Workshop 101: Writers are Liars

This is part one because I just know I’m coming back to it. I can just feel it.

So, I’m in an MFA program right now, and I’m learning very quickly that my style of writing is not considered art. This should offend me, but it doesn’t. I mean, we’ve all seen what can be considered art, and we’ve all seen things that struck us as beautiful that were called a disgrace to the artistic community. Art is subjective, and writing is no exception to that rule.

All the way through school, you have classes that are designed to teach you how to write. First it’s the creative story and you seem to get a better grade the more adjectives you use. Heck, I wrote a story once about a rock with a name that was two lines long; don’t diss it, that story was awesome. But now what? You’re in college, you’re writing the story that you know is perfect for publication and what happens? You have too many adjectives. Wait, what?

Then you want to tell a story. It’s just a story that popped into your head one day and you love it and think it’ll be worth more love on paper. But then you’re told you can only write things you are deeply moved by, otherwise you shouldn’t bother because it’ll be crap. But…but you’re story is awesome, you just aren’t moved by it yet.

Obviously, I’m painting an egotistical writer here, and most writers who have had even a little experience know that these thoughts fizzle away and disappear. My point is everyone feels differently about how writing works, and you can’t trust them. Writers, I mean. Writers are liars, especially of the fiction-writing variety. If we weren’t liars, how could we do what we do?

Rule Number One about learning how to write: Never trust what a fellow writer or writing professor tells you. Every word of advice is to be taken with a grain of salt.

Have you got that? Remember it. You’ll need it. No one is going to tell you the same thing someone else did. You have got to find your own way.

Here I am going to insert a definition of art. This is from my computer dictionary, just so you don’t think I made this up: “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination…producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

That sounds gorgeous, doesn’t it? Now, who dictates that? Is it that one workshop professor? Is it that one critic who is cynical about everything? Is it you?

Here’s what I say, but I’m a writer so don’t trust me or believe a word I say. Write your piece, proofread, then forget about it for a week. Don’t think about it, don’t stew about it, just leave it. Then go back and read it and try and forget you were the author. Do you like the way it sounds? Would it sound better with this and this and this? Did that not work? Can you fix it?

It becomes about you. Art is a personal experience. You know what you like to read, and you know what you’re trying to accomplish should look and sound like. If you can step back and see the art, then you have accomplished what you set out to do. If you don’t see art yet, edit it and let it sit again. Eventually you find the art, be it flawed or not. Maybe it’s not publishable, but it’s what you set out to do, so why should that matter anyway?

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