So my post from last night started getting too long, and I ended up not really making my point very clear. I’ll try to do it quickly this time.
Can creative writing be taught?
WTF, right? I tend to see all sides to things, or at least the sides I can make sense of. (See that? That’s me seeing the sides I can’t even see.) If that sort of thing makes you crazy, you’ll want to stop reading me now, before you become attached and then have to wrench yourself away. I waffle. I figure things out as I type them. Sometimes I see so many facets to an answer that I don’t come to any conclusion. (Which is the sort of thing that drives me crazy about other people, right? See the article I was referencing yesterday: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2009/06/08/090608crat_atlarge_menand )
But this one isn’t that hard. Can creative writing be taught? Yes, because it is taught. Can it be taught in such a way that a student is guaranteed to succeed? No. You cannot teach talent or luck, and if you’re going to succeed—wait. Let me say what I really mean. If we are going to succeed at this writing thing, we have to have talent and luck in addition to everything a program might teach.
What can be taught? Craft. Discipline. Community-building. Process. The inevitability of things like revision and failure. The importance of things like reading. Perseverance.
So if I get in a twist over someone saying that writing programs are a waste of time, this is why. A writing program won’t write the words for you. It won’t sell your book for you. If you go to a prestigious program, you might graduate with an agent or a book deal. But I didn’t go to Iowa, and even some Iowa Workshop graduates never have a book. An MFA isn’t an MBA. There are no guarantees, other than this one: In a writing program, if you are paying attention, you will learn that making a writing life is difficult. Demoralizing, lonely. But if you do the work despite all the reasons why writing might be difficult, you will also figure out why you keep doing it.
Why do I keep doing it? Because I’m addicted. I am a junkie for good stories. (Next post: good short story collections. Get your list ready.) But even better than reading a good story is finishing a story and thinking Yes. And that rush has nothing to do with publication. This is all pre-publication. But I won’t lie to you. That day you get the letter (or, normally, the email) of acceptance is a good damn day. You won’t need too many of those days before you’re hooked for good.
I’m hooked. But the reality is that a writing life is hard. To keep my community, to keep my head in the game—that’s why I’m writing this. That’s why I’m blogging. I’m done with my writing program, but I’m not done learning how to be a writer. This little corner of the internet is where I’ll be trying to figure it out.
Like I said, I figure things out as I type.