Do you think that creative writing can be taught? First, let me say that I have taken only one creative writing course in my life. And so, my experience is not extensive. But, having written for many years, I can tell you what I’ve observed.
Teachers can help you hone your craft. They can even teach you tricks to overcome obstacles to the creative flow. But I doubt they can teach you to be creative. If I worked very hard with a good teacher, I might gain respectable proficiency at the piano. I might even learn musical theory and composition and pass every course with honors. And yet, I’ll never compose a piano sonata, which stirs us to the depths, without that amazing ingredient creativity. It can’t be taught.
Why not? Because creativity is a gift. It comes from within, and is personal to the individual. You either find it within yourself and work with it or you don’t. It’s much the same with writing or painting. Only a tiny handful will ever write a novel, which is truly original or creative.
If a writer does manage such a feat, he or she likely created it only after many years of hard, lonely struggle. It’s a private task, which doesn’t much benefit from exposure in the classroom. After all, don’t you do your very best work in a quiet spot, late at night when the daily minutiae have faded to a dull roar? And then, consider if you have ever read a novel written by a committee?
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and father of psychoanalysis, speaks of the creative instinct along with other instincts, such as the urge to activity and reflection. These are innate instincts, which cause human beings to strive, build and create. So, if it’s a human instinct, isn’t it available to all human beings? Apparently not. If it were, all of us would all be able to write that sonata or novel which speaks to untold generations.
Jung also says that the creative artist is one who has unusual access to the subconscious.
If so, maybe there’s a way to access that mother lode. I’ve been reading a fascinating book, The Tao of Photography. With many beautiful photographs, it’s written by Dr. Philippe Gross and Dr. S.I. Shapiro, both psychologists and photographers. Sometimes, I really enjoy camera work as it helps me concentrate on my surroundings, which I find helpful in capturing a mood for writing.
The book applies the teachings of the Chuang-tzu, a collection of writings from the fourth, third and second centuries B.C.E. to the art of photography. It speaks of Little Understanding and Great Understanding. I love how those states of being are described:
Great understanding is broad and unhurried;Little understanding is cramped and busy.
It seems to me that our daily lives are filled up with ‘little understanding.’ Just look at my daily list of errands and things to do! Here we are running around with our heads down [cramped and busy] concentrating on the little inconsequential stuff. What if we look up and around ourselves and even inside ourselves? Great understanding is broad and unhurried. Just think what we might see and what doors we might open.
When we slow down and shift our focus not only to observing everything about life, but also looking inside ourselves, that’s when we have a chance of tapping into the creative spirit. Unless we do, no amount of concentration on technique [which can be taught] will ever help us listen to our inner voice. After all, aren’t writers always told they must find their own voice? I say to do that, we have to learn to listen and pay attention to the outer life surrounding us as well as our own inner life.
Suppose you do actually get past that cramped and busy stage. [The Tao of Photography has numerous excellent suggestions as to how to accomplish that.] What will you find? Maybe nothing special. But if a writer is lucky, he might just tap into something wonderful…his true creative spirit. If we can get out of our conscious way and let the images, words, music, ideas and emotions flow, then we just might have something to work with.
In writing, I think that’s what the first draft is all about. Then the more rational, analytical part of the brain takes charge and refines what has been created. Then a teacher can help you by showing you the techniques of your craft. Maybe a first draft of a novel should be a prerequisite for entry into a creative writing course. What do you think?