I'm teaching fiction writing in the spring. These are two books I considered adopting as course texts. Notice a theme here?
Questions: Is this really the first impression we want to give new writers when introducing craft? To suggest that one must be mad or ill to write, that writing is a cure?
A lot's been written about the link between madness and creativity, and about poets of the loco persuasion. But do we, as teachers, really want to perpetuate this connection?
I've found that a good number of my students believe you can't be a writer without the Crazy.
Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched with Fire:
Of all our conversations, I remember most vividly [Lowell's] words about the new drug, lithium carbonate, which had such good results [after almost twenty manic attacks and subsequent hospitalizations] and gave him reason to believe he was cured: "It's terrible, Bob, to think that all I've suffered, and all the suffering I've caused, might have arisen from the lack of a little salt in my brain."
Recently, I've had to remind my poetry students that writing a poem may begin as a kind of turning of a release valve, but the poem is as much a product of inspiration as it is a product of awareness and work. Very rarely does a poem arrive, and to anthropomorphize the work--to talk about "what the poem wants to do" or "what the poem is telling me to do"--is to, in a kind of counter-intuitive way, emphasize product over process, and the thing over the discovery. So dangerous for beginning writers.
There are also students that work really hard on their drafts but end up disliking their poems because they had to put so much work into getting just a few good lines. My response is always the same: "Keep at it."
I posted this on my Facebook last week, and it received many "likes":
"One must always be aware, to notice -- even though the cost of noticing is to become responsible." - Thylias MossThis quotation is from a 1994 Wall Street Journal article. More or less a bio piece wrapped around a publishing kerfuffle in which work from her collection Small Congregations was reprinted without permission in an anthology by a major publisher.
Here's another bit of advice from Moss:
"If you're going to call a demon, you have to call it by the right name."Hard to argue with that.