Written for my Creative Writing class, Freshman year at BYU, as a response to “what did you learn from this class?”
I’m writing this at 1 a.m. as my roommate types so loudly I couldn’t possibly sleep, and I’m wondering if she’s doing the same, and we’ll just keep eternally typing until someone passes out on their keyboard. But it’s a good motivation to write an essay, I suppose, and other than the sheer entertainment the thought gives me, it also accurately demonstrates what I’ve learned in Creative Writing this semester. No, I can’t force my creativity, but sometimes I just have to sit down and write and something unexpectedly beautiful will fall out of my brain like books falling out of your arms when you’re running up stairs. (Or at least that’s what happens in the movies. And I like that.) I learned that sometimes I have to take away my expectations for perfection and just create without a certain agenda or standard and then revise and revise and revise and take a breath and revise some more. This not only applies to my writing, but my expectations for myself, my future plans, and how I think of others. I must not approach people or situations expecting them to benefit me in some way, I have to just pour out all I can and then learn what I can from what I’ve done and enjoy what I’ve done well, or recognize unusual blessing that has to be recovered underneath sheets of revision. I also learned I wasn’t alone. I learned of my secret passion for The New Yorker and I learned that it’s okay to be the only person who likes something in the room. I realized even more fully the amazing perspective that people around me have, that they want to swear as much as I do, and that they have hilarious and sad stories too and they can stitch things together into the most beautiful sentences. I shared what made me uncomfortable and made friends and ate my roommates candy for breakfast while watching Vimeo videos about creativity that taught me that writer’s block and social awkwardness is universal, even in quiet people who I hadn’t given my imagination to earlier.
That was a long list, so I’ll just start at the top and try to peel this apart. First off, I learned that I can’t force creativity, especially when I have perfectionist expectations for myself. I tend to do this a lot, and one day when I was walking home from classes I just allowed myself to not imagine what others would think of me and just listened to my music way too loud and ate what I wanted and didn’t really give a crap and it felt amazing. That sounds cliche (and I learned in this class that lots of times when I think things sound cliche they don’t actually sound that cliche) and it actually inspired a piece I wrote for this very class, but it felt so revolutionary to not expect myself to be perfect. I didn’t realize what I was missing out on by wanting to be flawless and failing miserably. That’s just the thing, I was failing miserably when I didn’t realize I could be failing happily. My dad told me at the start of the semester that I should “go down in a blaze of glory” and I guess that sums up a bit what I’m trying to say here. This lesson became really apparent for me as I was writing my nonfiction piece. I sat around for days trying to think of some groundbreaking subject to write about, something perfect and intelligent and meaningful that wasn’t too embarrassing but also didn’t sound like I was trying too hard, and it became impossible to think of anything at all. I eventually wrote on a random topic I had thought about before but I was forcing myself too much and I hated every word and felt miserable. Somewhere after the first few drafts I remembered something Professor Bennion said about writing about what makes you passionate, what embarasses you. There was a topic I had been avoiding because it embarrassed me a bit to disclose my feelings, but they were definitely passionate and I had so much to say, so I went ahead and sat down in the lobby in the afternoon sun and started writing as the janitor vacuumed. Suddenly I was sorting out things I was passionate about on a page and thoughts were falling into place and I was researching what I actually cared about. I was disclosing what made me uncomfortable and in doing so I felt like it took away the power I had to be embarrassed by it, it gave the power to me. And that came from not expecting anything of myself, just writing freely and without some expectation and just allowing myself to be embarrassed and clumsy and write an essay like that. It turned out to be one of the best essays I’ve written, and it started out without me pressuring myself to fit certain standards, I just word-vomited. That essay makes me really happy, as does listening to my music too loud, and maybe it’s self indulgent but I believe that’s important, and this class contributed to my practice of carefree writing, loving my first drafts and embracing my clumsiness.
I then needed to revise relentlessly. With every new person I showed my paper to I was given insights into how I could change it, and how those changes would affect it. Sometimes I write things in a way that only makes sense in my head, and my mom helped me work through this by speaking out loud what I was trying to say and then typing exactly that. It became habit for me to speak aloud what I had written to check for clarity, and explaining what you’re writing about to another person as you’re writing it has amazing results. Through the peer meetings in class and the meetings with my teachers I discovered that things I had thought pristine before were actually laden with errors and opportunity to change. Although at first this made me really upset, I realized that all creative works are only ever done once the author decides they are, that you could, in theory, infinitely revise them. This is because each person has an opinion on what exactly they want to hear or see, and with every new person you show something to, you can tweak a creative work to fit their expectations. However, most revision is completely necessary, and all of the criticisms I was given opened my eyes to how I could improve my writing in general, and were 100% useful as I continued to revise my pieces.
The non-fiction unit also reminded me I wasn’t alone. I read the essay “Scars” when I was having a really hard night, and it meant so much to me. It made me feel not so messed up, like someone else understood me and how I felt about the church, my brain, and depression. My writing also became more open and honest as a consequence.
The poetry unit taught me to think differently about the world surrounding me. Before this unit, I hated writing formal poems, but Shelli gave us ideas for formal poems such as the Pantoum that seemed almost like a game, like accidentally discovering your unknown genius beneath stanzas of material. I think I’ll start adding “and the woods were on fire” to the end of all of my poetry.
The fiction unit taught me the value of short stories, of my love for The New Yorker, and gave me appreciation for writers who can construct believable dialogues. I used to write fiction all the time as a child and collect addresses for agents at Scholastic as I planned my future as an author, and then as I grew up I stopped writing so much fiction. When we were required to write a fiction piece I ended up writing about the first unusual character that popped into my head, and in doing so I happily remembered how much fun I have writing fiction. It relaxes me and I’m so thankful I was able to discover that elated feeling of being inside your own imagination again.
To me, the value of creative writing lies in its ability to draw out our empathy for the human experience, to share our experiences and entertain. It asks questions and adds depth, raises awareness and makes us laugh. And if I can’t laugh at my life, then I don’t know what I’m doing. In summary, creative writing has taught me to fail happily, to revise, to appreciate, to share my embarassment, to indulge in writing fiction, and to share my often hyperbolic imagination with the world via wisely and lovingly chosen words.