>The shi**iest story ever told
October 1, 2009 § Leave a comment
>A Creative Writing Lesson Plan
Today, we’re going to make a mess.
When I was in school for my MFA in Fiction, my mentor gave me the hardest criticism I have ever received. He told me that he was worried my own self-criticism would eventually stifle me.
How do we stop being self-critical? How do we fight the voices? Even if we try, aren’t we then just adding a layer of self-criticism to our already present self-criticism?
My task is a strange one: to be self-critical of my own self-criticism.
Read passages from Bird by Bird (p. 25-26, 28, 30, 32):
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first drafts. You need to start somewhere. A frind of mine says the first draft is the down draft – you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft – you fix it up. You try to say it more accurately… What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. First there’s the vinegar-lipped Reader Lady, who says primly, “Well, that’s not very interesting, is it?” And there’s the emaciated German male who writes these Orwellian memos detailing your thought crimes. And there are your parents, agonizing over your lack of loyalty and discretion; and there’s William Burroughs, dozing off or shooting up because he finds you as bold and articulate as a houseplant; and so on. And there are also the dogs: let’s not forget the dogs, the dogs in their pen who will surely hurtle and snarl their way out if you ever stop writing, because writing is, for some of us, the latch that keeps the door of the pen closed, keeps those crazy ravenous dogs contained…
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.
“Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force (these are words we are allowed to use in California). Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground–you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix thing, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move…
“Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. In some cases, we don’t even know that the wounds and the cramping are there, but both limit us. They keep us moving and writing in tight, worried ways. They keep us standing back or backing away from life, keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way…
“Your day’s work might turn out to be a mess. So what? Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here- and by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”
Now, let’s try to make a mess.
Start to write a draft of a story. Go overboard. Add clichés, stupid plotlines, obvious characterizations, ridiculous dialogue– you name it. Just go to town. Write the shittiest story you’ve ever written. Have fun with it.
Does anyone want to share his/her story?
Take one line, one word, one paragraph, or one idea from your shitty draft and begin to write a new story. Find redemption in your shitty first draft: there’s something meaningful lurking in the margins!