I’m a pretty brave sort of fellow. I’ve weathered a lot. I’ve climbed to the peaks of high mountains, delved deep into caverns far below the ground, and wandered into the depths of gloomy forests. I’ve battled adversaries both strong and crafty.
Of course, that’s just in my stories, but it’s still a sort of courage – at least that’s what I reckon.
But there’s one thing that scares the heeby-jeebies out of me. One thing that breaks me out in a cold sweat. One thing that represents my worst nightmare.
Being stuck in a creative writing class.
‘What?’ I hear you say. ‘He doesn’t like creative writing classes? Isn’t he supposed to be a writer? Doesn’t he want to learn how to get better at what he does?’
Well, yeah, I am a writer, and I do want to get better at what I do. It’s just that, from where I’m sitting, creative writing classes are not a great way to do this, at least not in my experience.
And yes, I do have reasonably extensive experience. I have taken a number of writing courses – I even have the certificates to prove it (I never stuck around long enough to qualify for a diploma or anything higher than that).
My main recollection of these classes is the dreaded all-in workshop. You read a snippet of your work to the class (which is nerve-wracking enough) or you hand out copies in the previous class. Then it’s everyone for themselves.
Everybody has an opinion. Everyone wants to throw in their ten cents worth. Sure, you occasionally receive an insightful comment. But most of it is purely noise. Most of the people in the class haven’t had an opportunity to really engage with the story, so they’re just throwing out stuff off the top of the head. Sometimes, the point just seems to be to show they’re participating. Mostly, I used to sit there, smiling and nodding and trying to look polite, while all the time I was cringing inside.
Then, of course, there’s the flip side. When other people present their work, I’m expected to offer an opinion. Even though I’ve had minimal engagement (and often even less interest) in what they’re writing. After all, if I just stay silent, I’m not contributing to the class.
Sure, my experiences haven’t been as bad as some. I’ve seen horror stories, particularly in American colleges (and their dreaded Master of Fine Arts) where teachers have come into class and said horrible things about so-called genre fiction (like scifi and fantasy). What they would say about my writing I don’t want to even consider.
So I’m happy to go it alone. Sure, I get opinions on my work. But it’s from a small group of colleagues whose knowledge and ideas I trust, rather than the all-in opinion-fest of the creative writing workshop.
Because I still have nightmares about that.
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