Does learning the craft of writing impact creativity?

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Leila
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Does learning the craft of writing impact creativity?

Post by Leila » March 26th, 2011, 2:39 pm

In another topic, (a few other manuscript issues) Polymath raised some interesting points which led me to think about whether or not learning lots about the craft of writing impacts your creativity.

Do you think, for instance, it is possible to:

* become bogged down in mechanics and not give enough rein to your creativity?

*be stifled by the rules and 'forget' to let your imagination run as wild as need be to create the world and/or characters you want your reader to be drawn to?

*be so subconsciously 'trained' (big brother is watching you, 1984 - no I'm joking) that you correct yourself as you write and limit a plot line?

Or do you see them as complimentary? Does the more you learn equal an enhanced ability to fully realize the potential of your creativity?

Or is it a matter of balance?

If I Iiken it to music, I remember, many moons ago, studying music in years 11 and 12. I loved composition. Loved it. But I had some challenges when it came to the technicalities and rules because I would compose something, and my teacher would say, "it sounds great, but you can't put the 'f' next to the 'g' in the bass because you break the consecutive fourth and fifth rule. I'd stare at him so annoyed because Mozart (and many others) broke those rules and his music didn't suffer because of it! Plus, I'd simply sat down at the piano and played, then scored it (written it down) and polished it up in accordance with the required theory. I hadn't started from the perspective of: ok, I have to compose something that doesn't break the following rules etc.. If I had, my composition would have been stilted, ordinary, boring (to my ears at least). In other words my creativity would have been stifled. On the other hand, learning the rules did deepen my knowledge and helped fine tune my 'ear' over time, which I'm sure in turn enhanced my compositions and my marks.


Anyway, I hope this example makes sense, and I'd be very interested to hear other people's thinking on this one.

Margo
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Re: Does learning the craft of writing impact creativity?

Post by Margo » March 26th, 2011, 4:18 pm

I personally think the more a writer learns craft -- and the reasons for it -- the more a writer is able to understand those moments when craft needs to bend to creativity. In general, my thought is if you don't see the point of a 'rule', you don't understand it well enough to break it. Once you understand it, it's less of a rule. Strange zen, I know.

Yes, as a writer learns craft, they will probably go through a period where it feels confining, but that's a phase to be worked through. Never bothering to learn craft is something I've seen hobble a lot of hopefuls, eventually making them quite bitter about their rejections -- which kind of defeats the purpose of being that free spirit in the first place.
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polymath
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Re: Does learning the craft of writing impact creativity?

Post by polymath » March 26th, 2011, 4:30 pm

It goes both ways and every whichaway in between. A disproportionate amount of creativity can be offset by craft emphasis and vice versa. Throw mechanical style into the mix and there's three proportional emphases to consider. Then there's voice.

Before Michelangelo's David did the stone know it would be a statue? Faithful copies evoke a nearly equivalent amount of emotion, except for those intangible qualities of the original which evoke stronger participation mystiques.

Mona Lisa is about the same in similar regards.

I recollect the grammar rules of grade school. They're inventions of grammarians dictating rigid conventions so the basics can be more easily taught and learned. Don't start a sentence with a conjunction. Phbbt. With only nine parts of speech to teach to and learn, grammar is quantifiable. No mention of the many other word uses which don't neatly fit into any of the nine. And, a conjunction word, is also used as a discourse marker, one of many words used to gather thoughts, emphasize what's to come, means something in dialect perhaps, and means nothing much else otherwise.

Aesthetic qualities of mechanical style don't often have much emphasis in prose. Structurally, they're a set of principles agreed upon by tacit or implicit consensuses. But creative mechanical style is never left out of the mix. It's rhetoric, the art of persuasion.

Craft has a proportion of structural and aesthetic qualities to each writer their own ratio. Creative craft tempered by structure craft strengthens art and vice versa.

Voice leans most heavily toward creativity, but craft is never left out of the mix.

Emphasis on craft or creativity has flip-flopped since ancient times. Most recently, roughly one hundred sixty years ago, craft was ascendant. Roughly sixty years ago, creativity came again to the forefront after a long hiatus.

