Apathy vs. D.H. Lawrence

Is college more detrimental to me as a writer than it is beneficial?

I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately, especially during the last few weeks of the fall semester. I actually started writing this post in November, but could not finish, partially due to the piles of homework I has to dig through. I wanted to pen some short stories, or work on my draft of my novel, or continue polishing a finished screenplay I’ve had on the back burner for some time.

But alas, my time and energy had to go into critical analysis and evaluation of a lot of old dead people’s writing (and the writing of some living people that is so lifeless it makes me wonder).

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve made some good friends through college, and I wouldn’t say it is without its benefits. One of best classes I ever took as a screenwriting course – I took it three times – and I’ve had the good fortune of having likeable professors 95% of the time, regardless of the subject. But what grinds my gears is that, as a Creative Writing major, there’s hardly any creative writing incentives offered. A few workshop courses, maybe, but most of it is analysis and learning to write like they want you to write – crisp, clean, concise, and utterly soulless. One class I took this last semester was so lamentably devoid of anything creatively valuable that I found that I hated it more than the Math classes I took; an ENGLISH class I hated more than Math. And I hate Math!

The workshop experience is not much better. Call me elitist if you will, but I don’t feel like I’m getting anything out of reading a lot of the half-assed, pointless, clearly slapped-together-at-the-last-minute fiction some of my fellow students had brought in, and then receiving feedback from those students for my own work, who clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. I actually put something called effort into my work, thank you very much. And I can’t take your opinion of my fiction seriously when your story has sentences that end “like this!!!!!!!!”

…OK. Granted, I might be a little harsh there. But I’ve always felt that going into a workshop like that – and this isn’t the intro one, mind, but the real deal – you should really sincerely try to write, to take things seriously. I’m glad that there were at least two or three people in that workshop that were not only good writers, but offered sound critiques as well, and to them I am grateful (an extra shout out goes to my brother in solidarity, T. Bone – he knows who he is). But some people obviously wrote their story the night before and expected us to accept it. Some were poorly formatted, some had plots that went nowhere, and some were so pretentious that they were nigh unreadable.

Perhaps I was overly optimistic when I claimed this major; I had thought these classes would genuinely improve my craft, show me how to improve as a writer and steer toward publishing potential. But now it seems like they just tacked on the workshop angle to a standard English plan, and said “Do this. Think our way. Write our way, but do it creatively.”

Now, sitting in the midst of winter break as I am, the emotions of the last semester now put behind me, I still ponder my question: is college more detrimental to my writing than it is beneficial? I was certain then, when I had started this post, that it was. I’ve barely had time to write for myself, with the exception of a couple short pieces for my workshop course, and now that I’m done, there’s an apathy lurking in the back of my mind.

Why bother? it whispers. Don’t write. You’ve been doing that all semester, writing. Take a break. Do something mindless. Look, you haven’t even finished Skyrim yet! Your lesbian werewolf orc is probably getting lonely. You know she can’t marry her housecarl because of a bug, yeah? Think of her.

And yet I know I should write: that’s why I came back to write this, after all. It’s a step in the right direction, and I can now force myself to do what needs to be done. It’s a lot easier than it seems…I just need to convince myself of that.

And what about Skyward Sword? You’ve only played a couple hours of it so far. You want to show up that bastard with the pompadour, that guy clearly ripping off Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, don’t you?

Yes, thank you. I get it. But I’ve got to put my own projects first. I know I’m better than the mental italics, and I will do this while I can. I want, more than anything else, to tell my own stories, and share them with others. That should take precedence over everything else…Yes, even the amazing video games I mentioned above…

Which brings me to D. H. Lawrence.

See, when at my lowest point during the semester – looming assignments, lots of tedious reading, and a bad chest cold – I happened to be assigned to read some of Lawrence’s work. Not expecting anything, I breezed through his short story “The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter” and thought it was an alright read. Nothing special, but fun. Then I moved on to his essay “Why The Novel Matters…”

What went through my mind afterward.

OK. I might be over-exaggerating a little here, but bear with me.

This essay shook me out of my doldrums. It was…refreshing! After being assigned reading after reading of indecipherable and verbous windbags that talked only about theory, here was D. H. Lawrence writing a fun, humorous and downright insightful essay about why writing is so important, and why it affects people. And I loved it. Why can’t all theorists write like this guy?

Because they try to break literature and fiction down, force it into a box, make it meet scientific parameters. They analyze from every angle in order to try and find one concrete and absolute meaning, and empirical truth. That is why the class I mentioned earlier, the one that I hated more than Math, made me so angry – it was all about critical modes and the over-analysis in a laboratory fashion. I’ve heard it said that it’s like dissecting a frog; you learn how the thing works, but you kill the frog.

As for the scientist, he has absolutely no use for me so long as I am man alive. To the scientist, I am dead. He puts under the microscope a bit of dead me, and calls it me. He takes me to pieces, and says first one piece, and then another piece, is me. My heart, my liver, my stomach have all been scientifically me, according to the scientist; and nowadays I am either a brain, or nerves, or glands, or something more up-to-date in the tissue line.

That idea is against my religion as a writer, a storyteller, and speculator. Fiction has meaning, to be sure, but it’s ambiguous. Fluid. No person reads a story or sees a film the same way. Everyone’s going to take something different from it. They might see it exactly as the story’s creator meant, or they might not. What does it matter?

We should ask for no absolutes, or absolute. Once and for all and for ever, let us have done with the ugly imperialism of any absolute.

There is no absolute good, there is nothing absolutely right. All things flow and change, and even change is not absolute. The whole is a strange assembly of apparently incongruous parts, slipping past one another.

I think I might have a small crush on this man. Too bad he’s yet another dead writer.

Anyway, me throwing out block quotes of his won’t do it justice, and I recommend you read this thing for yourself. A transcript of it can be found here. It’s fairly short, and I’d say well worth your time.

Anyway, if you don’t see me in here for a little while, it hopefully won’t be because I’m engrossed in some video game or wasting time on the internet. I intend to get some serious personal work done, and I’ll be holding myself accountable.

Until next time, folks!

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Posted on December 19, 2011, in Rants, Updates. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Jason Caits-Cheverst

    The University of Essex has a Creative Writing Bachelors’ that is world renowned. And even there, less than a tenth of the course is devoted to the creation or criticism of actual work. The vast majority is deconstruction, criticism, the detailed study of very particular works from very particular periods. One of the twenty-four modules taken over the three years is completely about creative writing; occasionally a different module will have one creative assignment.

  2. Catherine Hawley

    David, I am so proud of you. You have a wonderful grasp on what is important to you, but I am wondering that if you did not have the comparison that you are finding even in the boring and monotonous class room whether you would still have that wonderful grasp. Your great grandfather, my dad, would tell me when the thing that I hated to do or take the most, like algebra or the violin( which I thought was unnecessary to me)
    was that it taught me how to think. I’m not sure whether or not it was true but he sounded very sure. I also thought that maybe your mom could give you Tom Tapp’s Email and he could address your concerns as one writer to another.

  3. Try taking some crazy classes that don’t make sense but widen your world view. I think those will help you as a creative author more than some dusty essay writing machine. Do they have eastern philosophy? German history? I mean, something fairly bizarre and experimental… c’mon!

    • I have, actually! Among other things I’ve taken History of Jazz, Religions of the East, Buddhism, an anthropology course on Magic, Witchcraft and Religion, and Ancient Egyptian Ethical Thought – which, I should mention, was taught by the man that invented Kwanzaa. So I got that part covered. X3

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