March 21st, 2011
My Masters course is driving me nuts again.
What I'm finding hard to do are the stages along the way to producing finished work. The first step is usually an outline, then a treatment, then a rough draft, followed by a full draft. After each of these steps there is a tutorial. During the tutorial they take your idea - which is only part-formed at this stage - and tell you that you can't do this bit, that your character would never do that and why don't you do this instead. At which point, it's rewrite time, where the whole process is repeated with their suggestions incorporated.
(I find this very strange. And, to be frank, unrepresentative of writing as a profession. Editors in my experience for example do not usually make suggestions of this kind. They may critique or say something doesn't work. But usually they don't tell you how to fix it. That's the writer's job.)
I don't like people accessing my creative process, especially so early on
Putting that aspect aside though, personally I don't like people accessing my creative process, especially so early on. I don't like exposing ideas that are part-formed to other people's input. I prefer to work on my own, at my own pace and only when I'm happy, will I share what I've done. At that point, I'm happy to take my lumps, please critique away!
None of the writers I know would put their ideas out to tender before they are fully formed. Yes I know ideas can't be copyrighted and they can't really be stolen, but there ARE lawyers and there ARE courts and if you listen to someone else's suggestion then they are contributing to your work and they are potentially entitled to get a share of any money earned from it. Many writers won't share their ideas - let alone sharing them early on - for just this reason.
Many writers also won't read other people's work
Many writers also won't read other people's work for fear of just this kind of come-back later on. There are potential legal ramifications. Sure we are all influenced by other texts in one form or another all the time. Some of the best work, especially in film, relies upon intertextuality. Being influenced by ideas from published and produced works is quite normal. The works form part of the culture and time that we are sharing. But what if texts haven't been published or produced? How can they be considered part of the same shared cultural pool? This, I feel, is a morally different thing - especially if that text stands no chance of seeing the light of day as a published or produced work. This is why many writers just don't read unpublished work.
Why are courses pushing the notion of sharing your work at this very early stage?
So, if writers don't generally take ideas from others - outside of publised works - then why are academics teaching their students that this is how professional writers work? Why are courses pushing the notion of sharing your work at this very early stage? It could be because creative writing, as an academic subject, is a fairly new field, and many would argue it shouldn't even be an academic subject. And of course we've all heard that old argument about whether creative writing can be taught. Now I don't want to get into that argument. (Personally I think creative writing courses do a lot of valuable work - not just in helping fledgling professional writers, but also in encouraging creative writing as an interest and as form of therapy.) But creative writing departments at universities up and down the country however are banking on the subject being something that can be taught. They need to be involved in the student's work from an early stage in order to be said to be having any effect. Without it they can't really justify their own subject. Or their jobs. Even if teaching this way means giving new writers an incorrect impression of how writers work.
Writing is a lonely job!
Another aspect where this practice can be hazardous to a writer's work is when they come to write projects on their own. If a writer is used to having third party suggestions and support during the writing process it's going to be much harder to adapt to the solitary existence of the writer. It's a lonely job. Even if, like me, you are surrounded by a family of other writers, facing the blank page is a daily journey that one must essentially make alone. (Seeing the ease with which other people get down to the business of writing each day, can actually make it harder rather than easier to write!)
Keep your own Counsel!
One of the most important lessons I learned in life was to keep my own counsel. Letting ideas out too soon can, not only affect the quality of your work, but it can also affect your ability to pull it off at all. How many of us haven't shared an idea that we were really enthused about only to find that we felt less enthused because we blabbed about it rather than ploughing our creativity into it? It's a hard lesson to learn - keep your own counsel and you retain your ideas and your energy.
So where does this leave me with my own course? Well, I don't know. I only know I don't roll that way. Writing for me will continue to be something I get on with at my own pace and with my own ideas.
For now, I must accept that it is just an academic exercise.