In his blog The Write Practice, creative writing instructor Joe Bunting sprinkles aspiring writers like me with nuggets of wisdom every day. I read all of his interesting posts and often get motivated. I tend to write more, but, needless to say, my writing hasn’t improved significantly. Seems like his workshops are leading me nowhere, or rather, I am myself not willing to go anywhere. With my standard of literary excellence still remaining in a limbo, I feel, even with the help of these rigorous workshops, I am still where I was five years ago. Of course, I’ve learnt a couple of new terminologies and a bit of daft ideas like – “Don’t tell, show.”, or “Avoid passive structures.”or “Don’t mix up the viewpoints.”
The thing is new voices, amazing writers of all sorts have emerged more from outside than inside of the academic system, or trainings like this, but then, what is the main point of all these trainings? Is it the shameful fact that these classes only teach mundane rules and boggle our minds with words like structure, or story arch, or narratology? The whole system is somewhat flawed.
Last year, when I sent one of my (awful) short stories to Samrat Upadhayay – considered to be the best writer of Nepal with all his dark, sexy, and often filthy tales of Kathmandu – what he said hit me hard and smothered me at the same time. “Although your story lacks proper plotting, the only thing that holds all the sections is your language. You have such a grip over it that I can only envy.”He said in his clipped American accent – the kind of accent that we can only fake all our lives but never get used to it.
Nonetheless, he made my day. I was happy for a month, but …
But upon sending the same story to a couple of my extremely talented (writer) friends, the words of Upadhayay gradually lost its charm. One of the suggestions, which I have copied and posted in my wall, and which gives me loads of inspiration every time I write, goes like this:
“Don’t use words that don’t come naturally, look up what those words mean, and try not to use big words when they are not necessary. Create a picture for the reader, don’t confuse them.”
~ Pranaya Rana
I was struck by a lightning epiphany. Indeed my hold of the language was poor and it still is. I suck at English – honest. But, why all the flattery, Mr. Upadhyay? Is that what workshops are meant for?
The second advice by another fascinating writer is rather curt (and more painful.)
“No empathy in your writing. No empathy means no transportation. Your story didn’t catch my attention, in fact, I was repelled by your heavy-handedness of the language.”
~ Prashant Das
Why, oh, why, Mr. Upadhyay and your dork-like crew of Indiana Bloomington University, why all the fakeness? With your alchemic formula of formalized writing, I wonder how many Tolstoys you have produced till now.
Truth be told, with its intense scrutiny of new work and insincere praises, workshops like these cripple for me.
Last, what matters is the work and the work must be good – better – outstanding. Rest of all doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter how we do it, or by whatever means, the only yardstick of measurement is that we must write well.
The alchemic formula seldom works.