One of the downsides to choosing to double major with Creative Writing so late, is the requirements. After taking the amazing advanced writing classes that inspired me to pursue it even more, I now have to take the introduction classes. It’s these classes, or this class in particular, where I find the reason why so many people knock on MIT’s writing program. Today marks the day that I can no longer stand up for my department.
The class I am in right now is just “Writing Fiction.” We go over the grade-school level definition of stories, delving into specific themes such as character and plot and setting, trying to develop each of them in turn in the hopes of creating something better. But the method they’re using is to stick to the age-old saying, “write about what you know.”
I have nothing against that claim. In fact, when making decisions in my own writing, I try to stick with what I’m more familiar with and can thus visualize and describe without hampering either myself or the reader. However, the translation has become “write your autobiography first… then you can write fiction,” which is something that I find to be cruel. It is akin to making a beginner swimmer swim the 600 IM just so that they will be better at swimming the 25 yards. It is cruel and unusual, especially when the topics turn to things more suited for the therapist office and the family room.
I have nothing against writing in order to process. For goodness sakes I have a blog – I do it all the time. What I can’t understand is why someone would think it appropriate to use that kind of topic in a setting of critique. Autobiography should be a mastery level course, one where you understand fiction enough to delve into something more real, rather than the other way around. Because reality is hard – fiction is what we use to escape it. Thinking that one can be a better writer by writing about something that no one else can touch or edit or mold because it is too raw and valuable… is tortuous. It takes away the validity of the story. It teaches you nothing.
I sat this afternoon in class, listening to someone talk about the series of events that led to her mother’s death when she was five years old, to his father’s abandonment, her parents divorce, his father’s stroke and later falling into a coma. These are real lives, real pain – they should not be thrown around in a classroom setting for the sake of an “exercise.” That’s just wrong.
I can’t believe I just sat through that class. I wish I could have left. I wish I had gone with my first instinct and never even attended that class. But now that I have… I wish I could do something.