Creative in Creative Writing
Written by Valentina Đorđević
Translated by: Anja Dumanović
Ye who write, make choice of a subject suitable to your abilities; and revolve in your thoughts a considerable time what your strength declines, and what it is able to support. Neither elegance of style, nor a perspicuous disposition, shall desert the man, by whom the subject matter is chosen judiciously.
I would so execute a fiction taken from a well-known story, that any body might entertain hopes of doing the same thing; but, on trial, should sweat and labor in vain.
(Translated by C. Smart and by E. H. Blakeney, Horace on the Art of Poetry)
Horace is one of the most influential and translated ancient writers of all time. He lived in the first century BC; and was a prominent part of the Roman elite, poeta doctus, educated poet, cultural authority, creator, who also felt invited to advise others on how to write. Writers of all epochs did the same, libraries are filled with all kinds of insights for young writers. Myriads of these writings described laws of poetry of their time, some of them are read devoutly even today, and of course, new ones are written still.
During my studies at the Faculty of Philology, multiple times have courses for creative writing been organized. Creative writing is an understandable concept, but the idea of such a course has always seemed completely suspicious to me: a potential writer has to learn some rules and how to apply them in order to write in “the right way” and this is called creative writing!
I’ll go back to the part about insights for becoming writers. Do you know what happened to them? In the next generation, out of nowhere, a genial author would appear (one of those considered as classics today) whose works wouldn’t fit in the pattern, simply because they could see the world differently (and changing the perspective in literature always goes together with a new style of writing).
In a nutshell, universally applied norms of good writing don’t exist, at least not as such to certainly lead to aesthetic and literary value. There is absolutely no rule that cannot be broken: in the beginning of the twentieth century, poets avoided even grammar rules.
On the other hand, the class phenomenon of creative writing can be looked upon from a different angle (and it should be, considering the fact that it is quite a refined discipline which is taught at universities in the Western countries, and not as a form of a summer course, but as a legitimate academic discipline). If we collect all these ‘insights’ and read them through closely, regarding them not as rules, not as something normative, rather as something descriptive, since these usually are summed-up chops of successful writers – descriptions of their works and actions which yielded positive results in specific situations. So, if we regard them not as requirements, with the liberty to omit the parts we disagree with, we would find abundance of truly useful hints. Useful for, above all, those who wish to write but don’t have experience or confidence; and, finally, for those who hadn’t read enough to naturally acquire a style of their own, but still want to write… And this is how we reached the third perspective on the phenomenon.
For most people writing is a profession, something they do for money and not for the love for literature. Indeed, this usually isn’t literature at all, but something referred to as ‘non-fiction’ and it isn’t academic or technical writing. Widely spread forms of non-fiction creative writing are essays and letters. Writing a blog, of course, is also a form of creative writing as well. The last decade has (and this is a cliche) brought about plentitude of technical triumphs which resulted in changes in social conduct. Social network communication is mediated by writing (if we omit ‘pictures that are worth more than a thousand words,’ likes and not so eloquent comments by the majority). The number of blogs, both personal and professional, is increasing. More and more phrases as ‘to speak about something’ are being modified into ‘to write about something’, which means that plenty people, without the regards of their education and reading experience, are forced to write.
There is the craft of writing best-selling literature. That is to be learnt as well: the readers’ taste has been closely examined, what the reader wants to receive and the way to produce it is unambiguous. There are special how-to guides on writing romance and detective novels, and even Christian literature! While searching for pictures on Google for this post, I found some interesting pictures, e.g. this one:
The title says it all. It’s intriguing that ‘creative writing book-guides’ are sold in a bundle with creative marketing.
Then, I realised: creative writing courses exist so that people who acquired superb skills through years of hard work can earn money from those who want to develop them quickly…
Since a writer doesn’t have to be an erudite scholar, it’s quite enough to take a similar handbook, and he will become an esteemed author. If he’s also educated and creative, he can have a bright future. He cannot become Faulkner or Dostoevsky, but he can become Coelho. And everyone (the mentioned majority) wants to become Coelho, not Faulkner (who wants to even read Faulkner? Either way, it’s an arduous task to imitate him, so why even bother?).
Imitating is a vital part of ‘creative writing’ – it’s in the handbooks, but the becoming author has to do more reading in that case. Let’s see where imitating can take you. A German author, Mann’s contemporary, claimed that he studied the finesse of Mann’s style so meticulously that he was completely able to write like Mann himself. So he boasted around and Mann heard about it, who decided to read his writings of course. “Yes,” said Mann, “he really writes like I do, but he actually means it.” The diligent imitator didn’t have the sense for Mann’s irony, which communicates an entirely new meaning. All is not only in the words themselves.
Authenticity isn’t in creative writing workshops.
Valentina Đorđević: A philologist, freelance creative writer, ghostwriter, book reviewer & structural editor. Studied Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the Faculty of Philology. She writes about interesting books and ideas on Booksist.net sometimes. She lives in the suburbs with her husband, one big boy, a little girl and a hyperactive yellow tigress. She does not have Facebook or Instagram.
Anja Dumanović: born in 1995 in Prishtina, grew up in Budva, Montenegro. Acquired Bachelor with Honors at the Department for English Language, Literature and Culture, University of Belgrade. Studying Educational policies at the University of Belgrade. Works for a salary, writes, translates and does research for joy.
Translation edited by Dejan Mujanović