Saturday, January 31, 2015

An Open Apology to my Creative Writing Class, Or: Genre Fiction vs. Literary Fiction

By all rights, I should not have my Creative Writing degree. 

I went to a university where to even get into the program, one had to test in. An application. Ten pages of sample writing. I still have the material I submitted, but some days I think to burn it in a fire and chase the e-files all the way out through the recycle bin. Instead, I save them so I can torture myself and keep that ego in check.

But getting into the program isn’t what I’m apologizing for. No, I’m apologizing for the writing I accomplished once I got into the program. The panicked, incoherent scribbles I would write the night before deadlines, the pointless attempts at creating character depth in a 2AM frenzy, and the horrible ways in which I tried to prove myself deep and oh so sensitive.

The stories of trauma I spun could gag the decaying fish out of a hibernating bear. 

Oh, the twist endings. The angst. The caffeine fueled sermons on human history disguised as a short story. Here’s a sample. Go on, laugh at me. It’s really okay. (I laugh at myself all the time).

"The city is a horde, a coerced population of five million blinded citizens, eating out of the hands of an institution whose very purpose is to slaughter. They slaughter dreams. They slaughter people. They slaughter freedom." - that horrible writer from your 2012 CW class

I look back at those words and hate myself for them.

Because here’s the thing: I was a new writer. I think people new to writing often equate good writing with deep, meaningful, sensitive writing. People commonly think the best writers are the classic writers. The Hemigways, Twains, and Faulkner’s of the literary world. 

But I think what made those writers great is the passion they held for the stories they told. They didn’t write harrowing tales for the sake of sounding good or because the topic was inherently powerful; they wrote their stories because like all good writers, they loved their subject material. They held a passion for the real world and for the human condition. They felt something when they looked at others that made them want to write about this time, this place, this Earth. 

And admittedly, who wouldn't be passionate about this?

My Creative Writing program was amazing. We had phenomenal authors like the incredible Karen Yamashita teaching our classes. We had guest lecturers from the writing hub that is San Francisco, which was right next door. But as incredible as the classes were, they were focused on literary fiction. Our homework was comprised of the classics or more recent literary works. My classmates' material was literary. Incredible, deep, harrowing, and sensitive - everything I couldn't be no matter how many peaceful vignettes I attempted to write. I wanted to be a good writer like our professors, like my peers.

I remember how liberated I felt when I wrote my first real piece of genre fiction. It was a science fiction short story seated in the heart of a too-good-to-be-true Utopia. The liberation wasn't a result of my peers finally liking my work. It wasn't my professor's praise that I had finally "found my voice". The feeling came long before, when I was writing the piece. I felt like I could finally put my thoughts to paper. I felt connected to my otherworldly characters and bizarre settings. I felt my writing world go boom and I could see the thousands of stories I wanted to tell.

You know I love you, literary friends.

Both literary and genre fiction bring something to the table. I wouldn't know how well an author could weave a story without actually saying what the story is if it wasn't for Hemingway. I wouldn't know how well a setting could be a character if it wasn't for Dostoevsky. I wouldn't know how to jam-pack tension into pages until the reader's hands started shaking if it weren't for Kesey.

There are equally awesome examples in the world of genre fiction, too. In fact, genre fiction can be just as deep and meaningful as literary fiction. But I digress. The point is this, new, intermediate, and even veteran writers of the world: the best writing derives from your passions, not from what you think the world views as passionate. The age-old argument of literary vs. genre fiction is silly, because in truth, great writing comes from what you love. 

So, creative writing class, I am so, so sorry I tried to be literary. 

All along, I simply belonged in a spaceship.