Monday, October 14, 2013

Another rant on writing.

Once, I was reading a blog by a creative writing student. The language was elegant, I liked how she wrote about her everyday life in almost poetic terms. I like it when normal and mundane scenes are rendered in a new way, and it was a delight to read. Then, I read that she had a long writer's block due to some comment made by her teacher who scorned most modern writing for being too "navel-gazing" -- that is, too much about the self, too self-centered and individualistic. Each time she tries to write something which looks like it would be about herself, the stern voice of the teacher comes back to mind and halts her.

That made me sad for her. This comment by a supposed 'authority' blocked her own creativity. I also see the teacher's point, though, but I disagree with it. Who was he or she to say that people should be scorned for writing about their own lives? We lived. We're humans, and each of us is the protagonist of our own stories. The stories I find most affecting are when the writer talks about her own experience, and I read it and find that I'm not alone after all in the world feeling it, and someone has written it in a way I can't express by myself.

But... What I learned about writing were from books about writing. William Zinsser and Natalie Goldberg, the two teachers whose books I read, is about teaching others to trust their own voices and experience. Everyone has a unique voice, everyone can write about their lives with honest dignity and detail. Writing, of course, is a personal act. How can we write about other things without our own perspective?

I don't think I can stand studying writing, as in a formal education about it. I believe writing and reading is enough for that. I read her experiences about classes and workshops, and each meeting sounded like a pressured episode of Starstruck. I am suspicious about the idea of 'constructive criticism', because reading is a personal act, too. Everyone will have different judgments. A critique will only point out a flaw or a personal opinion but in the end of the day its the writer who writes and practices.
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"I’ve been in writing workshops where we have worked on a bad poem, criticizing it for twenty minutes. That’s ridiculous. It’s a waste of time. It's like trying to beat a dead horse into running again. You can have the confidence that the writer of that poem will write other poems. You don’t need to think that if you don’t whip something out of the bad poem the writer will never write again.
You can have the courage to be honest. “There’s some good stuff here, but it doesn’t make it.” And go on. It’s a good process to be willing to just let go. Allen Ginsberg at Columbia University went up to his professor, the literary critic Mark Van Doren, and said, “How come you don’t criticize work more?” His response was, “Why bother talking about something you don’t like?”
from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones

Write as fast as you can because someday you’ll die and if you didn’t tell all the stories you had in you it will hurt. (No one believes me when I say this is the exact and honest reason that I have written so many books while being so young. I tell them: “I’m going to die soon. I have to write faster. I only have fifty years or so left if I’m lucky. That’s not enough time.” They laugh, and I’m not joking.)
Catherynne M. Valente

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