I remember years ago when I was taking my first creative writing course in my first semester of my first year of university, I was rather cocky. I was already a published poet after all, high school teachers salivated over my work, I scored one of the highest marks in the province on my English Final, and I was a few years older than most of the students...what could this grizzled old British dude possibly have to teach me? It would be an easy A, hands down.
It was not easy, it was a semester long lesson in humility.
The first day of class he wrote on the front white board in two foot tall red letters "WRITING IS TRANSFORMATIVE". I totally knew what he understood. I was, for all the reasons listed above, completely on the same page as this long time, well known and abundantly published author.
I was devastated the first story I got back. Devastated. It was a simple project, two paragraphs designed to capture the reader's attention, with most emphasis on the first line. He went through a list of amazing first lines of novels, I'm sure there are many such lists online today, but back then he would have had to look them up and write them out. I know, positively Stone Age.
I cannot even remember what I wrote about, or what my first line was, but the entire piece was a mine field of red ink. He shredded it, he destroyed it, he broke it down and crapped on it, then kicked it into a fire pit and poured gasoline on it. That's how it felt. I do remember what he had issue with though. Those red lines stuck with me to this day.
He said I tried too hard, it felt forced and constructed.
He told me I was too precise with my grammar, that I needed to find my style (this doesn't mean shitty grammar), my voice, my distinctive pattern of laying words to page that made it my own.
He told me my first line was promising, but felt as though it had been rewritten a hundred times. It had.
He said that when you rewrite constantly, you interrupt the flow. When you worry on your first draft, you create a barrier between your wellspring of creativity and your page.
The first draft is the brain trickling slowly onto the page in great messy waves of colour, when you edit, you can paint the picture, fill in the blanks and make it pretty.
The first draft usually isn't pretty, and the more you try, the less it is.
He was right, on all of it. Our next exercise and assignment was stream of consciousness writing, this helped me immensely. It allowed me to reach an almost meditative state when feeling it, when I was in the zone. Writing itself became a form of meditation for me.
I spent years writing for academia, for research, for peer reviewed journals, for technical manuals and public consultations. I wrote to inform, to clarify and to teach.
Now I write because I can, because I need to find that wellspring and tap into it. It is finally time.
I have been writing fiction because somehow the stars aligned and I am able to get into that zone and tap into the wellspring. I am creative again, and I am transforming.
WRITING IS TRANSFORMATIVE
Oh, and I did get an A, an A+ if I remember correctly. ;)