It’s not fair to say I learned to write in a creative writing class. I learned to write in concert with learning to read: every author I ravenously digested taught me more than any class ever would. I learned to write at the feet of George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, L. Frank Baum, Hans Christian Anderson, Jack London, Charles Dickens, and many others, too many to name, too many to thank. Creative writing classes are, by turn, like necessary trials of your pain threshold. Creative writing class is where creativity goes to kill itself, its corpse swinging from the rafters, strung up by a rope fashioned from foolscap pages stained with clichés and pretension. Everyone in my college class was still deep in the throes of that misguided belief that unless you are living a tragic life of desperate excess and demonic self-loathing you will amount to nothing as a writer. This is the writer’s rite of passage, of course. A dark and overhung path through the wasteland of early-twenties angst, whiskey, weed, cartons of cigarettes, rum, an ocean of cheap beer with indie labels, mushrooms, and anything else you can obtain on a limited income that will effectively twist your brain and turn you into the modern incarnation of Poe. You exist on a thin line of sanity between raving madness and idiotic indulgence. You’re in college. I, conversely, was still relatively pure, a recent refugee from the hallowed halls of religion, and firmly rooted in my moon-and-fairies phase. I wrote rhyming poems about fantasy things. Which is just as cliché in its own right. But something happens when you immerse yourself in writing under the firm hand of a writer while surrounded by other drooling padawans of the written word. You either bury yourself alive in the soil of your own self-importance or your assumed intelligent veneer shatters and you learn something useful as you rebuild.
For me, in between all the fairy-rhyming experimental bullshit, the latter happened.
At the prodding insistence of my professor (who was doubtless just exhausted by moon-poems about pixies), I learned the art of non-rhyming poetry and then the art of exploding visual sentence structure. I learned to monologue to get a character’s voice set in my mind. I learned not to hold every word I wrote as precious and began to discard as much as I kept. The only edict became to write, dammit, and write more. It’s not all gold but you need the straw to spin with as Rumpelstiltskin knew too well. So it’s not fair to say I learned nothing about writing in a creative writing class. It’s just that any writer will learn more from reading than from sitting in a room stewing with gothic angst and hazed with incense and pot.
Don’t kid yourself about needing torture to write effectively. Life will do that for you. There’s no need to seek out new and endlessly inventive ways to mess with your sanity. Keep your wits about you so they can be sharpened on life’s barbs instead of just neutered by them.
But above all, write. Write everything and nothing all the time. Write and save. Write and delete. Write and edit. Write and print. Write and burn. Write and forget. Write long-hand. Write, dammit, write write write. And read. When you’re not writing, read you lazy sod. Read words not written by you because you’re not that good. But you are good enough. It’s a delicate balance of endlessly pushing to be better but accepting that you’re good enough to just do it now at the same time.
And that’s my advice.
Put it in your pipe and smoke it and then, like everything else, forget it. Because your writing will be uniquely yours and nobody can tell you how to do it, certainly not me.
- Corinne Simpson