Friday, July 2, 2010

Petty Rant: Creative Writing Workshop, Graduate Level

This is a true story. Names have been changed to protect the petty (me).

Liking Kaleb Wilson is not possible.

Jessie says that you’ve got to find something to like in everyone, and for the most part, I do, but not Kaleb. Kaleb is without redeeming qualities. Or, if he possesses them, they are qualities that cannot be expressed in the context of the graduate level creative writing workshop. His stories are boring, his critiques are worthless, and the worst part is that people like Sue Becker, who’s won every writing prize there is, adore him and believe he can do no wrong.

Here’s an example of why his critiques are worthless. Kaleb is the sort of person who, when I bring in a fifty-page chapter, will mark up the first two pages, and the last two pages, and then write a few lines of comments like, “This would be better if you had done X, Y, and Z,” with X, Y, and Z being the contents of the forty-four pages that he didn’t read. And then he’ll finish up with some helpful advice like, “This is exactly like Lord of the Rings” (a book he admits to never having read; nor has he watched the movie) and “Adults do not read fantasy novels; they are for children.”

First of all, I’m sorry that I’m the only person in the class working on a novel, and that I’m more prolific than anyone else. Had they told me that I was only supposed to write fifteen pages a semester, preferably on the subject of unhappy relationships, I probably would have stayed home. But they told me it was fine to write novels. They even told me it was fine to write fantasy novels. Have you ever been to a book store, Kaleb, or ridden a city bus? You will see far more adults reading fantasy novels than “lit-er-a-toor” or “litch-ra-cher” or however you heard it pronounced on NPR this week.

Bottom line: why not just admit that you haven’t bothered to read my work because you feel it is beneath you? Sitting sullenly while others praise it, and then, giving up all pretense of caring, shifting one-eighty, and offering thoughtless feedback like, “This is great! Keep doing exactly what you are doing,” because you think “genre” is a dirty word and you don’t get what everyone else enjoys about it is pretty transparent.

I don’t get what everyone else enjoys about your work.

Here’s why Kaleb’s stories are boring. Everything he writes is comprised of the same elements: ten pages of an extended metaphor, laughably trite (a bird in a cage to symbolize a woman trapped in her marriage? Really? That’s what passes for creative writing? Come on, Sue, aren’t you going to say anything?), and no action whatsoever (wind blowing through an open window and scattering papers does not count as action), followed by, finally, at last, one thing happening, at which point the story ends, abruptly, with no examination, confrontation, consequence, or resolution. Every freaking thing Kaleb has ever brought to workshop follows this framework.

For instance: a young woman is married to an older man who keeps a bird in a cage. For ten pages, nothing happens. The woman is vaguely unhappy. The man is blissfully oblivious. The bird waits patiently for a chance to morph from a metaphor to a plot device. One day, the bird flies away. The end.

He won an award for that one. Because it was so original and creative. But my work is exactly like Lord of the Rings because one of the characters is a magician.

So that’s why Jessie’s disappointed in me, and why I don’t have the same enthusiasm I had coming into the program. But, more important, that’s why I cannot like Kaleb Wilson. And why Sue isn’t my favorite author anymore, either.