A recent blog post at I Should Be Writing caught my attention. Can writing be taught? Is it something you can learn in a class or workshop? Or is it a you-have-it-or-you-don’t kind of thing? Before you answer read this article from The New Yorker.
Personally, I say no, workshops do not teach writing.
I took 2 creative writing workshops in college, was active in Critters and co-founded the Kazoo Books Speculative Fiction Writers’ Group with John Wenger (I frequently confound them as well). I would love to go to Viable Paradise or Clarion or Odyssey someday. Why would I spend so much time on this if I didn’t think it could teach me how to write?
Writing is a personal, internal business. That’s why it is scary. Creating is so subliminal, almost magical. Personally, while writing a first draft I am considering none of the “rules of writing” in my head while I go. It’s a trance. I don’t even know how to describe what I do when I do that, much less to teach someone else how to do it. I think this is why writers are so frustrated by the constant repetition of the question “where do you get your ideas?”
If flying is controlled falling then writing is controlled dreaming and it’s meaningless to compare a good dream to a bad one in the sense of quality. When people talk of a bad dream they usually are remembering a dream that produced a strong negative emotive experience (but was it a dream good at being a bad dream, for its impact?). If you have ever been bored to tears by someone recounting to you a dream they had that was so interesting you will see what I am getting at here. The impact of the dream loses something in the translation. Especially when their interesting dream is full of non sequiturs and object or person plasticity. They cannot convey to you the feelings their dream produced in them.
This is where the workshop teaches me.
Workshops teach you how successful you have been at recreating the story you experienced in your head for your audience. You don’t learn how to write, you learn how to revise, how to rewrite, how to edit the feelings you want into the code you have typed out. It’s not so much of a “do this this way” type of teaching as a “that didn’t work, try something else” method. The Wiley Coyote method, if you will.
I have learned a lot from the critiques of my writing, but I learn most from comparing my critique of some material to the others’ critiques of the same. Rules of Writing are not passed down in this method (I don’t know that they exist) but the Principles -Leviathans swimming in the murky depths- can be glimpsed in part. Those principles you get an inkling of, you can’t describe them fully, but they go right to the subconscious and THAT can inform the things you make up when you are in the trancelike state of writing a first draft.
Do you agree? What else good are workshops?