank you, Colleen. I’m impressed by the reading-path diagrams in Oxford companion to Philosophy. Think publishers could do more with that kind of approach.

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