On Writing Craft, Creativity & Inspiration
By Alexander Slagg
Finding Success on Your Own Terms
As a writer, I’ve faced a lot of rejection. When I am in submissions mode, I have my writing rejected frequently. It’s frustrating at times, but I’m not ready to pull up stakes and move to Mars quite yet. The satisfaction I take from writing continues to inspire me to carry on. Looking back on more than a decade’s worth of rejection, the most stinging brushoffs weren’t those that I received from any magazine or journal, but from the creative writing programs I applied to.
This was early in my writing career. I had friends that were in programs and I was looking for a course to chart for my life. I liked to write; a creative writing program seemed like a good fit. But it was not to be. I think the reason those typewritten slips of paper cut so deep was because I had a lot of expectations riding on them. In my mind, acceptance into a creative writing program was like Sally Field’s Oscar acceptance line: You like me, you really like me! It was validation that my writing was good—that someone whose opinion mattered saw something worthy in me.
It was to be the turn in the road that took me from a dull, normal existence to a life filled with South American supermodels, Mai Tais on the beach, and after-dinner cognac and cigars with fellow literati. And when it didn’t happen… I felt lost and adrift. What do I do now?
After some soul searching, I came to believe that my motivations for wanting to attend a program were off. I was looking for a lifestyle rather than simply wanting to study the craft of writing and improve my techniques. I had a lot of misguided desires wrapped up in that application. Soon enough, I pulled myself up by my Doc Martin bootstraps and continued writing.
And after that experience, my writing changed. It got better—rang more true. It went off in directions that I never could have imagined. Accepting this rejection allowed me to shed whatever preconceived notions I had of how or what a writer wrote. I had freed myself from the fetters of expectation. I now wrote for no other reason than because it was an enjoyable activity.
Today I’m thankful for that slap in the face. It woke me up. That experience changed my mind about what constitutes success. Surely I could become a writer without going through a creative writing program. After all, did F. Scott Fitzgerald attend a creative writing program? How about Tom Robbins? And Neil Gaiman? No, no, and nope. If the writers whose work I really admired had never attended a program, what did it matter if I did? Somehow they found their way to a career as a writer, and somehow I would.
Don’t get me wrong—a writing program has its place. It can sharpen the tools that we use to tell stories, and it can serve as a good concentrated timeframe to study the craft of writing. But it isn’t the only route to finding success as a writer. Any motivated individual can study the writing of others and put in the time to improve one’s craft.
And no writing program can give you the life experiences that tinge the water of the unconscious well from which you draw your stories. They cannot mature you as a human being to better understand the spark that flickers through the human heart and the patterns that communicate the passing of the seasons. All of this awaits off on the horizon for anyone with the courage to take the road less traveled.
Touching on various aspects of the writing process, Reflections from the Well is more than a rote column, it’s a literary lounge where writers and other creators are invited to share their own experiences. Share your comments with Alex for possible inclusion on the LWN blog or in his next reflection at firstname.lastname@example.org.