I have this feeling that writing is one of the most difficult things for amateurs. The problem is this: few amateur writers are interesting to read. Despite years of writing, most amateur writers remain boring, cliched, inept. (If you are an amateur writer, I’m not talking about you.) Yet you take music, painting or even more obviously pottery, crafts, woodwork, and an amateur can usually produce things that others can enjoy. (Or if I knew anything about music would the jam sessions of amateurs be horrid to my ears? Possibly.)
One of the problems might be the type of people who are attracted to writing. Is there a disproportionate number of amateur writers who are self centred and have emotional problems? (I’m possibly guilty on two counts.) Not that emotional problems necessarily make for bad writing, but I think good writing nearly always comes out of strong empathy. And self-centred wallowing – which makes up too much amateur writing – is boring.
At the university level, I think the output of undergraduate creative writing classes would tend to be abysmal if it could be compared to that of fine art and music undergraduate classes. My friend commented that this is because you need to audition for fine art and music whereas the university can make a lot of money out of the slackers or talentless who want to take creative writing.
It comes down to the sad thought that whereas someone who devotes themselves to learning the piano can probably entertain family and friends as well as enjoy the act of playing, someone who devotes themselves to writing will probably not entertain many people at all with the story they print out and hand around. Especially if it’s the start of another fantasy saga.
I was in a writing workshop recently and I noticed something concerning. If you’ve ever been in a writing workshop, you’ll notice such restrained politeness in discussing other people’s work. The knives are rarely out; there is rarely too much honesty. I always thought I wanted people to be more honest, but maybe that’s not too good either. Because in this workshop we were actually critiquing the work of an amateur writer who wasn’t in the room and who no-one knew. And I was shocked at how vicious everyone was with it. I thought it had some good points, but no-one picked up on these at all; perhaps because they knew the co-ordinator had held it up as a piece with problems.
I would hate to think the restrained politeness is a mask for viciousness. I think I prefer generous honesty whether the person’s there or not. It makes me fear that underneath everyone is jealously tearing down each other’s work while being polite about it; I hope that’s not the case. (But then you’ve probably witnessed me rip into a few published works on this blog; should the rules change or am I a hypocrite?)