Creative Writers Are the Worst!



Podcast Episode Link: Click here.

Podcast Episode Transcript: Hi, genuine writers! This is Innovative Editing’s Jeannette DiLouie welcoming you to episode #43 of The Genuine Writer Podcast. We keep things short, sweet and to the point here so that you can learn what you need to learn and get back to writing already.


Today’s episode – which discusses some negative and unrealistic consequences of creative writing – is sponsored yet again by Create Compelling Characters: How to Make Your Heroes, Villains, (and All the Rest) Stand Out! Because, as I told you two weeks ago, you have to be running with at least a few strong doses of reality in order to create strong characters. And reading this e-booklet could be a truly essential way to get your creative writing head into the game.



Do you know what isn’t a truly essential way to get your creative writing head into the game? Become a stereotypical English major or literature professor type. To explain what I mean, there’s this movie that I may or may not have mentioned before. I honestly can’t tell you, though perhaps you can. It’s called Stranger Than Fiction, a 2006 comedy-ish starring Will Ferrell.


You might very well have the same opinion of Will Ferrell as I do, which isn’t an all-around flattering one, for the record. Personally – and at the risk of offending anyone who does like him – I think his typical style of humor just isn’t funny. It’s awkward and embarrassing and doesn’t take any real talent to project. There. That’s my opinion.


But that opinion didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying Stranger Than Fiction. Probably because it’s not Ferrell’s typical kind of role. He plays a dreary IRS agent named Harold Crick who’s sent to audit a bakery owner – who, of course, is a hot-headed and hot-bodied woman. She doesn’t like him at first, naturally, even though he’s instantly drawn to her. But the two end up falling in love all the same. Of course.


Despite my mockery, that love story is compelling in and of itself. But it isn’t what I want to discuss today. It’s another aspect of the story that’s really standing out to me right now – perhaps even THE aspect of the story. The main driving one, which involves Harold trying to figure out why he’s hearing a female voice in his head narrating his every move, from brushing his teeth to catching the bus to the monotonous existence he lives out at his job.


As it turns out, Harold is the main character in a famous writer’s novel. But in order to figure that out, he first visits a college professor who teaches literature. Between the way this character – played by Dustin Hoffman – is written and acted out, he’s a perfect example of the accurately stereotypical higher-education English teacher. He’s a nice enough guy on the outside: one who’s engaging and intelligent and willing to explore the world, though only from his own perspective. In other words, he’s incredibly closeminded when you strip away his book-learning and positive personality traits.


In his mind, nothing matters more than the perfect story. So while he feels bad for Harold Crick’s situation on a surface level, Harold Crick ultimately doesn’t matter one bit in his mind. If the story calls for him to suffer in order to be as emotionally and intellectually compelling as possible – not even morally so or eternally so, but just literarily so – then that’s what needs to happen. And who’s the ultimate arbiter of what is emotionally and intellectually compelling? Why, it’s him, of course. He’s turned himself into a god.


Now, I’m not saying that everyone watching this movie is going to have that same takeaway. The reason why I’ve concluded what I’ve concluded is because I was an English major who came into contact with plenty of those professors. They might come across as nice or even good people, but they’re fatally flawed once you really start observing them.


The article I just found yesterday proves my point as far as any opinion-based point can be proved. It’s published in the Daily Columbia Spectator, which is apparently connected to Columbia University. No big surprise there. It’s also no big surprise that an institution like that would feature a piece like “Writers at Barnard’ Provides a Window Into the Minds of Creative Writing Faculty Authors.” That’s something I would normally avoid like the plague, but for your sake, I read it straight through.


You’re welcome.


