Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Danger of Not Learning about the Creative Process
or How a Degree in Literature Nearly Caused Me to Scuttle My Writing Career

I live just down the road from one of the finest small colleges in this country.  Summers are always quiet, but each fall brings a brand new batch of bright minds, eager to learn, ready to turn dreams into reality. About a billion years ago--and a little over two-thousand miles away--I had my turn at being one of these hopeful kids.

At 17 I knew I loved books. When I showed up on my own campus I came carrying 150 or so pages of a manuscript. My first novel. I knew I wanted to write.

But I can't say that at 17 I knew myself well enough to walk around saying that I wanted to be a writer.

The other kids, the ones who showed up with spiral notebooks crammed with poetry, and reams of dot-matrix printed short stories, the ones who knew themselves from an early age, the ones who had either the conviction or the hubris to apply the heady label "writer" to themselves, they found their way into the creative writing courses. 

My writing did not stem from a conviction that I was meant to be the next Hemmingway; It was a by-product of my love of the written word. So I instead chose to study comparative world literature. I learned how to dissect, how to critique, how to delve into the hidden meanings of the greatest writers' works. I studied their completed masterpieces, but I never studied the creative process that lead to these masterpieces.  I never learned what it was like for these greats as they wrote: the uncertainty, the dead ends, the joy and pain of invention and reinvention. I never learned how many of these hidden meanings found in the great works bubbled up during the creative process, not necessarily as the result of some master plan.

I judged my own nascent abilities by the finished pieces of others. One warm and sunny day [Bulwer-Lyttonism intentional], I pulled my manuscript from my backpack and tossed it into a garbage can on the path between my dorm and the library. And then I walked away, convinced that I would never be able to create anything worthwhile.  My stories would never be literature; I would never be a writer.

To be continued...