This week I received as a present two textbooks in creative writing from our partners at the Open University, but I must admit that I'm of two minds about the very issue of creative writing.
On the one hand I ask myself why it is that to become a surgeon one needs to perform years and years of study, learning every tool and procedure relating to the human body, but when it comes to the human spirit - which is what a writer or a poet deals with - anyone can become a writer whenever he or she wants, very often without any study?
Anyone can become a writer whenever they want
Shouldn't a person who aims to influence the human spirit be even more learned than the person who deals with the human body? Yet everyone has a free licence to start writing whenever he or she wishes...
But on the other hand I have a deep suspicion that creative writing ultimately defeats its own purpose.
I'll try to explain exactly what I mean. The manuals in creative writing usually set the rules based on previous famous successful books and poems. "Dickens starts his novel with a phrase...", "McEwan sets up the main character in the following manner...", "Frost brings together his poem by..." etc...
However, creative writing starts beyond the stated and already achieved, it starts on top of that, on the shoulders of all those greats.
Its ever expanding quest is for the unknown, unsaid, unsung, unexpressed. In fact all those greats who are usually brought to the herbarium of creative writing textbooks, themselves were the breakers of the rules, traditions and achievements of previous epochs.
A famous Russian poet said: "A great poem is the poem in which the poet metaphorically builds a multi-storey building and all of a sudden throws himself out of the window of the fifth floor". I would only add that with every work that great poet goes higher and higher, throwing himself out of the window of the 6th, 7th, 187th floor... (though I'm aware that the pattern here also defeats my argument).
So how to reconcile these two contradictory theses? I think that with all due allowances, creative writing courses and manuals are useful, but only to a certain extent. In literature, unlike in other areas, one has to know the rules in order to bend, extend, dodge and break them. Now, just like in one of those creative writing course books, let me give you an example of a poem by the Russian poet Innokenty Annensky - which succinctly expresses everything I am trying to say:
Through macrocosm and scintillating orbs
I say the name of one celestial lover...
Not that I have been loving her before,
But that I have been wearied by the others.
And if the doubt exacts a heavy toll,
She is the one I'm begging for true guidance,
Not that she brings more light into the world,
But that with her one'd be content in darkness.