Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On the Difficulty of Teaching Creative Writing

Cross-posted at Pavlov's Cat

I've been teaching creative writing on and off for 25 years and have written and spoken many, many words on the subject. But this -- from a short story called 'WritOr' in a book called Touchy Subjects by Irish-Canadian writer Emma Donoghue, of whom I had not previously heard but of whom I most certainly expect to hear more in the future -- says it better than anything I've ever said myself, or anything I've ever read or heard. It doesn't quite cover all the bases -- but it covers most of them.

The writer considered whether to tell BJ that to print five hundred copies of his so-called coming-of-age novel was a criminal waste of trees as well as his ex-girlfriend's money. That it would never get reviewed, stocked, or bought. Instead he dragged the dog-eared manuscript towards him and opened it at random. "This sentence doesn't have a verb."

The gilt shades looked back at him blankly.

"If you don't know what a verb is, BJ, why the fuck do you imagine you can write a novel?"

Tears skidded down BJ's face. The young man tried to speak; his Adam's apple jerked. He bent over as if he'd been stabbed. There were salt drops on the writer's desk, on the manuscript.

"I'm sorry," the writer said, breathless, "I'm so sorry --"

But BJ didn't seem to hear him.