un-creative writing

I have never, really, taken a creative writing class.

When I talk to people about writing, I think people always assume that I studied creative writing, or that the whole graduate school thing was about writing programs or some such.

And while I respect and a number of people who are involved in the discipline of "creative writing," I am not terribly enticed either by the possibilities of the field as a dialogue, or by the utility of the training for myself.

This might be a personal short coming, as I have always (since I was a teenager) been pretty resistant to "formal writing education," and it might be a genre thing (science fiction doesn't fare terribly well in CW programs on the whole, often relegated to "children's and popular literature" tracks, if not totally spurned.) In any case this was highlighted by an article I read last week that suggested, what I thought was an utterly flawed writing methodology.

The basic idea was that as a general practice, you rewrite everything, on the theory that you basically can never get something right the first time, no matter how much time and effort you spend on it, and that the second time you sit down with a piece that you've written, only then can you really get it right.

Now, the technicality is that she's probably right on some level. Ground up rewrite's shouldn't be feared, and there are a lot of times when this can fix something that's "stuck." For example, I'm told that Tolkein sat down and wrote the Lord of the Rings, (the whole thing, not just specific books) until he got stuck. And then he started over from the beginning. The entire trilogy, every time he got stuck, until finally Frodo et al got to sail into the sunset. That might be extreme.

The problem is, I think, that we are incredibly inaccurate judges of our own work. This is why we have editors and readers, and that interaction is so valuable. So yeah, if someone says "this doesn't work," sure, rewrite rather than try and salvage, if that's your speed. But as a rule? I'm suspicious of such unequivocal methodological imperatives.

I've heard Cory Doctorow say something to the effect of, "some days you write and it feels divinely inspired and the words just flow out, and other days it's like pulling elephant teeth, but two weeks later, when you're reading over the back you can't tell the difference." This is, I think why editors of all sorts are so valuable. And, since on the day-to-day level it's probably crap shoot anyway, the key is to try and try often. If you think that first drafts are always to be thrown out, even after editing them as the article suggests you may do, then--time being finite--you write less, but I doubt that you write twice as well. And I am unabashedly of the mind that practicing productivity and developing good habits and experiences is more important than developing perfectionism. Your milage might vary.

And then it struck me--after the outrage passed--that this came from a writer. Someone who is professionally obligated to be invested more in the precession of words on the page than of the ideas that they represent. [1] Which is, the core, I guess, of my personal unease with creative writing: I'm way more interested in studying the ideas, the people, the history of what I write about than the words on the page, again this arcs back to what ira said the way to get good at something is to do it, and do it often, and not always "getting it right." And maybe if an academic program is the way to motivate you to write a lot, then that's great [2] but having a blog might achieve a similar goal.

[1]I'm exactly not making a case for sloppy prose--except maybe I am. My preference is strong characters, plot, and/or conceptual work over pretty, or even sharp language. Always. And I think people who are in the process of figuring out how they write and write best, are much more likely in need of figuring out how to do the conceptual work, not the mechanics, which comes with practice, and is, I'm convinced a numbers game, "the million words of crap," and all that. If nothing else mandatory rewriting, confuses the conceptual development that I think grows from working with a lot of different ideas/stories; and the technical development that grows from attention, editing (rewriting), and time.
[2]it's also a route to a job that you wouldn't necessarily be able to get otherwise, but that's another story that I'm not interested in telling.
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