Most people grow up believing that the best authors, at least the true, bohemian, artsy types, only write when inspired. We imagine that words spew from their pens as one raw, release of emotion, a brilliant catharsis of insight that comes out already polished and perfect on the page. Writing is a gift granted only to a select few. And the thought that anyone can be taught to write creatively is absurd.
For many years, this was my thought process as well. Even when I started taking creative writing classes, it wasn’t because I believed my writing would get any better. It was just a fun outlet; a chance to practice a skill I thought I was mildly okay at. Instead, I learned just how much of creative writing is a process, and I was surprised to see how much my style grew and evolved as I studied this skill in a rigorous, academic setting.
It’s still not easy to teach those aspects of creative writing that aspiring writers tend to want to know about the most, such as where to get ideas, but these points don’t end up being what’s important after all. Learning that writing is work, and acknowledging the process that goes behind creating and revising a strong piece, is fundamental to the pursuit of writing, and something I would not have learned without my creative writing classes.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in class is how to take criticism. It’s easy to feel as though I’ve worked so hard on a piece that I don’t need to revise it any more, or be so embarrassed by a piece that I don’t even want to take a second look at it. Writing workshops force its participants to share their work with others, and discover what is actually coming through to their readers. It can still be hard to hear that something isn’t working, but rejection is a part of the writing process, and simply teaches the writer what to work on.
In addition, a good writer is able to give effective feedback to others as well. From writing workshops, I’ve learned how pick out specific places where another writer’s piece may seem strong, weak, powerful, or useless, instead of simply whether it is good or bad, and explain it to that writer in specific language. Furthermore, a good critic strikes a balance between compliment and criticism; a writer will always be more encouraged to revise if they can see what is working as well as what is not, and being able to point out these distinctions is an important lesson in any area of writing.
Finally, most of what I have learned about the writing process and industry has come from discussions in my creative writing classes. Even if my classes tend to focus on the craft of writing, the exposure to different styles and authors has given me a stronger picture of the industry as a whole. In addition, I can steal what I see in another writer’s style for my own writing, and learn from the techniques they use. This information is priceless if I plan on pursuing a career in writing.
It is easy to be skeptical of an area of study that is so rooted in creativity, but learning how to effectively get one’s vision across is valuable information for any type of writing. Creative writing is just one niche way to explore that skill.