I started out writing my novel as a relative novice. What I had learned came through my own self-study. Because I hadn’t taken any courses on writing, I was able to produce a relatively large amount of raw content. I wrote 89,000 words of my novel this way. However, I don’t believe that I could write that much again. The reason? Education.
Since the start of my journey, I have learned quite a bit. I have taken several classes on writing and learned about certain mechanics and devices such as the controlling metaphor. I have learned how to use significant detail, how to use scene, and a whole lot more. I also learned much about literary theory, gaining an understanding of the implications of literary works through the lens of such schools of analysis like Marxist theory, feminist theory, and Freudian theory. Because of this, my raw output has fallen dramatically. When I try to write parts of my novel, I can barely go five sentences without thinking, “Would it be better if I moved this word to the beginning?” or “Does this really fit here?” I am constantly questioning whether the writing I am producing at that particular moment is of good quality, and I am constantly tweaking each sentence as it is written. Sometimes, I fear that my novel will be lambasted by feminists because they feel that my female characters serve only to be objects of paternal protection for my protagonist. At other times, I fear that my novel will be criticized for being some how racially insensitive or misguided. Clearly, this makes for a painfully slow writing process.
This was actually what I had always been afraid of happening. I had said some time ago that I do not wish to gain a formal education in writing. For one, I believed that while it is useful to have good working knowledge of certain devices and techniques so that you have the right set of tools, it is detrimental to the writer to mechanistically and analytically pick through one’s writing in such a way. Secondly, I did not want to be unduly influenced by such an education: I suspected that learning about all this theory would lead to writing that tries to appeal to a suitable interpretation of these theories.
I feel that analysis can destroy the creative spirit. The novelist’s job is to create, to bring forth into the world a work that is completely imagined and heightened from reality. Analysis is, in a sense, destructive: in order to analyze a novel, one must detach from the emotional experience of it—which is essentially the entire point of a novel. Additionally, analysis is often unfairly reductionistic and is typically not holistic (hence all the varied lens of analysis). The two goals are at odds with each other. And when a writer cannot turn off the analytical eye as he or she writes, then is or her work is being destroyed as it is being written.
How then, can I seek to complete my novel? Clearly, I need to lose my inhibitions. Much as societal rules tell you that you should ideally not dance in public or hum your favorite song on the subway, the rules and guidelines that one learns in a formal education of creative writing serve only to inhibit one’s expression. At least, that is the way I feel about it. Perhaps I need to get drunk so that I can forget all about how I need to design a piece of dialogue a certain way to fit into what I have learned is the “right” or “proper” way to do so. Maybe that’s why so many writers become alcoholics.