So why do I feel claustrophobic at its events? No one else there seems to have any problem with them. They learn. They get ideas. They take notes. They socialize. But I practically count the minutes through the day, looking forward to the moment I can return to my car and drive away, thankful for having spent the day at a good writers seminar. My notes throughout the day hardly fill more than one page of a pocket notebook, and I never look at them again. I doubt if others feel like this; perhaps they do.
I’m mainly a memoir writer, and writing to me is a very personal expression of one’s uniqueness. And so when I hear suggestions of “the way to write,” it’s all I can do not to stick my fingers in my ears. I don’t want to use other writers’ formulas or styles. The avocation of writing brings out all the wonderful feelings of nonconformity I held dear in my youth. While playing alone in the gullies of Blaine, Washington, I felt deep in my heart an odd assurance of security. In my first two years of high school I had to see the school counselor once a week to discuss my “unusual” behavior. I was the first person in at least my whole town who obtained a live tarantula for a pet, years before they would be sold in pet shops, and eventually wrote a book about their care (All About Tarantulas, 1977, TFH Publications). I sneaked into a nudist camp. I hitchhiked around the U.S. I savored my nonconformity; so much so, that after joining the Army I deserted it during basic training (being arrested and brought back the next day). I can’t begin to fit all this and much more into anyone else’s formula. I don’t want to. In all fairness to OWL, they don’t want me to. They encourage writers and the uniqueness of writers, and publish accomplishments in the newsletter. I don’t believe it’s the group’s intent to confine creativity into any formula or style.
We recently had a day-long OWL seminar given by a freelance editor from Oregon. She was very good, but by the last segment of her lectures, she felt inclined to change her course. She asked the group if she should continue according to the printed-out lesson plan, or if they’d prefer hearing about the mechanics of getting published. The majority opted for the latter. And so the last segment of the seminar was the most interesting and, in my opinion, the most useful.
Writers want readers. And this is the chief problem with writers groups. Everyone wants to write, but few care to read. Being with other writers is, to me, like having an armory of guns but no place to shoot them. It would be sheer bliss for me to be a writer, not in a room full of other writers, but in a room full of readers. Hence this blissful blog.
A wonderful compromise was in Creative Writing courses at Everett Community College. These were classrooms full of would-be writers. The instructor gave us a free-hand in what we wrote. Then he made copies of our work and passed them out to the others in the class. Whereupon we would read and, either by pen or mouth, critique each other. The names were not given, so the critiques were fair and not biased, and each writer would learn how each of his creations were appreciated or criticized. This was invaluable to me, and this is why I “majored” in Creative Writing. And this is why I enjoy this Butter Rum Cartoon blog so much, why I check frequently the statistics of views received, and crave comments after each post.
We don’t learn to write from other writers anywhere near as much as we do from readers.
For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.