The Final Curtain

There, I’ve done that Creative Writing Course.

I began when it started, and finished when it ended (due to falling attendance).   I liked it.  The writing I’ve done has been sometimes trite, sometimes difficult, and occasionally good.  I liked the idea of being given stupid subjects to write about; things I’d never bother my brain with otherwise.  Every Tuesday (unless I had a work meeting) I went and sat with the group.  Our first sessions were in a portacabin on an industrial estate/bomb site,

(Here's the view)
 

 
but this year it’s been held at the Fuller Church, in the Sunday School room.  Only one other from the original group still attends, ’elene, a French national who moved 'ere years ago to marry but it all went wrong and she’s still here, laughing hysterically and smelling of alcohol.  Each class has had a different flavour except for me, her and our tutor, Hilary.
 
The course is delivered by the Workers Education Association, a well-meaning group of upper-middle class people who’ve taken it upon themselves to educate the great-unwashed masses.  Ironically, I was the only one on the first cohort who had a job and therefore had to pay a hefty sum for the privilege (though I probably washed less than many of the others).  My classmates have been an unusual group of people, often coerced to be there by various mental health charities (for their own good).  Thus on the first day I sat next to a woman who refused to write anything down at all.  She would not put her name on the register or pick up a pen to do any of the creative writing exercises.  Now, please don’t be fooled into thinking, in a positive way, that this was because she had a magic memory and would ‘write it all’ in her head and then deliver it with gusto, in the smooth rhythm of Shakira.  Oh no.  She didn’t come back after the tea and *** break.
 
For one term only, to ensure attendance, (there was a high attrition rate), and to support the learners, the mental health team began sending a worker who sat at the back reading modern Romantic fiction novels unless someone started dribbling too badly, or had a turn.  In the end she stopped coming too.
 
In case you think I’m being unfair and judgemental, for comic effect, here’s a picture I took,
 

 
sneakily,
under the table,
when I got my first camera phone (and, well, you know how addictive it can be at first to point the camera at everything) - it’s of the teacher, and one of the students.  For anonymity’s sake I’ll call Aaron ‘Aaron’… his one leg was the size of Hilary’s entire body.  She had legs like a starling.  Anyway, ‘Aaron’ was, when I took this photo, virtually asleep on the table top, with a pool of drool spreading slowly across its plastic, fake mahogany top.
 
Hilary, our posh teacher, who looked a bit like this…
 

 
…would give us daft exercises to do that took me out of my comfort zone.  Poems about paintings, imagining what someone has in their bathroom cabinet; thinking about colours and smells, and words for colours and smells.  All that.  Then we’d have to read something out.  Often we’d only got a few minutes to write about something, and this is good for me as I like to procrastinate and over-edit, and only write when stoned, so this was different.  Although I’m still no writer, and I still prefer nonsense stream of consciousness (because that’s the whole point) I did begin to notice a kind of freedom in taking an idea and then giving it to some characters to play with, rather than just dealing with it myself.  For instance, characters can say, think and do things I wouldn’t admit to.  Thus, a story can become like a thought experiment.  I might feel stupid writing about Love because it’s imbecilic and pointless, but I can pretend through a persona, that might lack the deeper levels of cynicism that I possess.
 
I knew that before but I don’t think I’d seen the benefits of it.  I mostly hate fiction so the writing of it is always going to be a challenge.  Every sentence is like poison.
 
Or, Bob or Jane thought that writing fiction felt like it was poisoning him/her.
 
I was, if I’m honest, too lazy to do the hard work.  I have a novel I want to write, involving several characters, and although I know how I should flesh them out to make them feel real, I couldn’t be bothered, and it makes me feel grubby.  I rationalise it with the thought: That’s unreal because, in fact, when we have relationships, so much of the other person is unknown.  I don’t like to have the back story all the time, it should be revealed through the plot.  But what I learned when I had to do the work was that when I think about another character it throws up new ideas that don’t exist when it’s just me. 
 
When a character is being ‘designed’ (yuk) at first I feel sick because of the stereotyping, the cultural and interpersonal assumptions that come flooding in.  Writing about women is a nightmare, for instance.  A classmate, Tom (24, schizophrenic) freaked out when we were first asked to write from the perspective of the other gender (as if there’s only two!) and came out with the immortal line –
 
‘I don’t just want to be a vagina with a beard’.
 
I think that sums it up.
 
Here’s Jane, she’s an unusual woman in that she likes to obsess about details of pop culture, and thinks football is a great game.  She feels happy to spend way too much time in the bathroom just to infuriate her boyfriend.  She’s kooky like that.
 
But it’s possible to get past that with enough backstory.
 
I’m against ‘lessons’ in general, unless it’s for professional reasons.  I wasn’t mad keen on the idea of learning to do something I’ve been doing for 40 years, but that’s a bit small minded.  I think in some ways I’m proud of my ignorance, but at the same time, ideologically, I believe that original thought is what matters.  Thus, most of the stuff I actually like to read has been written by people who could barely string a sentence together.  I don’t really read a book to get lost in the beauty of a sentence, or to think about how well the writer has described the sky; I want the content, the context; I want something I can steal that might make my day better. 
 
Of course, with a proper writer these things are probably hidden.  I’m guessing the mark of a good writer would be that all the sentences are perfect but, as a reader, I don’t notice because there’s something interesting going on above, or below, all that technique - Meaning. 
 
Some of my struggle with creative writing has been just that: It’s alright learning how to write a sonnet, or a piece of dialogue between members of the Murdoch clan in a photo (a real exercise), but when I come to write something for real, I want to have a point.  I think now I’ve come to understand that the ‘having a point’ bit can’t really be taught at creative writing classes.  The key to it is that I have to find an angle.  The angle is everything.
CrookedMan CrookedMan
46-50
Dec 7, 2012