Dear parent of a university student,
You might want to sit down because I’ve got news you’ve dreaded for some time: your child has enrolled in a creative writing course.
I know it’s scary. As the course’s instructor, I’ve heard the same stories you have. On the street, they call creative writing the most potent of the humanities’ gateway drugs. Students get their first hit, and before you even have time to threaten to cut them out of the will, they’re writing every text message as a haiku and studying Soviet film.
Your child might have already hinted to you that creative writing was a possibility. They might have mentioned something called a “workshop.” You probably laughed, because the poets and novelists whose photographs you’ve seen in newspapers seldom look like they know how to work much of anything, never mind a drill or power saw.
You might be angry with the university for allowing your child to take a creative writing course. You might be angry with me for teaching it. Let me assure you: in class, I do everything possible to pull back the curtain on creative writing. We talk about how hard it can be put anything on the page without lapsing into clichés. I explain just how much there is to learn about things like form, style and genre. I tell them what a misery it can be to sit alone at a keyboard for hours, moving words around.
I say these things, but every year, students keep signing up for the course. They just seem to love writing. They seem to love it even though it involves struggle. Maybe because it involves struggle. They seem to relish the challenge of describing the world closely; of imagining how it could be different; of treating language as a puzzle and a game; of discovering new things about themselves. Sometimes, getting the right words in the right order feels impossible, but they seem to think that it can be important work.