I was stifled by a lack of mechanical craft. Then once learning craft, a period of creative acclimation and assimilation was called for. But it's come to its end.
Last edited by polymath on March 26th, 2011, 7:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Beethovenfan
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Re: Does learning the craft of writing impact creativity?

Post by Beethovenfan » March 26th, 2011, 5:00 pm

Leila,
I like your music analogy. I had a similar experience in a counterpoint class I took in college. There are SO many rules: no descending thirds, no open fourths or fifths, no... well, I could go on and on. We all would complain in class that we could find actual examples of Bach breaking these rules (Bach is the pentultimate composer of counterpoint). The professor would always come back and say "Yes, you can go through any and all music and find examples of the "rules" being broken. There are always exceptions to the rules." But like Margo said, you have to understand the rules first in order to know when it's OK to break them. None of the composers EVER broke the rules willy nilly. When we sat down and actually studied the music in class, we could always detect possible reasons why Bach broke a specific rule at a certain point in the music.

The same is absolutely true for writing. The rules must be understood first before we can "artfully" break them. However, I have also seen where people of a certain detail-oriented psychology take the rules to the nth degree, not allowing themselve the freedom to break them when it might benefit the work to do so. But the beauty of the "broken rule" can only be appreciated when all the other rules around it have been obeyed. IMHO :)

I hope all my rambling made sense!
"Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine."
~ Ludwig van Beethoven

Leila
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Re: Does learning the craft of writing impact creativity?

Post by Leila » March 26th, 2011, 6:02 pm

Margo, Polymath, Beethovenfan, everything you've said makes perfect sense. And personally, everything I've learned (and still learning) in relation to the craft of writing has been totally useful and helpful in its own way, after much analysis and interpretation.

I guess to go out on a slightly tangential limb, I wonder if learning the 'rules' can also have a limiting effect? Put us into a mindtrap? There's learning, then there is the art and science of interpreting/analysis etc, then applying that learning on the basis that it has been understood, with all the other processes inbetween. When you put a creativity layer over the top of all of that, based almost purely on the strength of one's imagination which is also hovering around in that same old brain, does it have the capacity to impact the vividness, the color, the boldness of the end result of what is typed on the screen? Positively or negatively?

I'm actually struggling to explain what I'm asking here. Perhaps you guys have all summed it up by saying you need to learn and understand the rules to know when/how/why it's ok to break them.

For example, over analysis of a particular issue like voice, or show don't tell, or characterization, or not putting too much emotional emphasis on something, or contradictory writing/editing advice or, or, or... maybe these elements combine to confuse rather than enhance one's learning, and the trick is to pick up the key point of learning from each teacher/advisor's philosophy and see how it applies to your style of writing. But not to be driven by that as such in your actual writing, moreso informed. I'm not talking about the rules being useless, unnecessary, and so on. I'm talking about how they impact the way we actually write.

Ok, I'll try again. I don't think I'm making much sense. In one book on editing, the authors talked about how in their previous edition they talked a lot about where character's emotions did not belong, and not much about where they did. And the net result was a whole rash of students submitting work that was effectively emotionally stripped bare. So in that case, learning about the craft (from an editing perspective in this regard) had a direct impact on that group of writers creativity. I just thought it was interesting. I guess there are many other variables to take into account, like who you learn from, how much you allow for individual styles of teachers, or curriculum/methodologies set by universities, colleges etc. There are also some who live and die by the rules, and consider anything outside of the rules to be poorly written. Diversity is a marvellous thing I suppose.

Perhaps there's also an argument to say that the impact of craft on creativity is proportionate to the depth, width and breadth of the writer's imagination in the first place. I just wonder, having seen people on either side of the spectrum with this one.

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polymath
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Re: Does learning the craft of writing impact creativity?

