When I first heard about “creative writing,” I pictured writing restrained only by the confines of what my brain could imagine. I saw myself arranging my letters and words to form a brilliant masterpiece on my 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper.
At eighteen years of age, I signed up for a creative writing class at a community college. I soon realized that creative writing came with a box. It had rules that fenced in the spaces in my head and shrunk the wild flood of ideas into a meandering trickle of stifled semi-creativity. To say it burst my bubble would be putting it mildly. I dropped writing like a free-loading boyfriend (okay faster – I kept the free-loading boyfriend for two years.)
I threw myself into my declared major: Psychology. The human mind: now that’s some creative stuff. There are enough phobias, disorders and mental illnesses out there to make even the most balanced person feel like they’ve gone mad. Actually we all really are a little crazy; we all have some characteristics of at least a few mental illnesses, but not necessarily to the degree that would earn us the label of a full-fledged mental illness. Isn’t the human brain fascinating???
Sorry, I got carried away there. I’m back to creative writing. I didn’t start writing again until a couple years ago. I have one novel complete and another one in process, but I thought now would be a good time to take a writing class. I know my route seems backwards to most rational people, but I choose to look at it as another beauty of my whimsical (read: flawed) human mind.
In my manuscript writing class, the instructor has told us about the 8 point arc of a story and point of view, and has warned us about punctuation use, overuse of descriptive dialog tags, the avoidance of adverbs, and has advised that we should critically review our work to trim out all unnecessary words, including most adjectives.
I want to have an open mind, but I can’t help but wonder how creative writing could possibly be when you strip it down to the skeleton. Isn’t the author’s use of adjectives and adverbs what gives a story a unique feel? I’m all for rules and guidelines when it comes to protecting people from harmful or deadly situations, or our own careless stupidity. But I’ll tell you, I’ve never been accosted by a single adverb or adjective in my life. I’ve never been offended by punctuation. Why are these tools out there if we’re not allowed to use them freely? Isn’t it like asking an artist to paint the sunset, and then telling them they can’t use the color orange?
As far as education goes, I think I’m looking to learn enough to avoid the obvious goofs, but not so much that I’m stymied by rules to the point I can barely write a sentence. I’m beginning to realize that in classes, the creativity in writing has little to do with exploring the outer limits of my imagination. Rather, the creativity involves wiggling in just the right way so the flaps of the writing box they try to stuff me in don’t fold down on top of me.
I’m claustrophobic, by the way.
Does education foster or hinder “creative” writing? What are your thoughts or experiences?