Thursday, August 12 2021

Quote of the Day

We must reject the mystification / mythification of creative writing. The mystical writer uses the myth of his genius to gain power. He (since it is almost always a he) benefits from keeping up the illusions that he has natural talent and that writing cannot be taught. If writing is not beholden to culture, then he is free from the constraints of actually being a part of (or responsible to) the world in which he and his readers live.

Make no mistake–writing is power. What this fact should prompt us to ask is: What kind of power is it, where does it come from, and what does it mean?

If we take from Aristotle his idea of plot, for example, we should also remember that he believed art relied on slavery: slaves freed their masters to think and create.

Matthew Salesses, Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping

I think I might know what I want to do when I grow up

I’m going to try to ignore the fact that I am still asking this question at my advanced age. But I’m starting to think that the reason it’s taken me so long is that what I wanted to do didn’t exist yet.

I’ve only read the sample preface of Craft in the Real World, and I am in love. Since my first workshopping classes in the 90s, I’ve been angry over what passes for writing instruction. The first paragraph in the quote above has been my feeling on it for decades: this is some BULL SHIT. I’ve always been convinced that if you can teach someone how to draw or how to math or how to science or how to philosophy, you can teach them how to write. But for some reason creative writing classes are set up to put as many blocks on the road to learning as possible. And Matthew is right–that “some reason” is power.

Just this preface is starting to contextualize so many of the disconnects I’ve felt between what I’m interested in exploring in story and what I have been told in workshops about why I should not. And Matthew’s articulating of writing to cultural expectations (and whose culture is acceptable) just blew my mind:

To sum up, what we are telling the writer from a “query” culture who learns to write “ask” is (a) she must either write to people from our culture, instead of hers, or learn how to write to people from our culture if she wants to write to people from hers; (b) she should accept our normal as her normal; and (c) she is at a disadvantage toward the shared learning goals, since writers from our culture don’t have to learn new norms; they only have to recognize the norms they already understand.

I made the instant connection upon reading this that the definition of story elements can change if you look at them through different lenses. All this time I’ve been looking for the bedrock of what story is to gain enough of an understanding so that I can use that information to craft stories. Because I seriously have never been able to pull a story apart and look at all the elements of it that make it work and replicate those elements in a story of my own. I’ve tried, and it comes out not-quite-right. Because even though I am mixed and was raised in culturally white environments, I guess I didn’t internalize those underlying cultural norms clearly enough…..

…because the reason I am starting to understand story now, I am realizing, is because I stumbled across definitions of story elements as seen through a lens I consciously spent years learning and immersing myself in through grad school–depth psychology. Since I wasn’t getting the cultural context lens, it took a humanities / literary theory lens subbing for a cultural lens for me to finally make some headway with this shit.

(Which makes me think, how many other mixed kids have the same problem I do? How many POCs / queer people taught only cis white people Greatest Works novels who don’t have the time or resources to read books by authors from their culture? What about white people who reject or were raised to reject the standard white people cultural narrative?)

So is there no bedrock? Do we need to teach loosely codified story element definitions as lenses? Lenses that can be used to reach out to the audience you want to reach? How many lenses are there, and what are they? Does audience then become the entire purpose of story writing? Where do appropriation lines stand in using cultural lenses? Do they function more like different languages or different cultural references? What could understanding these lenses mean for finding common ground between our American communities??

Ok ok ok. You see? I think this is what I want to do when I grow up. Study creative writing. Teach creative writing. And of course, write–if only to put all these theories to test. I don’t want to write 25 books a year as an indie author on Amazon. I don’t want to trad publish and churn out series after series after series. I do want to write, but I want it to in the context of learning and experimenting. And I’ve honestly always wanted that, but I never felt that it was a possibility because I couldn’t ever figure out the damn basics.

I HAVEN’T EVEN FINISHED READING Craft in the Real World yet. I’ve only read the f’ing preface!!!!!

Ok. Calm. To make any of this remotely possible, first I need to add in my Worldbuilding piece, then I need to write a novel. Because it’s still true that I can’t teach something I don’t understand and can’t do. Have to bully my way through this writing step first.


Matthew Salesses on Twitter

Matthew Salesses new syllabus

Matthew Salesses for writers

Maybe I could someday take a class from him? Arg, focus.