Thursday, 10 October 2013

Literary Stage Fright

A while ago I wrote a blog post about university creative writing courses and whether they're a waste of time. I came down on the side of those who believe writing skills can be taught and that these courses are an excellent way of learning about the finer points of writing.

Now I'm nearing the end of my second semester of a creative writing course through Macquarie University, I can speak from actual experience about this subject. I wish I could say that my writing has improved dramatically and that I've learnt a great deal that I can use, but it's not that simple. Don't get me wrong, my classes have been extremely enriching, and I've learnt a lot about how to critique other people's writing and my own, but the downside of reading so much good writing, both by published authors and my fellow-students, is that I look at my own writing now and see how substandard it is. I also suffer from the literary equivalent of "stage fright" because when my writing is going to be read and judged by others, whether for a workshop or assessment, I find that I freeze and lose my spontaneity. This is the thing that make writing fun, so to lose it is quite concerning.

I enrolled in this course to "find my voice as a writer" (so pretentious, I know) so it's pretty ironic that instead I feel I've lost it. Sometimes it seems like I'm trying to force my writing into a mould that it just doesn't fit into, and the only answer is to stop trying to force it. The trick, I believe, is to listen and take on board everything about literary technique and style, but not let it stifle your imagination or cripple your own unique personality. Even though I haven't seen much obvious improvement in my writing I'm hoping that in the long run I'll benefit from all this learning. The unconscious is a funny thing and sometimes you just have to let information simmer there for a while, especially with something like creative writing, which delves very deeply into the hidden and mysterious reaches of the mind.

I have to make a decision very soon about whether to apply to continue this course next year, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to take it to the next level. Reading and analysing stories is something I enjoy so much that I could do these kinds of classes forever. My educational qualifications are starting to look ridiculous on my resume, especially considering I'm not even using them at the moment. Maybe one day it will all be worth it. If not, at least I'm doing something I love. I can't think of any better reason  for persevering against what seem like crushing odds sometimes.