Though, I’ll admit, you might not be thanking me after I go ahead and read the whole thing to you like I’m about to. Starting now.
“You all would be amazed by the variety and the creative energy that [Barnard] students bring to their classes, no doubt facilitated by the three people we are going to hear from,” Barnard’s Director of Creative Writing Timea Szell said of the visiting faculty who were set to speak at the James Room in Barnard Hall.
Last Thursday, Barnard’s creative writing department hosted this semester’s first event of the series “Writers at Barnard,” which puts on readings of works by Barnard creative writing faculty. The opening event featured three visiting faculty members at Barnard: Kate Zambreno, Brionne Janae, and Liana Finck. Each author brought her own unique voice and insights to the reading, which made for a night of poetry, short stories, cartoons, and personal anecdotes. Szell introduced the authors alongside English professor and department chair Peter Platt.
Zambreno began the evening by introducing her book “Screen Tests,” from which she read several short stories.
“[‘Screen Tests’ was] a series of durational and tonal experiments that deal somehow with Warhol and celebrity and names,” she said.
Names seemed to dominate Zambreno’s stories, as Susan Sontag, Maurice Blanchot, and Holly Hunter all found their way into her reading. But beyond the fun of Zambreno’s reference-heavy work lay a rumination on her role as a writer.
After reading her piece “Blanchot in a Supermarket Parking Lot,” in which she wondered what Blanchot might buy at a supermarket based on a rare photograph of him, Zambreno gave insight into the reception of the piece.
“When that piece was published in the Paris Review, it was like the most extensive fact-checking process possible,” Zambreno said, noting that she’d written it based less on facts and more through her own interpretation of the photograph.
“It was pretty funny. They were very polite, but it was a very funny fact-checking process,” she added. Though the fact-checking was an innocuous anecdote, it gave students in the audience a window into both Zambreno’s creative writing process and an author’s experience with the publishing industry.
Janae continued to expand this window into the writer’s mind when she followed Zambreno and read a series of thoughtfully selected poems.
But before she began, Janae recited “Won’t You Celebrate With Me?” by poet Lucille Clifton to “call her into the room with me,” she said.
Once Janae launched into her own pieces, she told the audience, “I’m reading for myself tonight, if you cannot see that.”
In reading for herself, Janae traversed themes of family, race, and self-love. In introducing her poem “White,” Janae explained the process behind the linguistically ambitious poem.
“It only uses ‘i’ vowels,” she said. “Absurd thing to do, to limit yourself to only one vowel in a poem… And it is after [poet] Evie Shockley who taught this form to me.”
Though she noted that a “proper” version of the poem would only use either long or short “i” vowels and she used both, “White” was a technically impressive and tonally provocative piece that exhibited her sheer skill with words.
Finck’s equally evident technical prowess took the stage not through stories or poetry, but through cartoons. In introducing her series of cartoons, Finck took a moment to engage in the same deep self-reflection as the writers before her.
“I do [my cartoons] as kind of a diary of bad things that happen to me to try to figure them out and get revenge and vindication and people telling me they agree with me, and it’s nice. It helps me move past the problems and turns me into kind of a monster,” she said, with a laugh.
The cartoons she shared were from her recently released “Excuse Me: Cartoons, Complaints, and Notes to Self,” and Finck read through her first section, “Love and Dating,” in its entirety.
The cartoons dealt with the complications, amusements, and frustrations of dating, though Finck noted, “If I were writing it now it would be very different.”
She expanded on how she’s changed since making the cartoons several years ago, saying, “I was a feminist, but I was more lonely than feminist, and then I suddenly became more feminist than lonely… I feel so differently now, and I think that the language [of the gender spectrum] has alleviated a lot of the binary rage in me, but this is a time capsule.”
Finck’s admission of her views having changed since writing her piece provided a moment for the writers in the audience to consider how their work may become a time capsule of their own.

I’d like to highlight three paragraphs from that especially:


“When that piece was published in the Paris Review, it was like the most extensive fact-checking process possible,” Zambreno said, noting that she’d written it based less on facts and more through her own interpretation of the photograph.

Here’s the second one:


Once Janae launched into her own pieces, she told the audience, “I’m reading for myself tonight, if you cannot see that.”

And here’s the third one:


“I do [my cartoons] as kind of a diary of bad things that happen to me to try to figure them out and get revenge and vindication and people telling me they agree with me, and it’s nice. It helps me move past the problems and turns me into kind of a monster,” she said, with a laugh.

Do you see what I mean? They’re all exceptionally narcissistic, only allowing for one point of view or one ultimate value: the writer’s. Facts didn’t matter for the one. The audience (i.e., anyone else in the room) didn’t matter for the second. And consequences (i.e., becoming a monster) didn’t matter for the last woman. All of which are exceptionally tragic ways to go through life.


It’s true that creative writing requires some branching away from facts and consequences and other opinions. We’re telling stories – our stories – that are only based on reality. They’re not reality themselves. And, as such, we do get to play make it all about ourselves to some degree. We get to play God – which I’ll be the first person to admit can be an absolute ton of fun.


But we always have to remember that we’re not God. We’re mere human beings who, no matter how educated or experienced we get, can always use some more learning. There are always other perspectives to be considered and other information to be gained. The second we stop believing that and acting on it, the second all of our accomplishments go out the window and we start becoming the ultimately unfeeling monster depicted in Stranger Than Fiction and displayed in nonfiction in our article above.


I think those are very important things to think about, so I’ll leave you here to do precisely that should you so choose. Thanks for tuning into The Genuine Writer Podcast. Happy, healthy writing, and I’ll catch you all later.

26 views
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Pinterest Social Icon
  • LinkedIn Social Icon

   © Innovative Editing 2013-2018