“Invent a definition for the word ‘flangiprop’, then use the word in a post.”
So, the latest of the ‘365 Days of Writing Prompts’ comes straight from the bonkers end of the spectrum. But while I have no intention of coming up with a meaning for this concatenation of random syllables, it did remind me of the time that I went on a Creative Writing course.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking (well, you are if you happen to know me). Him? On a creative writing course? Can you imagine?
No, I can’t. But that wasn’t the problem.
Rather it was the fact that at the end of those two days I couldn’t help but conclude that I was the only participant who wasn’t actually completely barking mad. Which made me feel a bit better about not being a particularly creative writer. Which itself was the one thing I learned from the course.
Let me set the scene (I think that’s one of the things you’re supposed to do, creatively speaking). Back in mid-2001, if I had been an actor I would have been ‘resting’, although at that particular – sadly only transient – stage in the redundancy process it was still a case of getting paid but not having to turn up to work. Thus I had plenty of time on my hands and was not destitute. Which was nice.
So, having always been interested in writing, I decided to take this two-day, weekend, course, never having done anything similar before.
It began, conventionally enough, with a ‘tour de table’ whereby each of us had to introduce ourselves and say what we were currently working on. The thing is, I was not – nor have I ever been – working on a novel, which was a bit #awkward, as they would say on Twitter. Anyway, that was me marked down straight away as an object of pity, if not an out-and-out trouble-maker.
I simply contented myself with the thought that as an investment analyst – even a resting one – I had probably written, and certainly read, more fiction than they had had hot dinners.
The clear message from this introduction to my fellow-participants was that all of them had at least one seven-hundred page Great British Novel hidden away in a drawer somewhere, buried under a steadily growing pile of rejection slips. Everything else seemed to flow from this.
In particular, given that, quite clearly, all else had failed, most of my temporary peer-group seemed to view the entire two days as no more than an extended opportunity to get the course leaders and guest presenters to read their manuscripts. After all, they were great writers already, so what did they need to be told about creative writing?
The organizers clearly knew their market, though, as what seemed to me to be an inordinate amount of course time was devoted to the theme of how to get published. Interesting maybe, but a bit of a stretch to call it creative writing, surely.
This isn’t to say that the advice given out wasn’t perfectly sensible. Like if you want to see your work in print then kicking off with “It was a dark and stormy night” is not going to get you very far.
However, the biggest eye-opener for me – and I really must choose my words carefully here – was something that was said during a panel discussion (on, guess what, how to get published), by an editor from a small but prestigious publishing company. Bear with me on this, I swear it is true – I’m not creative, remember, so I can’t be making it up.
We would be ‘amazed’, she said, at how many manuscripts they received that opened with the narrator masturbating in front of a mirror.
‘How many?’ ‘How many?’ I’d have been amazed – among many other things – if there had been even one. But no, apparently this is quite common. It’s certainly not an image I choose to dwell on – although it’s one that is extraordinarily difficult to get out of your head once the seed has been planted, as it were.
But then again, if you do think about it, does it not strike you as a perfect metaphor for the creative writing process itself? A private self-indulgence that really you want everyone else to know about.
Personally, I think I’ll stick (ooh er missus) to wry observation.