[This post relates to graduate creative writing students only.]
As a creative writing teacher, I prefer incomplete pieces, unpolished, embarrassing messes. That’s one of my basic world views: sloppiness is a good thing. It should be cultivated. It’s an affirmation of your own mortality. You’re not pretending to be a god.
When I teach a graduate creative non-fiction classes, I require them to have written at least eight full pages of new material for their first workshop; fifty is the limit.
Recently after a student turn in her piece, she said to me: "I'm embarrassed. I only wrote eight pages."
Do the minimum amount of work, I believe. That’s what I tell my students.
I looked at my student and said, "Good. That's all I would have turned in. Sometimes there are more important things to do than write."
Once another student told me that in one of her other classes, the teacher required them to turn in finished pieces. “But I'm not that teacher," I said, "I don't care."
Workshops encourage you to complete things. That’s bad for an artist. I remember taking fiction workshops as a graduate student, and as it grew closer to the time to turn in your story, people would ask, “So have you finished?” As if the point was to find an end to the story. Isn't one of the perks of being a graduate student that you have the leisure time to fumble and pick yourself up again?
People with real jobs can't afford to take a deep breath. They have stuff they must complete. Or else people can become hurt. Or sad. Or both.
This is a horrible confession: I don’t care if my graduate students proofread their stuff. In fact, I wish they wouldn’t. Better time can be spent simply getting the words out on the page. Why take the time to polish something that may not be worth it? And usually isn't.
Maybe it’s something you needed to write simply because you needed to write it. You needed to make room for something else to enter a psychic space.
In fact, that’s something I should encourage more. Let’s see all those misspellings, bad grammatical structures, misplaced punctuation. Let’ s admit those errors freely and without judgment. That kind of stuff can easily be cleared up. The soul needs more attention.
To want our graduate students to proofread is to ask them to create a finished product. That’s the worst thing we can teach young artists: you need to finish. Isn't the fun in writing that you are in a sense always are always are at the beginning?
I like the dumb, sweet idea that in Time, you might find the perfect arrangement of words.
When I was a graduate student, I remember racing to create a completed story for the workshop deadline. I missed out on the fun of writing. To have fun you need to lose track of yourself, lose your self-consciousness. That’s very difficult for an artist. Writers suffer from being too sensitive. That’s why they become depressed. You let too much of the world in.
If we, as teachers, force our students to come to an end, turn in something finished, then we’re ruining their fun. Their art becomes an assignment. With assignments come deadlines. And shouldn’t young students who take our creative writing classes feel they have all the time in the world? That if they relax and take a deep breath, they'll lose consciousness and find themselves in their own imagination?