Post by polymath » March 26th, 2011, 7:00 pm

I understand what you're saying. One of the more problematic troubles I've had is who to listen to, who to reject, who to take with a grain of salt and what to own as my own for the sake of craft and creativity. Aristotle, one of the early rhetoricians, has his views. They don't concord in every respect with his forebears nor his disciples nor those who came afterward. Yet I see Aristotle's thematic commonalities with anyone who writes creatively or writes about rhetoric.

Orson Scott Card for example speaks of MICE, milieu, idea, character, and event. I don't know whether he came to it on his own, picked it up by osmosis, or had it handed to him. He claims it as his own. Yet Aristotle wrote about the significance of SPICED thousands of years before. Though the acronym is my mnemonic derived from his Poetics.

One contemporary writer writing about writing speaks of rooting interest as all-important. Aristotle was there long ago too. He speaks of rapport as all-important. Six of one and half a dozen of the other. Gustav Freytag one hundred fifty years ago expanded on Aristotle's rapport theme discussing tension creation by building empathy and suspense, though he uses the term sympathy instead of empathy. Whether they're synonyms or subsets of one to the other or mutually exclusive is semantics. Semantics itself can be construed as its own discipline or a subset of rhetoric.

The so-called rules, such as they are, are basic principles founded long ago by our primordial ancestors. They had stories to share for a gamut of purposes even before a language evolved to share them. Gestural languages, nonverbal utterances, scratching signs in dirt served to bridge gaps between the stories wanting expression and the limitations impeding expression. The story of where water is to name one. Where food is to name another. Where dangers are, enemies, predators, etc. To strike bargains for mutual security, for social society to name others. Perhaps one of the earliest fully realized and shared stories was a coordinated briefing plan generalizing a division of labors for hunting a prey animal. If so, the next story was the hunt. Then there might have been an afteraction debriefing intended to improve future results. In the telling and retelling, the plot emerged and entertainment storytelling was born. It should come as no surprise that every child's evolution of make-believe play duplicates the evolution of storytelling.

Where i'm going is I believe plot hasn't changed since whatever came first in creation. Creativity hasn't changed. The underlying purposes of storytelling haven't changed since the first fully realized story was imagined. Different circumstances for sure. All that's left after the one basic plot is creativity for reinventing any given story's circumstances. In one sense every story is part of a larger story of creation, a nearly infinite ongoing story emerging toward a final final outcome. Then it behooves we writers to add to the creation.

If dramatic structure is craft, then yes, it does impose limitations to creativity. But we writers are social beings. We cannot long endure creating without sharing. Structure is the method to that end. Yet creativity's tyrannies are no less demanding.

I tutored a class of third graders on writing. The writing lesson for the semester was expository composition basics. Who, what, when, where, why, and how stuff. After a week of working on their projects, the teacher led the class in a writing workshop critique complete with the standard do's and don'ts. Anyway, one of twenty got exposition basics right off the bat. She wrote a clear, concise, and interesting story. The class unanimously loved it. The rest were hopelessly overwhelmed and distracted by the teacher's authoritarian rules. The girl was hopeless with math though. She wanted two plus two to equal five. She said, five is prettier than four. I said her and I could agree two plus two equals five is prettier, and true enough as long as we agreed, but no one else would agree. That's a lesson she taught me. As long as we creatively agreed we could communicate. She got it about math too after that.
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Re: Does learning the craft of writing impact creativity?

Post by okami » March 26th, 2011, 8:03 pm

No, I don't think it stifles creativity. Maybe if you focus on it too much--yeah, I could see it ruining your creative processes. To me, have a base to work with--proper grammar--allows me to come up with creative ways to use it. From there I can know when and exactly why I break those rules. Knowing why you're breaking them--and why they were there in the first place--helps you to know that the rule you broke was to good effect. I think the idea that you should just let everything flow regardless of craft is an erroneous "everything goes" sort of attitude. Rules are there for a reason, in language at least: and that is usually for clean, precise, understandable communication. That's not something you want to sacrifice in your writing, I'm sure!

I personally love studying how and why words create the effect they do, and how to do it the very best I can. It actually sparks my creativity, but that's because I just love words and language and stuff. The Rules are a part of that, although they can, as almost all writers will agree, be broken for good reason and to good effect.

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