Do you want to communicate or do you want to build a funhouse?

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“If you want to communicate, use the telephone.” – Richard Hugo (What Our Speech Disrupts, p43).

“If you want to build a funhouse, a set of working blueprints would prove useful.” –Francois Camoin (What Our Speech Disrupts, p43)

While I understand the point Hugo is making, I disagree with it. Creative writing may not be as direct as a 9-1-1 call but it’s still a way of sending a message. We write to express ourselves and to communicate our thoughts, dreams, rhythms and words to ourselves and to others. Some of us write letters, lists and emails to express ourselves while others write poetry, short stories, screenplays, novels… A genre is a medium just like a telephone. As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” In other words, how we choose to say (or write in this case) something is just as important as what we say.

On the flip side, I absolutely agree with Camoin. This goes back to the theory that writing cannot be taught. I believe there’s truth to the notion that talent is born but I also believe that if a person has talent, then he or she can learn skills and through repetition, study, mentoring and trial and error, that talent can become something more substantial. Like Camoin says, we need “blueprints” or some sort of instruction to get there. It’s not always as simple as taking pen to paper. I believe that talent plus skill (plus hard work, determination and some luck) is the blueprint for success.

To show how I processed these two quotes together (and why I think Haake shared them on the same page), I’ll share a personal story about my own writing journey. When I quit my day job in 2007 and set out to write my first novel, I sat down and simply started writing. I’ve always loved to write but I didn’t know the first thing about writing a novel. Four months later, I had an almost 400 page manuscript. The problem was it wasn’t very good by anyone’s standards (except my mother’s). However, it still received positive and constructive feedback from agents and editors, I believe, because it made sense. It wasn’t “good” but it was well-written and the story I was trying to tell had potential. Contrary to Hugo’s point, my message was all over the place but it was still a valid message. It needed work (still does) but, to Camoin’s point, I needed to learn technique and how to make my message make sense as a novel.

Regarding the traditional writing workshop, I’m suspicious but I’m willing to acquire knowledge any way I can get it. I take classes hoping the teachers will know far more than I know on the topic being taught. Personally I don’t think it matters if a creative writing teacher relinquishes authority or not. As students, we should be critical thinkers. Critical thinkers know that teachers aren’t all knowing and/or omnipotent.

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