June 10, 2011

Been working on creative writing maxims. Here's what I have so far:

1) “Love is always a descent,” Pope Benedict, XVI. So it is with character and self. In both fiction and poetry, students need to drop down. Let the words follow the broken truth of the person.

2) If you have a reputation, get rid of it.

3) It’s the writer’s job to “purify the dialect of the tribe.” T. S. Eliot

4) Frost said he was after “fresh talk, brought into books.”

5) “Learn your ax, then forget all that shit and play.” Anonymous

6) You will encounter brilliant prose writing teachers, but if you bring “writerliness” into a creative writing class you are dead.

7) Eliot said that poetry was simply regular speech at pitched emotional times.

8) Pound said that poetry should be as well written as good prose.

9) To make something truly personal is to make it original.

10) Never write as if God’s mercy is mostly for other people.

11) Pray to become more aware of your brokenness. That will help you; veneer will not. There are no good Christian women and men when it comes to creative writing. We are all sinners in a pitched battle, and though our victory may be written elsewhere, it does not always feel assured to us. (Nor do we possess virtue, at least to any marked degree.)

12) We are not in this for us. And Jesus does not need PR. If you want to parade your faith, hire a band. (In real life, it takes very good preaching to win a choir.)

13) MODY DICK is a great book. It is also a botch.

14) All good literature involves personal risk. If the student is a young Catholic writer, the most difficult and necessary thing for him or her to learn is to have faith enough to put his notion of what it means to be a Catholic behind him each time he confronts a blank sheet of paper. He will have to leave behind what he thinks he knows so that he can get to what he is just learning he knew. (If this ever proves not to be true in his career as a writer, he will find himself dead in the water.)

15) Great literature is about questions, not answers—nor does it involve sentimental piety. Philosophy and theology are about how we ought to live, after all, literature is about how we do live. And that is always a little messy. So the student should remember that suffering is not necessarily the result of some spiritual misalignment. Good creative writing is probably going to include both pain and sin, tough questions somewhere along the line. As Tolkien says, “There are no stories without he Fall.”

16) If the student wants to emphasize God’s mercy--the only real subject for any Christian writer--then he must fill out the rest of the equation: our intense need for that.

17) Learn to cut yourself emotionally off from you work when it’s under discussion. Write down every suggestion as if you were a stenographer; and then, a few days later, look at them.

18) Always be prepared to blow up your text. When you revise, you will need to do more than to change a word here or there. You will need to re-see, invent again. Get creative, outrageous even. And don’t fret. Every writer has to do this! Have fun with it. (Since it does take time to do good work, you can relax. Remember, there are no bad poems or stories, just unfinished ones. The question becomes, do you want to take your time here?)