I am quoting Salman Rushdie from the back of my memory, so maybe it’s a paraphrase, but here is the wisdom: ‘A lot of people start writing books but authors finish them.’ For me, that is a really big statement. It begs the question why? Not ‘why do people start writing books,’ but why don’t they finish writing them? I think this is a very important question for students because it places a spotlight on the real issue of developing an idea, an argument, and communicating it through writing. It really does not matter if it is creative writing or not. The problem of developing and articulating an argument in a lengthy document means a lot of ideas fizzle anywhere after page one.
Why does an idea fizzle? In our screenwriting classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers we talk about this a lot. Like any other effective facilitation or decision-making process the first step is to identify the problem. The problem behind fizzling ideas is that the thesis is not sufficiently developed. There is not enough material to develop into an argument, err, a feature film or novel length text. There might not even be enough for a short story or digital short length script. Without fully exploring the thesis, or the story we want to tell, it is easy to end up with vignettes that stall in terms of story-telling, no matter how artfully they are articulated.
If there is not enough material to write in the depth or length desired then we have to think more about what it is we want to say, and the tools we want to use to say it. Does that sound a little like the essay writing, argumentation, or exam process? For me it does, and creative writing is a fantastic way to work on developing ideas and arguments. It is also the perfect way to engage with all the nuances of language that tell stories. They are the same language tools that produce and sustain arguments of all kinds. In other words the tools of language are the tools of persuasion.
Now, a fifty thousand word novel is probably longer than any argument or essay we’ll ever be called on to produce. Nevertheless there is a lot to be learned from the effort. Maybe you have heard of National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo for short. It is a fun and supportive way to try your arm at creative writing. National Novel Writing Month is officially in November, but starting on 1 July you can join Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s free, full of pep talks by professional authors, and a social platform filled with people working out their relationship with writing, and aiming to write their own novel in thirty days.
English novelist Nick Hornby provides a pep talk. Here’s what he has to say: ‘Walk into a bookshop and you will see books that you love and books that you hate, books that were written in three weeks and books that took thirty years, books that were written under the influence of drugs and alcohol, books that were written in splendid isolation, books that were written in Starbucks. Some of them were written with enormous enjoyment, some for money, some in fear and loathing and despair. The only thing they all have in common—and actually there is the odd honourable exception even to this rule—is that their authors finished them, sooner or later. How do I do it? I swear, and smoke, and hate myself for my presumption. And if any of that works for you, then I’m happy to have helped.’
In a recent interview Ann Rice said she published her first novel within a year of deciding she was a writer. If you want to write a book this summer maybe I’ll see you at camp!
Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. Creative Writing is an optional subject on the BA English.