If you haven’t already, check out the post that should’ve gone up yesterday but didn’t b/c EVILTHESISISEVIL. **said post is now the “most recent” on my page b/c WordPress problems**
OK, maybe not completely evil. But it’s stressful as f%!#. The main thing working my nerves is the critical bit.
Writing the novel is fun. That’s why I’m here. But lately, the novel’s been put on hold so I can make progress on the critical analysis. I absolutely get the importance of understanding where your creative work fits within the larger framework of literature that already exists. Fully grasping not only what you’re doing but why you’re doing it (and why you’ve chosen to do it in a particular way) is key and it’s harder to do without first learning the precedents already in place, and deciding which ones to keep and which to cast aside. I haven’t met a writer who does not also champion the act of reading. There are many tropes, clichés, and ideas that have been recycled so often that no one even remembers where they came from anymore. Included in those ideas I’m referring to (if we’re talking about writing specifically) are literary techniques that work well or terribly depending on how they’re used. For a writer, being able to discuss what works in a piece of writing and why it does is as important as being able to read the work in the first place, and doing so is the essence of literary criticism. Writing the analytic portion of a Creative Writing thesis (or dissertation depending on what country you’re in) basically means becoming a literary critic for a while.
It’s my opinion that having the lit critic’s ability to locate writing historically and generically is important for any fiction writer, whether they plan to dabble in criticism or not. And writing a critical piece alongside your creative work can be incredibly helpful because it allows you to see parallels between your work and existing work, and to make discoveries, like where a turn of phrase or idea was first coined as well as the context surrounding it. Personally, through working on this critical analysis, I’ve realized that my creative work was not taking some pretty crucial stuff into account. But as eye-opening as this process has been, it’s also been kinda soul-crushing.
Academic writing is SO DIFFERENT from creative writing. I haven’t had to write this way since I was an undergraduate. During my MFA program, all of the written work we submitted was creative. Whenever critical analysis was required, we gave oral reports. Since it’s been a while since I’ve had to do this, I feel like everything I produce comes off like it was written by a preschooler. Reading scholarly texts can be really intimidating. Some of them use about 5 gazillion words to express the simplest ideas. And of those 5 gazillion words, 4.5 gazillion are words you’ve never heard a normal person use in a sentence.
Creative Writing is my element. It has no set requirements. There’s no need to cite sources (though if you include some clever allusions, good for you). You’re allowed to be as nonsensical and ridiculous as you like, following no rules but those you’ve set for yourself. But knowing existing rules and seeing which ones fit your goals for your work is a pretty good idea.
In the end, both styles of writing have their place, and can be very helpful when done together. There’s an exchange that happens between them which allows both realms to keep progressing. In other words, one or the other might be hell to do, but the world needs both. Damnit.